With less than three months of 2012 behind us, it’s a little bit odd to see the first 2013 title from EA Sports’ range upon us, but with the new release schedule established by the series a while back now cemented into the annual calendar, it’s something we’re starting to get used to each year. As with all EA Sports titles, it’s not too often that we see a revolution in gameplay but the gradual updates, improvements, engine enhancements, mode additions and tweaks make up for the regular releases more often than not.
While we weren’t particularly enamoured with last year’s instalment, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 started to pique our interest when the first details of what would lie in wait began to emerge, so we were willing to put our past gripes aside in the hope that the series could reach the heights of its peak a few years back. Despite being burnt many times by such foolish hopes and dreams, we’re relieved to say that normal service has very much been resumed and, just like Woods himself, it looks like the franchise is ready to emerge from some troubled times.
We’ll start by taking a look at the most notable of the new additions, the Tiger Legacy Challenge. This mode charts Tiger’s rise to prominence from his appearance on the Mike Douglas show back in 1978 as a two year old, right the way through to the present day and beyond. It’s a unique approach from EA, and it adds a great change of pace to the series. Not only does it provide a wonderful insight into Woods’ career, but it serves as the perfect introduction to the game’s mechanics for newcomers and those who have missed out on some of the more recent instalments.
Each stage in Woods’ development is accompanied by a voiceover from the man himself, offering some fantastic tidbits of information about the shaping of a legendary career. Each of the stages focuses on a different facet of the game, and you’re free to retry failed sections as often as you like with no penalties. Given the fact that the controls are a little bit more precise than they have been previously, it’s the perfect way for you to learn the ropes across a wealth of different disciplines and set yourself up for a real shot at the big time in your own career.
Perhaps the biggest value of the Tiger Legacy Challenge is the fact that it enables you to fully come to grips with the most important feature of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 gameplay; swing tempo. Never before has it played such an important part in the game, and unless you can get your head around it early on it’s going to be an uphill struggle. Last year, we found the game to fall down on many fronts, not least of which was the fact that it was simply too finicky about your inputs. While that pickiness hasn’t seen any real change, there’s finally a solid introduction into the way the game prefers you to play.
Of course Tiger Legacy Challenge plays but a small part in the full package here. As fun and all as it is, it doesn’t actually offer the player any real rewards such as experience points or the ability to tool up your own character; that’s where Career Mode comes in. As in previous years, your career is the main focus of the single player side of the game. It serves both as your main route to overall improvement and your blank canvas when it comes to ironing out any kinks that may have crept into your game.
You’ll start by creating your golfer. Unlike many games, there’s a function available to speed up the process through randomization. While there are plenty of people out there who want to go to great depths to tweak their character’s appearance, we tend to be rather impatient, opting instead to get everything over and done with as quickly as possible so that we can jump into the fray. Those of you who want to truly find yourselves in the game will be able to make use of the ever improving, and always enjoyable, Game Face feature which allows you to map your face onto your character for a truly personalized experience.
Once that’s out of the way, you’ll find your first sponsorship offer waiting and it’s time to start on the Road to the PGA Tour. Here you’ll be presented with a choice of three different Amateur Tours for you to select from; American, United Kingdom and World. The choice you make won’t have any huge bearings on how your character proceeds, aside from the courses on offer, so it’s a risk free choice.
Once you’re up and running, there’s one more choice you’ll have to make before you can hit the fairway – each event features a training challenge and a sponsor challenge, as well as the actual competition itself, so you’ll need to decide if you’re willing to jump right in, or try to collect yourself some nice bonuses along the way.
Now that you’re finally ready to hit some balls under your own character’s profile, you’ll find that things just feel a lot smoother this time around. The swing mechanic has been refined ever so slightly, making it a tad more accessible to first timers, but with the heavier focus being placed upon tempo as well as swing accuracy, there’s a level of depth and required consistency here that will keep players coming back time and time again. One thing that may cause some players problems is the fact that the recommended shot guidelines sometimes don’t match up with reality – particularly when it comes to shorter strokes.
Given that pitching is a skill unto itself, it’s not surprising that it carries a much more punishing set of accompanying rules. Even slightly over hit your shot according to the on screen gauge and you’ll find the ball sailing clear over the green, while under hitting it, or choosing the wrong type of shot for the lie and conditions, and you could well be lining up your next shot from mere feet away. Last time around, we found this side of things far too punishing. You always had a clear idea in your head what you wanted to do, but the whole thing just seemed too inconsistent to really make the player feel any enjoyment. That’s something that has been addressed, and it’s no longer the case. Once you start to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t, if you can repeatedly deliver the same inputs, you’ll find that the results are similar enough for you to feel that you’ve actually learned something.
Putting is another element of the game we had issues with last year, but again it’s something that has been tidied up enough that it now feels much more reliable. You’re definitely going to get some of your lines wildly wrong or skew wildly to one side or the other during your backswing on occasion, but you’ll immediately be able to tell what went wrong, as well as figuring out how to avoid a repeat next time around.
The key to these overall stroke improvements is the game’s Total Swing Control system. EA Sports are claiming that it’s the biggest improvement in the series for more than ten years, and it really does show. You’ll be able to track exactly where you went wrong, as well as where you went right with each and every stroke, simply by taking a look at the shot analysis in the left hand corner of the screen. You’ll be able to check out the tempo and accuracy of both your backswing and follow through with a quick glance, and it ensures that you’re kept in the loop about your failings and your successes, rather than feeling unfairly punished as we felt was the case last time around.
The real difference here is the fact that the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 simply feels much better than last year’s title. There haven’t been sweeping changes, but the ones that have been implemented work so well that it’s hard not to feel impressed. For us, the most important thing is the transparency that the game now employs. Not only does make things feel more accessible, but it also lets more experienced players identify their issues before they cause serious problems in the game’s comprehensive online play modes.
The biggest addition on the online side of things is the new Country Clubs feature. Similar to Pro Clubs in FIFA 12, Country Clubs lets you and your friends stick together in one place online making it so much easier to play against each other, team up or play for the Club Championship. On top of all this, there’s a wealth of regular online tournaments, as well as different gameplay modes for you to take part in outside of your Club.
So, for those of you who felt a little underwhelmed by Tiger 12, this year’s offering more than makes up for its failings. EA Sports have done a brilliant job here, and they’ve managed to recover from a misstep to deliver what is undoubtedly the best golfing game we have ever played. It’s got everything you need and then some, and thanks to the stroke mechanic refinements we can think of absolutely no reason why you’re not going to be playing this in twelve months’ time.