Tiger Woods PGA TOUR 13 Review
If you've sat on the sidelines for the past couple of years - or are a newcomer to the series, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 will make you pay for your absence. A new swing mechanic, increased difficulty, and a sea of menu options make getting started with the game quite a challenge - an issue exacerbated far more than it needs to be by the complete lack of any tutorials (well, there are a couple of "what's new" text screens, but that doesn't count). And don't let the addition of Kinect controls lull you into a false sense of security; this game is strictly for the serious golf (or golf game, at least) fan and not the Kinect Sports family fun time crowd.
PGA Tour 13 has taken a chunk of the control of your shots away from the stick and moved it to your shot setup. After setting your stance, the draw or fade and distance, the address, etc., your swing becomes primarily a matter of tempo. A steady pull back on the stick followed by a nicely timed push forward will then nail the shot, although you can still cut the backswing short to ease up on the shot or add a hook or slice if you introduce some left or right direction to the stick while moving it forward. It's not really as easy as it may sound when describing it; the combination of a strong emphasis on setting your shot up correctly and maintaining a consistent tempo with your stick work actually makes the game more challenging than it was in the past. While this may please the game's harder core fan base, it certainly makes for a barrier to entry for the more casual golf gamer.
Of course you can just toss the controller and play the Kinect way, but the Kinect controls on PGA Tour 13 aren't quite ready for the pro circuit yet. First, there's the odd issue that you don't face the screen while making your swing, but rather stand parallel to it while hitting the virtual ball somewhere off to the left (or to the right for lefties). As you complete your follow-through you're left staring at a wall or out the window and then need to turn your head to see where the ball is headed, and you need to do so quickly. For some reason the Kinect controls put you in control of the ball's spin after you've hit it and it's in flight. Oh no, you're headed for the bunker! Quick, use your fist to spin the ball left! Combine these oddities with the facts that you have to hand-wave navigate your way through layers of menus between shots and you need to aim your shot by "grabbing" the course and dragging it around and like me you'll quickly tire of the whole thing and go back to your controller.
This year's iteration of the game also marks the debut of the Tiger Legacy Challenge. This is a tour of Tiger's life, from two-year old golfing prodigy to a goatee-wearing ghost of Tigers future. Part Tiger trivia, part mini game and challenge collection, this mode is really for the diehard Tiger Woods fan because frankly most other gamers would rather be hitting the virtual links in a full tournament with their created golfer than chipping golf balls into a wading pool in Woods' childhood home's backyard.
Those of you who prefer to do your golf gaming online will appreciate the game's new Country Clubs feature. These amount to gaming clans for golf gamers, but there's a bit more to them than just a glorified friends list. Your gaming feats on and offline contribute to your standing within your club, and to your club's rank against others, with EA inviting the rankings leaders to special tournaments.
Now this next bit of business will undoubtedly anger many players - twenty of the game's courses are locked on the game disk. To unlock them you can pony up about $5 per course (there are volume discounts that will keep the final damage below an even $100) or earn enough "coins" during play to pay to unlock them. While you'll earn coins as you play through the game, it will take a while to earn the coins that you'll need to pay to play a single round on one of the locked courses. Yes, you read that right, a single round. To fully unlock a course, you must first "master" it by completing a list of challenges for the course. While it certainly is possible to play your way to unlocking the twenty extra courses, I can't even estimate the time required to do so other than "a long, long time" because if you're lucky it will take you about ten rounds or so just to earn enough coins to buy one round on a locked course. It's the same model used by a lot of "freemium" games on phones - set the cost of unlocking anything with in-game rewards so high that players eventually lose patience and breakdown and buy the extras - and I really don't like seeing this idea work its way into a marquee game that costs you $60 up front.
Bag pins are another freemium touch in the game. Pins are essentially stat boosts that last for a round, three of which can be active at a time. You start the game with a small collection of pins, but you can replenish your supply by spending coins. But wait, you're saving those coins to buy a round on a locked course, right? You can always buy more coins with real world money...
It's very hard to slap a rating on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 and be done with it. The core golf game is great, although the sink or swim approach to the complicated swing mechanics leaves a lot to be desired and the Kinect controls are pretty much a failure. The courses look great, but more of them are locked than are available and it will either take a cash outlay on par with what you've already paid for the game or a time commitment that will take you into the real 2013 to unlock them all. The career mode is essentially the same as it was in last year's game and the new Tiger Woods Legacy mode is more of a diversion than anything else that will be of interest to only a small proportion of those who buy the game. In the end you've got a good golf game at its core, surrounded by a lot of questionable design and business model decisions. There's no compelling reason to "upgrade" from last year's version and the game should not be bought for Kinect play alone. However, if you haven't played a Tiger Woods game in a while and can live with the courses available at the start, it's possible for you to be quite happy with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13.
Final Rating: 72%. 2013 is not Tiger Woods' best year...