Golf is a sport perfect for video game adaption. The structure of golf tends towards a solitary figure doing mental and physical combat with a series of holes, and feels something like a puzzle game. Honestly, after a year of playing Portal 2 off and on, golf seems more like a puzzle game than anything else. I’ve been a golf game fan since the VGA era and I was very excited to start my Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 career. The last game in the series I played was 2008 and that was on the Wii.
The first thing I noticed upon starting the game is the quality of the presentation. The production values are high and the money is on the screen. The horizontal menu bar is easy to navigate and the title headings are clearly written. This sort of thing might seem minor, but trust me, in a game like this, menu navigation is an important part of gameplay. The menu music is subtle and non-offensive, as it needs to be. I almost felt bad turning it off. Almost.
While navigating to the player creation screen, I was stricken by my first annoyance, which would prove to be my biggest. Every menu selection seems to require a loading screen. In the era of systems with hard drives, it is a major disappointment that there is no option to install some of the game’s assets on the system. I have half a terabyte in there just waiting to take the load off of the Blu Ray player, and it is a shame not to use it. Instead, there are frequent, irritating loading screens. While not a deal breaker, it feels like a step backward in video game development.
Being an egomaniac, my first stop was Create Golfer. The golfer creation wizard is pretty simple, and it is easy to create realistic results. More extreme results are not as satisfactory, which means I won’t be stuck looking at terrible anime character golfers. Trust me, the influx of golfers resembling Charlie Sheen, long after the joke has stopped being funny, is enough punishment. I was able to make an avatar of myself that was firmly in the Uncanny Valley with only a few minutes of work. Once dressed in jeans and a Golf Digest t-shirt, I was ready to hit the links.
The game modes in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 can be a bit daunting. The Play Now mode is free-form golf gaming. Select a course, a play style, the number of golfers, and which golfer you want to use. It is that simple. The play styles include the standard stroke play and match play, but extend to Skins, Bingo Bango Bongo, and Bloodsome. The large number of multiplayer modes makes Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 the perfect couch and beer game, a genre I thought died with the N64.
On the subject of golf course selection, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 has an amazing selection. By default, there are 16 courses available. These range from the newly introduced, and quite fun for multiplayer, Crooked Stick to the classic Augusta National. Stalwarts like TPC Sawgrass are here, too. I’ve been virtually duffing away at TPC Sawgrass since the 80′s, so it made my day seeing it again in such high resolution. The Masters Collector’s Edition includes 6 more courses as part of its DLC pack. I lament the lack of Straits Course at Whistling Pines on the standard version, but I’ll get to play it someday regardless. Oh, and there are 16 more courses available as DLC, including Waialae and Spyglass Hill, just in case you wanted 38 courses to master.
If you are like me and want to play the DLC courses without paying real actual money for them, there is another way. Quality play in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 is rewarded with Experience Points for your golfer, as you would expect, but also with EA Coins. These coins can be used to buy two things: Pins and Rounds. There are Consumable and Collectable Pins to be earned. Consumable Pins add a boost or power up to your golfer for one whole round. Golfer specific Pins can only be used for the golfer they represent, naturally, but the bonus is substantive. The specific attribute pins give a much greater boost for a particular area, like Power or Putting, or increase the Experience Points or Coins earned in a round. The Collectable Pins represent specific holes on one of the courses. You will gain extra Status Points for each round you play on a course for each Pin you have. If you manage to collect all 18 Pins for a course, you get the Course Pin for that course, which makes your Boost Pins even better on that course. The first time you get a Pin from a Pin Pack, it is Bronze. Pull the same Pin again, and all of your Pins of that type are now Silver, with an increased bonus. Pull a third one and it upgrades to Gold.
Coins can also be used to buy rounds of golf at courses you don’t have access to. For about the same price as a Pin Pack, 6000 Coins or so, you can play a round of the appointed course. You can buy 1, 2, 3, or Unlimited rounds on a course. If you aren’t hung up on accumulating Pins, it is possible to buy courses with the in-game currency. If you are a skilled golfer, you can earn unlimited rounds on a DLC course by completing the Course Mastery goals for a course during play. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, but I am sure someone much more talented than I can pull it off.
