Tiger returns to form on 360 with additional content and subtle improvements.
I won’t lie to you guys; EA Sports dropped the ball big time with just about its entire sports lineup in 2005. Many of the games that we saw last year on 360 were husks of their current-gen forms, devoid of many essential features and gameplay modes. As with Madden 07, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2007 has spent a little longer in the oven and the results certainly show what can be done when you aren’t rushing development for a system launch. This is the Tiger that should have come out last year, sporting a solid roster of golfers, courses, and gameplay options that make it very engaging golf title.
For starters, the content for this year’s outing has literally doubled. In addition to updates to courses like the TPC at Sawgrass and Pebble Beach, new courses have been rendered in detail, including Spyglass Hill, Firestone Country Club, and St. Andrews. All of the new courses, as well as the original six, are intricately detailed to faithful represent the subtle bumps and inconsistencies found in real life. The addition of full galleries following players around is simply an added bonus.
Take, for instance, the new and improved TPC at Sawgrass. Hole 1 on the Xbox or PS2 version looks nothing like the Xbox 360 course. Trees casting shadows across the undulating fairway as it kinks to the right and approaches the green provides a much more realistic experience. When looking at this course, and watching it on television, you get the feeling that this is what it would look like from the middle of the fairway. In addition to the mere aesthetics, there is a real alteration to the game in terms of how you must play it. Since the fairway is relatively flat on current-gen, players may be used to winding up and swinging without considering much in terms of position or landing area. This is a mistake on 360 since the fairways bumps and hills can send your ball rolling into the rough with ease. The courses here haven’t been Tiger-proofed, they’ve been given the due care and detail that you would expect in a next-gen golfing title.
To go along with the fancy looking golf courses, EA Redwood Shores has also put their motion-capture facilities to good use by capturing Tiger Woods’ persona in 3-D. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s the “most realistic videogame character to date” as EA puts it, he certainly is the best-rendered sports star that we’ve seen. His facial animations, celebrations, and swing have all been captured with stark realism, though something is left to be desired by the small cut scenes before the shot. Tiger may take things very seriously on the course, but a little personality before a shot would go a long way. The supporting cast looks very convincing as well up and down the roster; everyone from Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh to Big Mo and the other original golfers look exceptional. That attention to detail carries over to the “Game Face” mode as well as Tiger proves once again to have the greatest “Create-a-Player” mode in all of gaming. With a little time, you can make a model that looks striking similar to yourself using the intuitive analog enhancements that were carried over from the current-gen.
But if this were just the same old Tiger Woods golf, all of these graphical enhancements would feel dull because the actual experience would be the same as current gen. With the first tee-off, however, players will quickly learn that things this year are much different. Instead of simply being able to laser-guide a drive or approach to a little carrot cursor a couple hundred yards away, players will instead be given a general range that their ball will fall into assuming their shot was straight. Rookies using a Driver off the tee will have gigantic aiming circles will include the fairway, rough, and bunkers. As you increase in skill and move to smaller clubs, this targeting area becomes smaller and smaller, helping players aim more reliably.
This subtle change may not sound like much at face value, but it means the world in terms of affecting gameplay. Players with weak characters will have a tough time blasting drivers onto the fairway, but they can instead choose to use their 2-iron to guarantee the fairway. Before now, players could slam the ball without much worry as long as their swing was true, but it doesn’t matter much now. Longer players that lack driving accuracy, such as John Daily, will want to keep their 2-iron handy to hold fairways and set up easier approaches. Club selection and planning out your next shot, regular strategies on the real-life course, are now part of the game and mean a world of difference. Players that would win a tournament by 20 or more strokes will now find themselves questioning every single shot and playing the course with much more respect. Isn’t that what we’ve been searching for from this series for a couple years now?
Gameplay improvements coupled with a strong online showing help to propel Tiger to the top of pile in terms on providing engaging matches with total strangers. Four traditional modes, including stroke, match, and team matches are bolstered by Battle Golf and One Ball to offer a ton of variety to the online package. Tournaments hosted by EA sweeten the deal, though we were never able to experience it during our review time. ESPN’s integration is also top-notch, offering radio and podcast broadcasts detailing the latest news in sports whenever you feel like hearing them.
But with as great as a majority of this title is, there are a few complaints that we must weigh against it. For starters, the inclusion of the Fed-Ex point system does little to add to the overall PGA Season. Most players will end up dominating the competition after a while and becoming bored, choosing to instead spend more time with the online game. The way created players are developed is also a little suspect. While we love the idea of earning your stats based on how you play and what you do during each shot, capping a character and only allowing their stats to increase through the Tiger Challenge is a little lame. If I put in a couple hours at the Training Facility and have knocked my Driving Power to 75 or 80 percent, I shouldn’t have to beat ¾ of the Tiger Challenge to actually achieve that stat. I can see why they included the mechanism, but its execution is stifling and it undermines a gamer’s efforts in their home-made golfers.
