Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 06 Review (Xbox 360)
It's newer, it's prettier… and surprisingly, it's much, much better.
The Tiger Woods PGA Tour series makes its debut on the Xbox 360 with a game that's more challenging and more exciting than any of its recent predecessors, despite its limited number of game modes and options, and lays a solid foundation for the franchise on next-gen consoles.
Mark Twain famously said, "Golf is a good walk spoiled", and the sport's courses are built with beautiful scenery in mind as much as the challenge they present.
In this area, Tiger Woods is very impressive, but not without a blemish to mar the overall appearance… the frame rate. The game hitches at times - and unfortunately, often during a swing. It's not terrible, and players will certainly get used to it, but it's quite surprising given the power of the Xbox 360 that sits at the developers' disposal.
If you can get past the frame rate annoyance - I could, and erratic frame rates drive me bonkers - then Tiger looks fantastic. There are only six courses, but they're definitely replicated with tender loving care. The elevation changes at Riviera, the plateau-like greens at Pinehurst and the magnificent views of Pebble Beach are all here. Colors are bright, lighting is realistic, and the water looks quite good, as well. Galleries of fans have finally been added, and while they're not the most detailed folks around, they add a great deal to the game's ambience, and look downright hilarious after getting clobbered by your errant shots. Tiger Woods' ubiquitous Game Face feature is more refined than ever, and the details of your clubs and clothing are easily distinguished. The game's professionals are rendered in excellent detail, and their animations can range from subdued to ridiculous. Tiger's a great-looking game, and it shows off the Xbox 360's abilities very well… shame about that frame rate, though.
It's a golf game, so you shouldn't expect something that's going to push your home theatre setup to the brink. That doesn't mean the sounds aren't good, however. From the crack of a 300-yard drive to the thump of a ball sticking on the dance floor to the rush of weeds against your wedge as you scoop it from the cabbage, the golf sounds are solid. The crowd is alive with excitement and disappointment on your every shot, and the announcing team of David Feherty and Gary McCord is entertaining and often funny, despite the fact that they're disturbingly inaccurate at times. You can even take advantage of the Xbox 360's custom soundtrack and streaming audio options and tee off to a blaring rendition of Journey's "Any Way You Want It" and tick off the preppies... Noonan!
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is about two things: Career mode and pick-up games. Seven varieties of golf are available: Stroke Play, Match Play, Skins, Stableford, Alternate Shot, Best Ball and Four-Ball. The last three are team-based, and any of these games can be played against human players or the CPU in any combination. There are enough modes to keep casual players busy, and with almost a dozen PGA Tour pros to choose from, it's easy to grab some friends and tee off in a hurry.
The Career mode is straightforward and familiar to Tiger regulars - you'll create an alter ego using Game Face, get some gear and equipment, purchase a few initial skills and you're off.
This time, however, it's more challenging… and thus more fun.
You'll improve your skills by performing well; you still earn points to apply to skills for your performance, but the points aren't placed in a general pool.
For example, to improve your putting attribute, you need Putting points. To earn putting points, you need to putt well while you're out on the course. In other words, it's kind of like real-life - you get better by doing, and it seems very natural and rewarding here. Even awful rounds aren't complete losses, as the skill points rewarded aren't based as much on your final score as they are on what you did during the round. If you shot +5, but went up-and-down out of the bunkers a few times that round, expect to earn solid Recovery skill points - even if the rest of the round was forgettable. Your golfer will experience "realistic" and sensible growth - always a plus for this reviewer.
Before you can hit the PGA Tour, however, there are challenges to perform. Some are easy and can be accomplished immediately, while some will be flat-out impossible until you've improved your player's skill. Completing these will speed your player's improvement. Soon enough, you'll have the opportunity to go to Q-School and compete for your tour card. Assuming you win, then expect to play the PGA Tour schedule, as well as trying to squeeze in those unfinished challenges when you can. The career mode will keep most players busy for a long, long while; but monotony sets in from time to time due the limited number of available courses - that's the biggest problem with the game's Career mode - and perhaps the game in general.
