[26 April 2012]
EA Sports has always struggled with complacency, despite the fact that it reigns—or perhaps used to—as the premier sports video game developer. It may be the studio’s biggest downfall, and it’s certainly critics’ most frequent complaint. Rarely are games afforded massive overhauls or noticeable changes; most receive only roster updates at worst and slight graphical upgrades at best. When the studio does overhaul a game, NBA Elite happens—the legendary beta test that killed the NBA Live franchise.
The long-running Tiger Woods series probably doesn’t receive its fair share of critical lashings. Despite its polished presentation and impeccable gameplay, little has changed over the years. Developers have added in-flight ball adjustment capabilities, various swing mechanics, and features like putt preview, but those changes have only sparingly been added. Besides, these various tweaks would be fine if they weren’t contrary to the primary objective of most EA Sports games: realism.
Golf is an untenably difficult sport, something any golfer will tell you. (Why is it called “golf”? Because all of the other four letter words were taken.) Making a true-to-life golf game, moreso than any other sport, would result in disaster, both for the developer’s bottom line and for gamers’ soon-to-be-shattered plasma TVs. EA’s solution for Tiger Woods, however, has veered too far in the wrong direction. By the time that you’ve leveled up your character in the career mode of previous titles, shooting anything less than 15-under par in a round is an embarrassment. To add challenge, previous titles have ramped up the fantasy by allowing your opponents to shoot similarly low scores, which doesn’t help EA’s case of creating a realistic sim.
New Tiger Woods titles were more chore than delight. No one plays Tiger Woods games to play as Phil Mickelson or the eponymous superstar like they would with the Cleveland Browns or Los Angeles Lakers. The entire game is structured around the Create-A-Character career mode. Annually creating a new character and leveling up to competency is not fun, less so when the game’s mechanics are unchanged from the previous year.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13’s new swing mechanic, the series’ most dramatic shift to date, makes the game similarly unfun but unfun in a golf sense, not a repetitive one. Gone are the days of mindlessly pulling back the left analog stick and slamming it forward for maximum power. The new swing mechanic relies as heavily on pace and rhythm as it does on basic human dexterity. This shift is akin to the difference between a button-mashing Street Fighter player and someone surgically attacking with Tekken 3’s Yoshimitsu.
Transitioning to this new system, especially early on, presents a host of problems. Timing your swing correctly affects your distance and accuracy—to say nothing of putting. As you spend more time with the game, you start to get into a rhythm, but a single missed shot and your round can quickly take a nosedive. Putting, meanwhile, may be the most frustrating aspect of the game. The precision with which you must control your backswing and follow through is frustratingly realistic, but it is also a welcome change to a franchise that has for too long been stuck in neutral.
The rest of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is just another Tiger Woods game. If you’ve played any previous entry, there’s nothing surprising here. If you haven’t, the takeaway: unparalleled gameplay, true-to-life TV presentation, a brilliant online multiplayer, and expansive career mode.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13‘s greatest attribute is also the feature that will drive most gamers away. More important than anything, though, EA has finally done something, and for a series and developer that so frequently settles for the status quo, that makes this entry easily the best in the series in quite some time.