Electronic Arts has done it. The promised next-generation of Tiger Woods PGA Tour has arrived. Only, there's a catch: very little about it is actually next-generation. Certainly, it's still a reliable and enjoyable golf experience, but it does nothing to advance the series. In fact, it even strips it of important features and options that fans might expect. Even the visuals, which are respectable, aren't enough to have you wondering how they pulled off some leap in realism. In other words, there's no ambitious new era of videogame golf being ushered in with the 360's launch. What EA is giving owners of Microsoft's Xbox successor is something to tide them over, a stand-in. It's something that will satisfy the casual consumer that perhaps only plays the Tiger games sporadically, or those hungry for something at launch, but not those who have been following the franchise for years.
EA's previously released versions of Tiger 06 are simply better (and cheaper too). Now, we're not saying you won't like some aspects of the new Tiger. But should you spend your dollars on it? As a consumer, you will help decide the future with that very decision. Do you invest in Tiger Woods 360 for the HDTV capabilities and graphics, letting publishers know quick turnaround times and minor feature changes are acceptable, or do you wait for something better, be it from EA or another developer? Let's get into the specifics so you have what you need to make a wise decision.
Unlike other titles for the 360 launch, the Tiger development team made the difficult decision to not rehash the same game that is available for current generation consoles. This was a noble path, but it seems the tight deadline to meet launch has taken its toll. Tiger 360 brings all-new menus, a more focused career mode, some new courses, and a few other presentation changes, but overall it's less fully featured. The revamped graphics seem to be the center of the development efforts, in fact. There are only six licensed courses: Riviera Country Club, Pebble Beach, TPC at Sawgrass, Carnoustie, Pinehurst No. 2, and Turnberry. Although they have been visually enhanced to look more true to the real life locales, it still doesn't erase the fact that you will find over twice that amount in the current-gen Tiger 06.
The feature set suffers the same fate. To even get a hold of these six courses, you have to play through Career mode. This means you'll be playing a lot of Pebble Beach if you don't start a career. The idea is that you will work your way up from being an amateur to a full-fledged PGA pro that takes the masters one day. You begin with simple chip-in challenges and par three limited face-offs at Pebble Beach, but soon after you will unlock Riviera and TPC Sawgrass. Once you open TPC, Q-School will be in session -- the four-round tournament that decides your entry into pro status and the PGA Tour which is the bulk of the career experience.
This setup doesn't sound so bad, right? Well, when you start to experience a game over such a small amount of courses that are devoid of variety, things get old fast. The 72 holes of Q-School were so gruelingly redundant that for one of the first times in the history of EA's Tiger franchise, we wanted to just stop playing all together. It became a tedious obstacle that stood between us and the PGA Tour.
It's a core problem with the new Tiger for 360 -- there's only an average amount of work put into the presentation. A big part of that issue, as we've said, is only having access to six courses. Q-School is a great example of how the game can fall flat because of this. To help you better get a sense of it all, imagine this: it's sunset, the wind is gently blowing, and the crowds are gathered. You've got four 18-hole rounds (72 holes) to play in these conditions. It's pretty much the same thing in repetition. You are trapped in time and space; you will never experience the dewy fairways of Sawgrass' mornings, the uncertainty of dense fog, or the difficulties of a rainy day or twilight -- all features PC fans will know are not new to the Tiger series. Other than having the desire to unlock some pro shop items and max out your created player, there's not a lot of incentive to keep playing these courses, let alone the PGA Tour. And when you finally enter the Tour the lack of presentation continues. This franchise still does not meet fans with a level of immersion that puts you deep in the tour with club house presentation, fancy camera work, or perhaps cut-scene updates with highlights from competing players.
Now, having brought up some of these downsides, it's important to still understand that Tiger is still fundamentally enjoyable. What you get with it on the Xbox 360 is very straightforward. It's hitting the reset button on the graphics engine and the game features. However, it still has many of the advancements that the series has made with dual analog swinging and putting. It also has the advanced create-a-player options it's always had in addition to a bevy of custom animations you'll be able to unlock -- a number of which are actually quite funny. Additionally EA has added in the crowds, which is a big deal for those that have previously played on the PGA Tour modes in past Tigers. Normally you didn't get that atmosphere, but now you do and you can even peg them with errant hits, whereupon they'll react pretty accurately to where they got smacked. As well, multiplayer options are still available both online and off. There's no return of skill tests or target shootouts, but since Tiger 06 for 360 seems to focus more on the realism of the sport, maybe that's not so fitting anyway.
All of those things considered, it seems like Tiger 06 is more for the hardcore fans who just can't do without a more technologically impressive golf game for their 360s. EA has given you a respectable option, but it's also not adding much value over the current generation Tiger titles. As the years progress, we hope EA rethinks its strategy and tries to one-up all its current Tigers (including PC), bringing fans a deeply immersive golfing experience, tons of courses, features, weather effects, and, hey, maybe even another tweak or two to the swinging and putting systems. We're looking forward to it.
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