What an improvement! The console version of Tiger Woods has always been an overly simplistic, arcade-like experience; deep at first blush but without substance upon repeat viewing. The reason for this is simple - it's a golf game, and if the golf isn't any good, what use is the rest of it?
Well, this time around - the golf game is good - and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is infinitely better for it. The left stick is supremely sensitive - more so than ever before - and it your shot isn't perfectly straight, start looking for the wedge. If your swing's out of rhythm, expect to come up short. Already, we're on the right track, but there's more.
The right stick is now the "Shape Stick", allowing the player to impart top spin or back spin, as well as draw or fade the ball. It works perfectly. You can't simply hold the right stick in one direction - after you slam it backwards, for example, the target will quickly start moving towards the center. That means to use the "Shape Stick" fully, you'll need to use both sticks simultaneously - holding the right one steady while keeping the left one straight and in rhythm. Better yet, it's challenging without being counter-intuitive. You'll feel comfortable with it soon enough, but it still remains a challenge; especially on the Tour difficulty setting.
One recommendation for "sim" players right off the bat: disable the "Gamebreaker" option. You'll fill the Gamebreaker meter with good shots, and once it's full, tapping A during the swing activates what could kindly be described as an unrealistic advantage for your golfer on one shot.
I activated it on a long 3-wood shot to the green. As it turned out, I pulled the shot a little to the left, and watched it rocket towards the greenside bunker. It bounced in the rough, then plowed straight into the bunker (where it should have left an impact crater; the shot was so poor), and then watched in shock as it bounced out of the bunker - uphill and over the lip - and on to the green, where it magically decelerated and dropped right into the cup for a double-eagle.
Needless to say, the Gamebreaker isn't for me. Fortunately, it can be turned off, and it appears to be the last significant vestige of the silly arcade Tiger that seems to be - thankfully - evolving into extinction.
The power boost and spin control is now on the same button - the left bumper. That's right - directly above the stick you need to keep steady to swing. The end result is that the power boost isn't as effective, and to maximize it, you'd need to shake your controller so hard that a straight shot would be extremely difficult. The emphasis is more on shot-making than button-mashing, and that's a very good thing indeed. As the spin control button, the right bumper, when tapped after the shot, will increase or decrease the speed and therefore amount of spin imparted upon the ball. However, unlike previous Tiger games - where you could change the direction of the spin mid-flight - you can only change your spin in the direction specified during your shot by the "Shape Stick". It's infinitely more realistic, and forces you to plan shots better. If you impart backspin, you'd better make sure that you land pin-high or farther, or there's a good chance you'll roll off the front of quite a few of the game's vicious greens.
Uphill and downhill lies matter, as well, and you can expect the ball to "kick" accordingly. Shoot out of the rough, and life becomes much more difficult.
The bottom line is this: Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the Xbox 360 feels like golf. I can't remember ever saying that before. EA has a solid golf engine in place here, and now, the future of Tiger Woods PGA Tour looks as promising as the career of its cover athlete.
All the game varieties found in the multiplayer portion of Tiger Woods can be found online (including four-player modes), plus there's a three-hole mini-game available for a quick online golf fix. The interface is a little clunky and needlessly confusing at times, but it gets the job done. Stats are tracked all over the board, and it's simple to find a decent match for your skills. One thing to note, however: when creating a match, it will be public unless it's unranked. Any private games won't be ranked for statistical purposes.
There is some constant lag, but the game's still playable. More frustrating is the fact that the game progresses one shot at a time. Of course, this is realistic, but sitting and watching the other person take their shot can be both dull and time-consuming. Here's hoping that next year, EA allows players to take their shots simultaneously on the same hole, a la Links 2004.
What a change a generation makes.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour has gone from a throwaway golf-like substance on a disc to a surprisingly challenging and fun simulation with loads of promise for the future.
While there are a few kinks that need to be ironed out - and a lot more courses that need to be added - Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is by far the strongest entry in the EA Sports lineup on the brand-new Xbox 360, and a inviting breath of fresh air to golf gamers everywhere.