The Tiger Legacy Challenge mode is something completely different. There have been situational gameplay modes in sports games for a while now, but Tiger Legacy Challenge feels different. TLC lets you step into the very small shoes of Toddler Tiger and hit balls on the Mike Douglas Show and in the Woods’ family backyard. Playing as a big headed, tiny bodied Tiger, hitting balls out of the sandbox with graphics via Hipstermatic is a surreal experience. Honestly, I was reminded of the dream sequences in Psychonauts more than I was of any sports game I played previously. Completing a period of Tiger’s life unlocks a playable version of him from that timeframe. Not stopping with historical fact, TLC allows you to play as Future Tiger, who sadly does not have a laser firing bionic eye. I have to admit, the prospect of using Toddler Tiger as a handicap while playing a less experienced friend or family member sounds like a lot of fun.
For me, and the majority of players, the real core of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 is the Road to the PGA Tour mode. With my creepily accurate digital me already created, I was able to jump into the world of delusional middle managers, amateur phenoms, and struggling store pros trying to earn that PGA card they dream of. Starting from the bottom of the USA, UK, or World Amateur rankings, your created golfer begins the climb out of the primordial ooze. The ultimate goal is so distant as to seem impossible, knocking Tiger out of the #1 ranking and holding onto it for 281 weeks. I like that the ultimate goal is so unattainable because it makes it possible to come up with smaller, more attainable goals without losing focus on the main goal. Not being micromanaged towards a specific path to greatness makes the Road to the PGA Tour feel more realistic and enjoyable. Will Chuck Jaywalk ever win a Green Jacket? I don’t know, but I know I will try to get him there. I would note that it is strange that an annual installment of a game has so much content that I don’t think I could complete it in several years.
I have to admit, I have not played a Tiger Woods PGA Tour game with a standard controller in years. The last installment I purchased was for the Wii, so I never used the standard controls. The reason I say this is because the biggest addition to this year’s iteration is the Total Swing Control. TSC, from the point of view of someone unfamiliar with the old mechanic, is pretty remarkable. Both sticks, the control pad, and the shoulder buttons all come into play as you line up the shot. Once you are lined up, the swing is a matter of pulling the left stick down then pushing it forward. The pullback determines if the shot is under- or over-powered, and the push forward determines the tempo of the shot. Over-swinging and a fast tempo can extend the distance of the shot, with less control, and under-swinging and a slow temp will shorten your shot. After 3 holes, the mechanic feels like second nature, the mark of elegant game design.
The actual gameplay graphics of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 are beautiful. The 20 male golfers, 2 female golfers, and 3 hidden toddler golfers look amazingly realistic but still consistent with the created ones. There are 8 celebrity golfers that were pre-order bonuses, which I hope will be made available for download later. Golfing with Dwight Howard sounds just dorky enough to be fun. Eight of the golfers were motion captured, so playing as Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, among others, feels as authentic as possible.
One new feature that isn’t quite fully formed are the Country Clubs. Allowing players to form Country Clubs, with a maximum of 50 players, is a good idea, but the benefits, at this time, are pretty limited. I expect that to change in the future, but for now Country Clubs are only mild distraction. The only major quibble I have with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 is a graphical issue that could be resolved in a patch. Under certain lighting conditions, the white Swing Meter becomes almost invisible. This makes the precise timing of shots almost impossible. Nothing puts the kibosh on a good round of golf like having a shot go astray because of a graphical issue. It would be a simple matter of making the meter invert colors when the horizon is lighter.
Control and Gameplay: Classic
Balance: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: GREAT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Summarizing a game as massive as Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 in a couple hundred words is almost impossible, but I will try. Being a couch golfer, this is the best opportunity to live out my PGA fantasies. The courses are expansive and beautiful, breathing life into each club. This is as close to playing TPC Sawgrass as I will ever get and I relish the chance. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2013 is the largest, deepest, most immersive game I have played in a long time, and I hate that I have to step away from it to type this. See you on the greens. Or, in my case, the bunkers.