I DEBATED what to call this post, because there are two key headlines for this year’s Tiger Woods game. One is a focus on microtransactions so obnoxious it’s often hard to tell what parts of the game you’ve actually bought and which are placeholders to sell MS points. The other is high winds, where it feels nearly half the rounds I’ve played have featured conditions of 15-20 MPH or higher, which feels like a cheap, lazy way to add difficulty to the game. In the end, neither of these are enough to break what’s still a solid game at its core, but remain a constant irritant nonetheless.
The Masters Reloaded
Some background: I’ve been a fan of the Tiger games for over a decade, and usually put a hundred-plus hours into each installment each year. I even had the chance to interview Mr. Woods years ago (before all the personal-life shenanigans) and was thrilled when EA started releasing the games in the spring a few years back instead of the fall, meaning it no longer had to compete with Madden and other holiday releases for my playing time.
That long tradition came to an end for me last year with Tiger 12 (the first to carry the “Masters” subtitle and lack Tiger’s face on the cover). After just a few hours, I hit a wall where I couldn’t progress, as the game kept directing me towards an event I was ineligible for. I tried on at least a dozen occasions to figure it out, but never succeeded. I readily admit the possibility that maybe I missed something, but feel confident in the following: if someone who’s been a hardcore videogamer for 35 years can’t figure out your menus, your game has failed epicly.
Which brings us to Tiger 13, which again carries the “Masters” subtitle (and is the only of the four majors in the game referred to by its official name – the US Open, for example, is called the “United States Championship). I have the “Collector’s Edition” of the game, which boasts “20 additional championship courses” on the disc, although that math seems off. As far as I can tell, there are only 5 additional courses in the CE, and the “20” comes from having 4 pin placements for each, which is playing pretty fast and loose with the word “course.” (Another word that comes to mind is “lying.”)
Oh, and the CE comes with an “exclusive green jacket presentation.” Wait, so people with the regular edition don’t get a 30-second cutscene of your player getting a green jacket after winning the Masters? Geez, could you be any more stingy with your content, EA?
I’ve spent most of my time in two areas of the game: the Tiger “Legacy” mode, and the “Road to the PGA Tour,” which respectively fulfill the traditional roles of “campaign” and “career” modes. “Legacy” tasks you with recreating moments from Tiger’s life on a year-by-year basis, starting with his appearance on the Mike Douglas Show as a child, through the Tiger Slam and beyond. (No, there’s no event where he crashes his SUV into a tree.) As Tiger campaign modes go, this one isn’t bad, although a few events are brutally tough.
It’s the career mode, however, that the focus on DLC and microtransactions becomes troublesome. As you play, you acquire “coins,” with which you can buy limited rounds on DLC courses or refills for “pins,” which offer boosts in various stats. The problem is, you’re given a bunch of free pins at the start, so you assume they’re part of the normal game, and several DLC courses are integrated into the tour schedule, so coins quickly become a crucial commodity.
Of course, coins are acquired at a limited pace, so EA kindly gives you the option to purchase all this stuff outright with MS points. And it quickly feels like a big cash grab, where the game is constantly dangling stuff for you to guy with real world bucks. The whole thing, especially the infusion of DLC courses in the main calendar, feels both greedy and confusing, as if you’ve only bought half a game. Imagine a first-person shooter or RPG where you’re constantly offered side missions or weapons to be bought with real money, and get some idea how disruptive this is to the overall experience.
On the links, there have been some tweaks to the swing interface. The overswing mechanic has been built into the main action of swinging with the analog stick (instead of mashing a button while trying to swing), to which I give a thumbs up. I also like this putting interface, which puts more focus on reading the greens correctly, and am beyond thrilled that the game ditched the awful “focus” mechanic from a few years back.
As my headline mentioned, my other big gripe is the ridiculous overemphasis on extreme wind conditions and bad weather, where it feels half the rounds I’ve played have had winds of 15-20 MPH or higher. What? It’s one thing if it’s a course like St. Andrews, where weather commonly plays a factor, but it feels like half of my first season was played in a wind tunnel, and quite a few others in rainy conditions. Perhaps the most ridiculous is the par 3 at Augusta where the wind just spins in a constant circle, unlike any wind condition you’ll ever see in the real world. It comes across as a lazy way to add difficulty to the game, but ultimately ends up just annoying.
(There’s also Kinect support for Tiger 13 this year, if you’re interested in standing in front of your TV and pretending you’re swinging an imaginary golf club. Alas, I can offer no commentary on this, as I remain a Kinect holdout and have yet to hear anyone suggest it’s particularly great.)
Aside from the Legacy and Tour modes, there’s also plenty of online stuff available, from playing head to head against other players to a gaggle of daily and weekly tournaments. Again, these also integrate DLC courses and allow stat boosts from coins, adding yet more incentive to pick them up with real money. But at the end of the day, you can sidestep a lot of this stuff and still get your hundred+ hours in with what remains a solid game at its core. I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts, because who knows what next year’s installment will bring.
Sluggo’s Score: B+