April 7, 2012
Have I written here about my history with the Tiger Woods series? I know I’ve written about each game I’ve played (see: the Tiger tag), but that’s not quite the same thing.
I’m not a golfer, and it wasn’t really something I watched on TV. I suppose I only started paying attention to golf when Tiger Woods started kicking ass and becoming some sort of force of nature, and, well, it’s exciting to watch legends at their peak, doing things that no mortal man can do. I wasn’t alive for Babe Ruth, and I didn’t pay attention to Wayne Gretzky’s career, but Tiger Woods was here and now and only a little older than me, and he was fundamentally changing the sport, and it was legitimately exciting to see.
But I never got into videogame golf until 2002 or so, and that was probably because there was a demo for a Tiger game on the OXM disc for that particular month, and I was bored and figured I’d give it a try. And 2 things occurred to me almost instantly after I fired up the demo – (1) the game was really fun, and (2) I was really good at it. And it was nice to be really good at a game, as opposed to just good enough to get to the end. I bought Tiger Woods ’02 shortly thereafter, and found it a marvelous experience in a multitude of ways – it filled long, boring afternoons; the fantasy courses were a pleasant change from the real-world courses; the Tiger Challenge was a novel take on the career mode; I could listen to my own music instead of the game without missing anything important; and, most importantly, the career lasted long enough to get me through those endless summer months where nothing was coming out. And, as I said before, I was really good at it. And so the Tiger games became the annual franchise that I cared about and looked forward to. Some people have Madden; some people have Call of Duty; I have Tiger.
Well, I had Tiger. Ever since the console switch in ’06, the new Tiger games have struggled mightily to reach their potential.* Each year has been one disappointment on top of another, and I’ve started to lose hope.
So when I say that I don’t think I hate Tiger Woods 13 yet, it’s probably a good sign. Well, let me put it another way – I don’t want to strangle it to death, the way I did with 12.
My biggest grievance against Tiger 12 was how completely out of my hands the game felt at times, especially with regards to the putting game. I was missing putts left and right, with no discernable reason why. If the game at least explained what I’d done wrong, I suppose I could understand – but there was no such feedback. It felt arbitrary and unfair, and while golf (the sport) is frequently unfair, at least that’s just physics and your own skill letting you down. In 12, the putting game boiled down to getting lucky on an invisible coin toss, which is unfair in the sort of way that makes my eyes bleed. (The game’s big innovation last year was the inclusion of the Masters, which didn’t really matter to me one way or the other. It’s nice that it was there, I suppose, but the game went out of its way to kiss the Masters’ ass, which was also probably a good way for EA to distract its customers from the sad trajectory of Tiger Woods’ actual professional career.
The big innovation in Tiger 13 (as there must always be one new thing) is the new True Swing mechanism, or whatever it’s called. (I ought to know, at this point – you have to press the A button no less than 4 or 5 times before you’re actually playing golf, and I suppose they advertise the name of the swing on one of those splash screens, but my ADD is such that I’d rather look at my iPad in the interim.) The success of your swing depends on the accuracy and the tempo of your left thumb ‘s movement. This isn’t totally new – the last few games showed you how close your thumb moved in a straight line, too – but this tempo mechanic is very interesting and feels a lot more responsive. It applies to the putting game as well, and while it does take a little bit of getting used to, it does make some intuitive sense at the very least, and so when I whiff a putt I know understand why – it’s usually because I get impatient and push too hard on the upswing, thereby sending the ball off the green entirely.
My big grievance of the moment, then, is the chipping game. This never used to be a problem. And I don’t really often end up in the sand off the greens all that much, so it’s not really that big a problem in the grand scheme of things. Still, though, there’s a major discrepancy between where the game tells you the ball’s going to land, and where the ball actually ends up (which is usually well past the hole, and then ultimately off the other side of the green, so you have to do the whole damned thing again).
As for the rest of the package; well, there’s the Tiger Woods Legacy mode, where you play as Tiger as a 2 year old in his backyard, launching chip shots into a swimming pool, and other assorted important touchstones of the Tiger Woods mythos. It’s not particularly engaging, and it’s also a little weird, and the more I think about it the more it comes off as some sort of PR strategy towards repairing the Tiger brand – making him human again, making him a little kid again, before the utter collapse and everything that ensued afterwards.
You may be surprised – if you’ve made it this far – that I haven’t talked about the insane in-game purchase stuff. A lot of reviews went out of their way to really nail EA to the wall over this – how over half of the courses are hidden behind a pay wall, and how you can pay real money to power-level your character and all the rest of it. Yeah, it does disgust me, sure. But to be honest, I haven’t really hit any of those obstacles just yet. (To be even more honest, I’ve really only played the first 2 full 18-hole rounds in the career mode, which (I felt) was enough to let me know how the game felt in my hands. I might also add that I went -8 in my first round, and -6 in my 2nd, which included some horrendous 3-putts but also a fantastic eagle from 150 yards out.) I haven’t yet entered my Online Pass code yet, and I don’t yet know if that will make a difference as I get farther into the career. As it happens, you can still buy courses (or, rather, playtime on courses which are still locked for general use) with in-game currency that you earn through play, so I’m hopeful that as long as I pay attention to my stash, I won’t run into any problems. (Rest assured, though, that I’ll scream VERY LOUDLY if I do.)
* Ranking the Tiger games would be its own column, one which I’m not prepared to get into at this very moment. But I’d break the rankings in half, anyway, between the Xbox 1 and the Xbox 360. As I said above, the games on the original Xbox were incredibly fun, approachable, and intuitive, and they featured tons of fantasy courses (some of which were fucking insane), and it was not uncommon to bomb 400 yard drives and get holes in one on Par 4s, and while they weren’t super-gorgeous, they certainly got the job done. The move to the current console generation was, shall we say, a bit rough; ’06 was a fucking joke. Off the top of my head, I’d put ’03 at the top of my overall list, and I’d probably put ’09 at the top of this generation’s run; ’09 looked great (not just in terms of graphics – the fonts looked really good, too), and they hadn’t fucked with the controls too much.