It’s been a year now since the publicity surrounding Tiger Woods’ marital mishaps forced any real acknowledgement of the star to be removed from EA’s premium golf series. But time is a great healer, and, heading into the Masters, last year’s laughing stock is now the one to watch. That change in attitude is reflected throughout Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 too, with the sport’s biggest name returned to the limelight for his success on the links (and not with the ladies). While Tiger’s forced to share the attention with current poster boy Rory McIlroy, it’s a notable improvement from last year’s emphasis on one of Augusta’s hallowed greens. But, packaging adjustments aside, does PGA Tour 13 do enough to warrant an upgrade from last year’s release?
It’s perhaps telling that the title opens with a menu designed to highlight all of the tweaks made to this year’s update. Thankfully, while the introduction might leave you feeling suspicious, the changes are noticeable from the very first tee.
The swing system is the star of PGA Tour 13. It still operates on the left analogue stick as in previous releases, but is now much more dependent on rhythm and flow. Tempo, speed and backswing all play into the accuracy of your shot, in addition to the smoothness of your swing. Previous Tiger Woods titles would allow you to delay the time between your backswing and follow-through, producing a perfect shot regardless of rhythm, but PGA Tour 13 strips away that option, forcing you to make a consistent motion for every swing.
It’s a natural evolution for the simulation aspect of the game, and it’s aided by good feedback. An on-screen arc will demonstrate the direction of your swing, while controller rumble warns you of any particularly wayward strokes before you follow-through. Meanwhile, an on-screen indicator depicts the accuracy of your previous shot, allowing you to make adjustments for your next attempt.
You can also set up stance and strike positions, allowing you to adapt the way you approach the ball and the area you hit. This becomes particularly advantageous in bunkers and roughs, allowing you to dig the ball out of a challenging lie, but it also permits you to be really creative with your shot selection, adding draws and fades as well as adapting the ball’s trajectory.
As in previous iterations, PGA Tour 13 cleverly walks the line between accessibility and hardcore simulation. Series veterans will find themselves thoroughly enjoying the wealth of shot options on offer, but that doesn’t mean the game is impenetrable for newcomers. Last year’s caddy system is present once again, automatically handling shot preparation and allowing you to focus on swings. Meanwhile, a new addition entitled the manual caddy system gives you a checklist of suggestions but requires you to make the final decision in terms of shot placement, club selection and more. The various difficulties are balanced by multipliers, meaning beginners won't feel penalised for using assists but veterans receive greater score bonuses for turning them off. It’s a smart way of handling difficulty, and it ensures that PGA Tour 13 is accommodating for all players.
Outside of the tweaked swing mechanics, the biggest new addition to PGA Tour 13 is the Tiger Legacy mode, a themed challenge mode charting the progression of Woods’ career from pint-sized toddler through to full-blown legend. You’ll participate in events ranging from the titular star’s first hole-in-one right through to his very first Masters win. While the feature is reasonably well implemented, it’s notably dry — there was the opportunity to create something of stature here, outlining the progression of a true champion, but each objective feels lonely and lacks spectacle. Commentary from Tiger lends some credibility to proceedings, but the low budget presentation leaves a sour taste.
As you compete in PGA Tour 13 you’ll accumulate coins. These can be spent on new boost pins which enhance the statistics of various player attributes and have a finite number of uses. Buying new packs works similarly to in FIFA Ultimate Team, with EA more than happy to allow you to purchase coins via the PlayStation Network if you haven’t earned enough in-game.
Similarly coins can be used to purchase rounds at downloadable courses, giving you the opportunity to master the premium layouts and unlock them for good. Tellingly, you’ll need to earn a lot of coins to play a single round at one of these courses and, naturally, you’ll be unable to master the location in a single set of 18 holes. Once again, that “Purchase More Coins” option sits temptingly at the bottom of the screen if you haven’t quite earned enough. It’s all a bit cynical, and while it’s entirely possible to unlock everything without spending a penny, the freemium model appears to be creeping into premium releases.
The best way to earn coins is to join a country club. These creatable clans allow you to work with friends (or strangers) to complete objectives and improve the status of your team. As you play, your membership rank will improve, allowing you to earn a greater payout at the end of a set period of time. You’ll also earn invites to VIP tournaments and the opportunity to represent your club against other teams. It’s a neat addition that adds a sense of community to the game, and that’s accentuated by the inclusion of in-game message boards and more.
It’s just a shame that a similar level of love and attention hasn’t been given to the game’s visuals. Make no mistake, PGA Tour 13 is a reasonably good looking game, but it falls short compared to the expectations set by other EA Sports titles. Character models are poorly animated, and the courses themselves are plagued with bad textures and blurry backdrops. It’s a game that’s really starting to show its age, and while it’s unlikely you’ll be playing PGA Tour 13 for its visuals, it’s a shame that a sport well known for its attractive settings is starting to look so bland.
The graphical flaws are especially noticeable in Career mode – a repurposing of last year’s rag-to-riches calendar campaign – which sees you moving between identical courses with very little artistic variety. The sense of occasion just isn’t there, and even when you play at the prestigious Augusta National Golf Club, the game manages to feel a bit bland.
Loading times are still problematic too, with each hole taking about as long to load as it does to play. It would be forgivable if the rest of PGA Tour 13’s interface was slick, but it’s slow and clunky – even changing the gear on your created golfer can take in excess of a minute as the game goes through its lengthy saving procedure.
The implementation of PlayStation Move is similarly frustrating. While the controller feels like a natural fit for the sport, the functionality is flaky. Calibration is finicky and far too sensitive, resulting in even the cleanest stroke to flail wayward. Furthermore, the action of actually constructing a shot is controller-tossingly frustrating, as you wrestle with gestures to add draw and distance to each swing.
While you can add a DualShock 3 (or Navigation controller) to your set-up in order to fine tune your shots, it’s a compromise that seems to defeat the purpose: if you’re going to hold a controller, why not just play with the much more accurate analogue stick? We daresay there will be people able to eke some fun out of the motion controls, but, regardless, the implementation still falls woefully short of where it should be, and that’s a shame given the potential of Sony’s motion device.
With the analogue stick still the best method of control, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 actively invites comparisons to its already competent predecessors. Minor tweaks to the swing mechanic improve the rhythm of play but don’t do enough to reinvigorate the series. New additions such as the Country Club and Tiger Legacy mode offer interesting alternatives to the already established campaign mode, but are unlikely to keep you coming back unless you have a deep investment in the game. Indeed, if you’ve played a recent Tiger Woods title and you’re only a casual fan of the sport, there’s very little reason to upgrade. PGA Tour 13 certainly plays a great round of golf, but it does raise the question of whether an annual update is entirely necessary.