Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 Review
The Tiger Woods series has dominated the world of videogame golfing even more so than its namesake has the real world sport. Generally lack of competition leads to one of two things: games that are virtually indistinguishable from the prior iteration or ones that come with a number of small tweaks designed to demonstrate that the development team is doing more than simply changing the game's title on the loading screens. Tiger Woods 08 on the Xbox 360 doesn't quite fall into either category. The next-gen version of the game debuted on the Xbox 360 two years ago and a lot of people were surprised to find that the game had fewer features and courses than its current gen counterparts. Two years later Tiger Woods is still playing catch-up, with the 08 version the most complete next-gen version to date. However, Tiger Woods 08 is not as large a step up from Tiger Woods 07 as that game was from the 06 version, so if you own Tiger Woods 07 you'll need to decide if the new features are worth $60 to you.
What sets Tiger Woods 08 apart from most other sports games is that the whole game is basically played in career mode. There are plenty of gameplay options and modes, but they're all played with the golfer that you create the first time that you play the game. The game gives you a tremendous amount of control over the look of your character and features an extensive toolset for creating and tweaking his or her face. New this year is the Photo Game Face tool. Take a picture of yourself with the Xbox Vision Live camera or upload a photo of yourself to a special website and you can let the game do its best to import your face and apply it to your virtual golfer. Your results may vary depending on the quality of your picture, but the game does a surprisingly good job of bringing you into the game. Tiger Woods 08 isn't the first game to support something like this, but it does the best job with it as far as I have seen.
Once your golfer is created you're ready to hit the links in any of the game's modes. If you're new to the Tiger Wood series the first thing you will learn when you hit the links is that you're not very good. This may or may not have anything to with your skills as a gamer, but it is related to the fact that your virtual golfer stinks. Your golfer is rated in a number of skill areas such as accuracy, power, and putting, and as a new golfer your skills are at the bottom of the scale. Your skills will improve as you play the various practice and competitive mini games, as well as with time spent on the links, but the game makes you progress through a number of levels before you can max out your skills. In addition your skill ratings are capped at each of these levels, so even if you do earn additional skill points they won't have any effect until you reach the next level. On top of all that the game never really tells you how to advance to the next level. It's not mentioned in the manual or on the help screen for the skills graph. The only way to advance is to reach certain milestones in the game's Tiger Challenge mode, so you're going to have to play your way through that mode if you want to have a skilled golfer. Those simply looking to play a golf game may feel like they've accidentally purchased an RPG. Not only do you need to level-up your golfer by doing some "grinding", you can purchase clothing items to boost your stats. Not everyone will appreciate the need to buy a "+1" golf cap.
When you're out on the links you'll find that there are a number of factors which determine the quality of your shot. The first is your skills which will have an effect on how well you aim your shot. The game uses an aiming circle that you move across the course to direct your shot. The better your distance and accuracy skills, the farther out you can aim and the smaller the target circle. That's been in Tiger Woods for some time, but there are a couple of additional factors new this year. The first is that you can use the bumpers to add a deliberate fade or draw to your shot, which is handy for all of those doglegs. The other is that the game now tracks your "confidence" on each hole. If you have trouble with a hole your confidence will go down and things will be harder for you the next time you play it. Nail a birdie and your confidence goes up, making it a bit easier for you to repeat your performance. It's an interesting idea but in practice the last thing I want is for the game to stack the odds against me on a hole I've had a little trouble with.