Reviewed: November 29, 2006
Released: November 14, 2006
Tiger Woods (the game) pissed off a lot of gamers when it made its next-gen debut last year on the Xbox 360. A stripped down, bare minimum shell of a port from the Xbox and PS2 version, most of us could exploit the entire game over a 3-day rental. The only thing that kept us from grabbing pitchforks and torches and storming EA Canada was the promise that it would all be better in 2007.
Well, it’s not quite 2007 yet but like all sports franchises who like to run ahead of themselves, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 is out and the verdict is in. So put away your pitchforks, extinguish those torches, and get ready to golf in true next-gen style.
Released last month on the Xbox 360 (and some last-gen systems), PGA Tour boasts 12 licensed courses including Firestone Country Club, Glen Abbey, Princeville, Spyglass Hill, St Andrews, and Bandon Dunes, twice that of last year’s depressing six, as well as 15 of the world's top players, including Tiger Woods, John Daly, Vijay Singh, Ian Poulter, Michael Campbell, and Annika Sorenstam, the most decorated golfer on the LPGA Tour.
The PS3 version offers up the same healthy portions of golfing goodness that only Tiger Woods and EA Sports can serve up. Technically, and from a gameplay standpoint, the game is nearly identical to the 360 with only a few subtle variations in gameplay, loading, and online ability.
Tiger Woods 07 takes great steps to revolutionize the franchise and personalize the experience for each player. It all starts with the new Game Face system that gives you unprecedented freedom in creating your own golfer. There are so many variations that it would be virtually impossible for any two golfers to look alike. And things can get downright freaky if you start clicking on that randomize button when picking hairstyles and skin tone. Nothing is creepier than a 60-year old golfer with white pale skins, age spots, and a purple Mohawk.
But creating your own golfer is just the first step in a lengthy career of personal development, as you slowly advance by tweaking stats using skill points earned through gameplay as well as purchasing gloves, shoes, clubs, balls, and other licensed pro shop equipment that will add significant bonuses to your attributes.
Before you take off on that epic career you’ll want to check out your very own personalized training area; a series of greens, sand traps, water hazards, slopes, and fairways where you can knock the ball around just for fun or engage in numerous training exercises and mini-games like Battle Golf, 21, and OneBall.
The interface can take a bit of getting used to. The menus aren’t the simplest thing to decipher, but as you are learning where to go and what to do you will be delighted with the new ESPN integration that allows you to hear live feeds of ESPN radio as well as having a sports ticker scroll along the bottom of the screen with all your favorite sports, teams, scores, and news. This is ESPN integration at its finest.
So once you have created your golfer and logged a few hours of practice you’ll want to head out to the two big modes of play, the Tiger Challenge, a new mode where you go up against all the pro golfers in the game in a demanding tournament ladder of events. As you win each challenge your skills improve allowing you to be more competitive in other areas of the game, and if you find yourself losing, there are specific training exercises to improve areas such as power, accuracy, putting, recovery, approach, spin, and even luck.
Also new for Tiger 07 is Custom and Reactive difficulty. Custom allows you to pick your difficulty setting before you start the game while reactive actually analyzes the way you’ve been playing and suggests a setting for you. You are always free to disagree and set the skill level yourself.
Of course the most integral new feature is the True Aiming system that takes away the pinpoint precision of the previous shot system and now creates a dynamic target “area” that changes based on your skill, club, and the type of shot. So when you start off, your target area will be huge, but as your golfer improves, say in approach, and you are using an 8-iron, your circle will become much more focused allowing for more precise shots. You can also use this new targeting system to point where you would like to hit the ball and the necessary club will be chosen to get you to that point.
It all leads up to the PGA Tour Season based on FedEx points earned throughout a massive calendar of events and tournaments. The calendar consists of a five-year tour with 16 events per year. Some of these you won’t qualify for your first or even second year, as you must earn points and increase your rank to be invited or accepted. The bigger the tournament, the more points you earn and the faster your rise to stardom. This is the meat and potatoes of Tiger Woods 07 and can easily take you months to complete.
But all work and no play makes Tiger a…well, I guess if your work is playing golf then nothing is really going to make you deranged, but just in case you do want to take a break from the demanding PGA Tour there are plenty of other game modes to challenge you and your friends. All the standards are here like skins, match, stroke, best ball, four-ball, Stableford, and alternate shot.
New team modes include Greensome – pick the best drive from your team then alternate shots, Bloodsome – where the other team picks your tee shot and you alternate from there, Battle Golf – where you play any 18-hole course (even your own custom design) and the winner of each hole removes a club from their opponent’s bag and adds one back to theirs, and finally, my personal favorite, One Ball. In this mode you take turns hitting the same ball. You are always required to hit the ball at least half the distance to the pin (Circle of Trust) but you want to make sure you don’t set up any of the other players for the winning shot. If you fail to hit the ball in the target area you are in “Betrayal” and lose your next shot in the rotation.
But that is just the main game. We still have all those highly addictive mini-games taunting us from the menu. You can play by yourself, but these games get infinitely more fun when you have others to play with and against. The two new modes are Twenty-One, and Seven – both modes have you earning points by getting closer to the pin that the other players and the first to 21 (or 7) wins the game.
