Sunday, April 29, 2012

Review: Tiger Woods 13 Puts it Right on the Green

By J.J. Miller

With the fallout of Tiger Woods’ sex scandal still relatively fresh, EA Sports stood beside the iconic golfer and kept his name on the title of last year’s edition of its well-received golf game. However, the disgraced star did not appear the cover and instead the company used the allure of the Masters’ debut in the game to move product.

Well, not only is Tiger back on the cover of the ’13 edition, but the integration of the Xbox 360’s Kinect system gives an exciting and fresh new spin on Tiger Woods PGA Tour.

While last year’s version of the game did give Nintendo Wii and Playstation users (via the Move) the ability to use the controller as a simulated golf club, the latest edition for the Xbox takes it one step further by becoming the first-ever sports simulation to harness the power of the motion- and voice-capturing Kinect. Players use their entire body to simulate the mechanics of a swing and use voice command to change clubs, aim their shots and even pause the game. Players also use motion to navigate through the redesigned menus and in-game swing recognition is based on more than 1,000 data point scans according to EA Sports.

Of course, with the Kinect having been on the market for about a year-and-a-half, there are still some flaws, though none have to do with the swinging itself.

Instead, menus are still easier navigated by the controller and both aiming a shot and changing the stance of the swing can be very annoying due to the sensitivity of the Kinect. So much so that I often found myself not bothering to go through the hassle of doing so at my caddie’s recommendation just to avoid the two minutes of impending frustration.

Hopefully EA can find some ways to make altering the shot less frustrating especially since the ability to alter the stance (opening and closing of the feet) and type of shots (full, flop and punch) adds another layer of realism.

Outside of that, the Kinect certainly boosts the value and enjoyment of the game.

Those without the Kinect will still find a new swing mechanic that is easily picked up and as authentic as using your finger to swing can get. In PGA Tour 13, players use the left analog stick to both create the tempo and speed of a swing. Tempo is created on the back swing and can result in both over- and under-hitting a shot. The speed of the swing comes on the forward flick of the analog and a faster push can alter the trajectory for the worse.

The game also features a new Strike Meter that allows you to aim for the center of the ball, or adjust to hit it high or low.

While the ability to use the Kinect game is the main reason players may want to upgrade to the latest edition, the makers certainly didn’t forget those without the motion sensor and did a great job in creating a fun and challenging way to still swing the club with the controller.

Not only is Tiger back on the cover, but in addition to the usual career mode (where you can create year own golfer and take him or her through a career that begins at either the American, United Kingdom or World Amateur Tours and continues through the quest for the green jacket) EA Sports created an entertaining Tiger Legacy Challenge.

I’m not usually one for gimmick modes, instead opting to focus on career modes, but I have to say there is something entertaining about taking hacks at a golf ball as Toddler Tiger. In the new mode, a player will relive Tiger’s most memorable moments on and off the course, beginning with his appearance on “The Mike Douglas Show” as a 2-year-old and ending with a futuristic quest to break Jack Nicklaus’ championship record. That could be as close as Tiger ever gets to passing Nicklaus given his current real-life struggles on the course.

The mode also features a look at Tiger through video and sound. Jim Nance offers commentary as you go through 10 different stages of Tiger’s career and the golfer himself also gives brief interviews.

One reward for completing some of the challenges is the ability to use Toddler Tiger in the online mode, a great way to try and humble other players.

Of course, every addition of the game also offers new courses and golfers. Some returning favorites include Augusta National, Pebble Beach, Royal Melbourne, St. Andrews and Torrey Pines, while Crooked Stick, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, Royal Birkdale, Royal Country and Valhalla golf courses all make their digital debuts.

 Along with Woods, 2012 Masters champion Bubba Watson, ’11 winner Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Adam Scott and Jim Furyk are among those playable golfers that return to the game, while new additions include Ben Crane, Ross Fisher, Dustin Johnson, Hunter Mahan, and Graeme McDowell. Like McIlroy, Luke Donald also returns to the game after a brief hiatus.

Female fans are unfortunately left with only two playable options: Paula Creamer and Natalie Gulbis and unfortunately tiny list.

Another bonus is that EA used an animation system to capture the authentic swings of many of the golfers.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 has very few flaws and overall is an enjoyable product, and the addition of the Kinect compatibility makes it a must own for any golf fan.
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