The Tiger Woods series is struggling to find its way. After sticking with the troubled superstar over the past few years of scandal and an extended slump, EA Sports doesn't seem to know what to do with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 on the Xbox 360. This could have been a very good golf game, but its identity has been watered down with gimmicky Kinect support, a lame mode where you play as Eldrick Tont Woods from tyke to today, and extortionate downloadable content. Gamepad swing mechanics have been nicely overhauled, and the new Country Club mode promises to help the game establish an online community, but taken together, all the new features don't add up to anything meaningful.
Lil' Tiger may be cute, but the new Tiger Legacy mode needs a lot more than that to be enjoyable.
There isn't much new in Tiger Woods 13. The look and sound of the game haven't improved much over earlier releases, although there do seem to be more nifty shadow effects on courses and a few more commentary lines from main booth jockey Jim Nantz. The core game is essentially brought forward from last year in its entirety. All the main modes of play are back for another round. You can play one-off matches, set up a golfer and begin a pro career, head online for multiplayer tournaments, head to The Masters again, and so forth.
The most significant addition is Tiger Legacy, where you play as the great one in various stages of his life, from childhood to the present day and beyond. Sadly, Tiger's life was extraordinarily tedious, if this game is to be believed. EA does nothing of interest with this feature. All it does is provide different Tiger player models to look at while you shoot your way through boring challenges like dropping balls into a backyard wading pool, hitting target scores in rounds, helping Tiger break Jack Nicklaus' record for victories in the Majors, and so forth.
A much more notable change comes with the gamepad swing mechanics. Standard button pushing has been tweaked pretty extensively in the new Total Swing Control for the gamepad. It works a fair bit like the left-stick-oriented control scheme from last year, but with more options and more attention paid to things like the tempo of your swing and foot position. In other words, it's a little harder to nail long drives that split the fairway, or make accurate approach shots that land you a couple of feet from the cup, especially when you nudge the difficulty above pro. But you get used to the changes quickly.
Kinect support can make shots like this incredibly satisfying or incredibly frustrating, depending on whether or not the sensor picks up your swing.
While this is a superior system, one that offers you a great deal more control in all aspects of making shots, it isn't so dramatically better that it makes the game a must-buy. That said, it does offer the best putting mechanics in the history of the series. Putting is spectacularly accurate here. The thumbstick perfectly tracks your motions when pulling back and pushing forward, letting you make some jaw-dropping 50-footers, or at least put up some valiant attempts and get close to the cup. Say good-bye to the annoying old days of cursing out your thumbs when a putt inexplicably came up too short or wound up running 20 feet too long because the controls let you down.
Kinect support is offered here for the first time, but it comes with a lot of irritations. Most notably, it really helps to use a stick or a shortened golf club like the ones made for the Wii to help guide your movements. A lot of effort is required to take shots, especially when driving. So if you don't have something to grip to help your balance, it's easy to wind up off-kilter or possibly even pull muscles by practically corkscrewing your body into the living-room carpet. Still, the motion-sensing gizmo can be almost breathtaking at times. When you slam a drive down the fairway it almost feels like you've really just slammed a drive down the fairway. Approach shots, playing out of the rough, escaping the sand, and so forth all require some serious touch as well. Get out of a tough spot, and you feel like doing some authentic Tiger fist pumps.