The rest of the mini-game line-up consists of old favorites like Target, Target-to-Target, CTF, T-I-G-E-R, and various contests for putting, driving, approach, and closest to the pin. It’s a massive and diverse line-up of games and events that will keep you playing long after you have exhausted the single-player potential of the game, assuming that is even possible. I suppose you will eventually max your stats and abilities to the point where the game no longer presents a challenge, but that should take the better part of a year.
As far as PS3 exclusives or special features, the SIXAXIS controller is used in a radical way that allows you to tilt the controller to put spin on a ball in flight. This is a much more relaxed way of doing the same thing furious button tapping accomplished on the 360, but at the same time it is also far less engaging and interactive. It's also worth noting that the PS3 version suffers from some devastatingly long load times, not only for loading courses, but even simple things like loading in facial and character updates during the character creation process.
Tiger Woods (the game) has never been too hard on the eyes but PGA Tour 07 really outshines its predecessors with blazing visuals that are as close to photo-realism as you can get while still being created from polygons and textures. The only way this is going to get any more real is if they actually start using digitized photography. Each of the dozen courses spring to life in amazing realism with lush fairways and meticulously manicured greens, raked sand traps, and glistening reflective ponds, or surging waves on the coastal courses.
But the graphical goodness really starts with the players; both the built in pro golfers and the infinite possibilities you can genetically engineer with the new enhanced GameFace creation tool allowing for the deepest character customization ever seen in a video game. And using the all-new UCAP facial capture technology the pro golfers come to life in ways only next-gen consoles can deliver.
All of this new tech is used to create one of the most stunning broadcast presentation styles ever seen in a Tiger Woods game. Video inserts (PIP’s) show close-up facial reactions of the golfers as they make the perfect shot or the perfect flop. Combined with cinematic flyovers and TV-style commentary, anybody passing through the room will believe you are watching a PGA broadcast.
The camera work is excellent with all sorts of coverage and camera angles, some realistic and others only possibly in a video game. Nothing can really compare to the thrill of actually following your ball in flight after that perfect drive down the fairway. There are also cool slow motion and other video effects used to spice up the presentation.
There are new subtle additions like animated crowds that will actually move along the sidelines after you make your shot, just like they do in real life. You can even shank a ball into the crowd and watch an unlucky spectator hop around nursing a bruised ankle.
The PS3 offers native support for 720p, which is slightly less crisp than the 1080i on the 360, but probably helps keep the framerate smoother than would otherwise be possible. The game still looks fantastic and gets better the closer you get with the camera. Oddly enough, things start to get a bit "off" on the more distant views.
EA Trax delivers up a solid mix of ear-pleasing music for the menus and setup screens. Thankfully, EA didn’t sink to the levels of last year where they had Dave Matthews do the theme song simply for the sake of saying he did the theme song. Tiger is perfectly capable of standing on his own with no music, but the selection of licensed tunes are refreshing and spread apart enough that you won’t get tired of them, even after months of play.
Most gamers will gladly trade in their music for the live ESPN news and radio feeds. It was pretty cool hearing all the latest updates for my favorite sports while creating my character and doing ongoing skill maintenance and pro shop shopping between tournaments.
The environmental and ambient sound effects really bring these courses to life with wind, water, and wildlife, plus all the physical sounds of golf like clubs whiffing through grass, sand, and the striking of the ball against woods and irons or the clank as you hit the flag or drop the ball into the cup. Great stuff, especially if your system can support the excellent Dolby Digital surround mix.
For rookie golfers, David Feherty and Gary McCord’s commentary might be funny and refreshing, but for anyone who has played a PGA Tour game in the past three years, we’ve heard 90% of this recycled commentary before and it’s getting pretty tired. We need new guys in the booth for 2008 or at least a new script.
As if you won’t be spending countless weeks and months with this game just exploring all the localized content, PGA Tour 07 offers a comprehensive online package allowing you to play most of the solo modes with people over the PS Network. I'm still not a big fan of this particular online network. There is abundant lag and punk gamers populating the PS Network, both to be expected when your service is free.
But even taking the online element out of this game, PGA Tour offers a 5-year virtual career that will hopefully culminate with you winning, or at least placing in the top finishers of the FedEx Cup, which can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have playing computer golf, and completing the Tiger Challenge comes in a very close second.
EA gets it right with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. It certainly offers a far better launch experience on the PS3 than it did last year on the 360, but then again, the PS3 gets to ride on the coattails of the 360's second offering. And while this new version still lacks a lot of the content (courses) you can still get playing on last-gen systems, the integrated ESPN, amazing GameFace features for your characters and UCAP technology for the pros, and an enhanced True Swing and True Aiming system all combine to make this the best and most advanced professional golf simulation available. It’s also one of the most entertaining games you can share with friends and family.
The bar has been set, and it has been set very high. I seriously doubt anybody will even come close to this level of proficiency in a serious golf game before Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 arrives next year, although I am anxious to see what the new next-gen Hot Shots Golf for the PS3 has in store for us. But until then, this is the best and most engaging Tiger experience to date...and admittedly, your only option for PS3 golf at this time.