Getting into the swing of things with Tiger
REVIEW: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13. (Xbox360, PS3, PC) EA Sports. $99.
When it comes to bankable sporting stars, Tiger Woods was once as dominant in the corporate world as he was on the golf course, with a host of the world's biggest companies eager to capitalise on his unprecedented success and squeaky-clean profile.
Unfortunately for the golfing icon, he found out the hard way that loyalty is a rare commodity in the world of advertising and when his off-the-course indiscretions became headline news in 2010, the Tiger brand was tainted, and he lost almost all of his lucrative endorsement contracts.
One of the few blue chip companies that retained him as ambassador and face of a franchise was Electronic Arts, which was seemingly happy to keep the faith with the man who has adorned the cover of each of their annual PGA Tour games since 1999.
Although seen as somewhat of a gamble at the time, sales of the series have remained strong despite Tiger's dip in form, with last year's update widely regarded as the best golfing simulation to date.
The problem with the Tiger Woods games, as well as Fifa, Madden NFL and every other annually updated sports title in EA's burgeoning roster, is when these incremental improvements result in a game that's almost too good for its own good: make no changes and there's little reason for gamers to shell out $100 on the "new" version.
But try to fix something that isn't broken, and you risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater and taking the franchise backwards.
It would have been easy for the developers to rest on the laurels of Tiger Woods 12's rave reviews and throw in a few token additions or superficial cosmetic changes, but instead they've taken the brave step of going back to the drawing board and completely overhauling the game's swing mechanic.
The process of lining up a shot and executing the perfect swing can be the downfall or triumph of any golf game and the new "total swing system" introduced here falls firmly into the latter category.
I'm no golfing expert, but even from my limited experience hacking around pitch'n'putt courses, I know that the difference between a perfectly struck drive and a woeful slice can be minimal.
This new system allows you to make minute adjustments to every aspect of the shot, from your stance to the tempo, angles and length of the backswing.
It's extremely intuitive, and although a few early hooks into bunkers and water hazards are inevitable, there's a great sense of satisfaction from seeing a flawlessly executed recovery shot roll safely onto the fairway.
In addition to revamping the fundamentals, there's also the a new "Tiger Legacy" mode in which you relive key moments from the cover star's career.
The chance to play as a three-year-old toddler Tiger has a certain amount of novelty value, but I can't help feeling the developers missed a trick in not including as much emphasis on the latter part of his career.
I'm surely not the only one who would have welcomed a bonus driving level where you're challenged with escaping Tiger's mansion in an SUV, chased by a vengeful wife wielding a 9-iron.
With the perfect golf game almost in the bag, you'd think it impossible for EA to find a way to mess things up, but that's what they've done with the inclusion of the game's coins system.
The $100 you've coughed up for the game disc only grants you access to certain courses – in order to experience the full complement you'll need to earn the in-game currency of "coins".
These can be accrued in miniscule amounts as you progress through the game, but you're reminded at every available opportunity of the option to spend hard cash for instant access – something that would almost double the purchase price if you wanted the whole shebang.
Perhaps the publishers thought that a golf game's target demographic would have the kind of disposable income that would make this a minor inconvenience; but the prospect that EA is testing the water for wider inclusion in its huge stable of sports games is a worrying development.
Not content with gamers loyally shelling out for annual updates of what is essentially the same game, it seems the temptation to eke out every last dollar from consumers is too much to resist.
- © Fairfax NZ News