In 2006, Tiger Woods is as dominate on the virtual golf course as he is in real life. Just about every change they have made to the core gameplay, aside from the stat-capping, works to perfection and provides hours upon hours of engaging golf. Forget that they make it possible to cheat with your credit card and not play the game; most people will want to earn all of that anyway since the game is simply too much fun. Xbox 360 owners who enjoy golf will do well to pick this one up; Tiger has never been as compelling as this
July 21, 2006 – Ah, I can hear it now. “Back in our day, all we had to do was pull the stick back and push it forward. We were shooting 46s with our eyes closed! You young whipper-snappers are spoiled with your ‘True-aiming’ and motion captured Tiger.”
This, of course, is the wretched complaining of the many veterans of Tiger Woods, most of us since ’02 or older, finally getting what we have been asking for, what seems like years.
Last year’s offering of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 was a total fluff-ball. Like the hot girl at prom, ’06 was quite the looker but was pretty dumb in terms of overall options and depth, especially compared to their content-packed brothers on the current-gen. In teaching the world that, if you complain long and hard enough, game developers will finally get around to answering you.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This innovation that EA has finally added is the “True Aiming” system. Instead of knowing precisely where your shot is going, assuming you make solid contact with the ball and adjust for wind and lie, ’07 will now provide every shot with a range for where the ball will land. In coming off the tee, for instance, even hitting the perfect ball could result in landing in the rough as the range of the shot may take it to the first cut. The range of the shot will vary based on lie, statistics, and equipment, so investing in situations that you find yourself in most often will ensure success on the links. While there was a taste of this in previous games, with low stat players having a difficult time sticking it close to the pin like the big boys, True Aiming ensures that every shot will count no matter if you are just starting a custom character or playing as Woods himself.
The Redwood Shores studio didn’t just stop with the swing innovation, however. True to the nature of a EA Sports series, ’07 doubles its content from last year. Additions to the course listing include Firestone Country Club, Princeville, Spyglass Hill, Glen Abby, Bandon Dunes, and St. Andrews, bolstering the number of courses to 12. The roster of players has been bolstered to 15 as well, including Tour favorites Vijay Singh, big-man John Daly, and LPGA all-star Annika Sorenstam. All these options are supplemented with an enhanced online multiplayer with five new game modes, online tournaments with stat-tracking, and league leaders.
Armchair golfers across the world will enjoy online play, but many will certainly be in it for the solo-action. Tiger is taking a NASCAR-esque approach to a season mode, with each tournament earning FedEx points in the overall standings. On the practice course, you can enhance your skills for that big day against Tiger in the final group of the tourney.
Improving on ’06 in a multitude of areas already, ’07 will also enhance the on-the-course experience visually as well as mechanically. Full galleries and cheering sections will populate the course, reacting to every shot just like the crowds on television. Featured at E3, the advanced UCAP technology makes Tiger look ridiculously real (just check the screens if you don’t believe us). Unfortunately, only Tiger is getting the uber-upgrade, but if they include the hecklers that plagued Sergio Garcia last year then I think we can call it even.
Normally, it wouldn’t seem appropriate to be too excited about an EA Sports release as, more times than not, they feel light on improvements. The Redwood Shores studio has us thinking otherwise with ’07, though. It would have been nice to see more golfers getting the UCAP upgrade, but if the gameplay comes anywhere near expectations, all should be forgiven. At that point, we wouldn’t simply be playing a stripped down version of this year’s current-gen release (Madden ’06, I’m looking at you).
- All-New Team Tour Mode—Tiger Woods has assembled a team of champions and it’s up to you to take them down. Master your skills, recruit an unstoppable squad, and set your sights on a showdown against Team Tiger Woods.
- The Most PGA TOUR Players—Featuring 21 of the world’s top players, including Tiger Woods, John Daly, Vijay Singh, and Annika Sorenstam, the most decorated golfer on the LPGA Tour.
- 21 Championship and Fantasy Courses—New licensed courses include The Four Seasons Resort Aviara, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Riviera Country Club, The National, and The K Club, home of The Ryder Cup 2006.
- Show Your GameFace—The innovative character creation tool is revamped with deeper modifications, more apparel, equipment licenses, and specialty items.
- Become the World’s Best—Challenge up to three players in online tournaments complete with money lists, full stat tracking, league leaders, and more.
- All-New ESPN Integration—Get the latest sports updates and breaking news from the always-on ESPN ticker, ESPN Radio, and ESPNEWS.
- More Mini-Game Challenges—Work on your game or take on a friend with Elimination mode, Battle Golf, Bloodsome, One-Ball, and more.