Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06
A sport like golf appears simple in theory. Using a number of differently shaped and angled clubs it is your task to whack a ball from the tee into the hole underneath a distant flag in as little a number of swings as possible. In reality the opposite is true. This reviewer is still haunted by memories of a four-hour slog around a 'pitch and putt' course, a test of endurance over a landscape that at its furthest point looked like nothing but a blur on the summer horizon. At a time of near-collapse, sun burnt and dehydrated whilst handing back our rented clubs I swore never to play golf again. Well, not in reality at least. Enter EA's Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, the sixth game in a series which has successfully managed to bring the outside indoors and no chance of finishing a round with an increased risk of skin cancer or a heat stroke.
In EA's attempt to convince fans of the previous games that this year's is worth shelling out for there is one major difference between Tiger Woods 06 and its prequels. Get ready to be blown away by the news that the new killer addition is... a new club swinging method! Whether that's worth shelling out your hard earned cash for is questionable, however. The new system integrates use of the right analogue stick for the first time in the series (or the 'shape stick' as EA like to call it), giving you the opportunity to be more precise with the shots you play. By using the right analogue stick to position a dot on a small golf ball icon that appears in the bottom right-hand portion of the screen you are able to add fade, draw, topspin or backspin to your swing. Control of your ball continues as you can tweak its rotation both in mid-air and on the point of impact. In addition, a new Gamebreaker meter makes an appearance. It fills up when you play consistently well and when full boosts the accuracy and power of your shots. Unfortunately the implementation of the new control method and the Gamebreaker meter are more overly an arbitrary addition. Learning to control both analogue sticks in perfect synchronisation is by no means an essential skill until the most difficult stages for those of you dreaming of mastering every hole on each course.
Putting has also had an overhaul. First you will notice various colour coded beads that travel along the grid lines of the green. These exist to make the gradient of the slopes that you are attempting to bypass on the way to the hole clearer. Secondly EA have included arrows which indicate the power needed for the ball to reach the hole if the green was flat. Obviously this makes your task an effort to judge the real power you need on less accommodating steep or sloping plains. Lastly, banished is the over-helpful caddy or Tiger's vision cone, both of which almost guaranteed a successful putt and removed much of any challenge on the player's part. In their place is the 'ideal putt camera', which on switch displays a ground level view of the hole indicating via a white stripe the best direction to putt in. Of course the idea would be that this is just a hint meaning that the player must re-discover this perfect angle when the camera is repositioned to give an overall view of the shot. However, a flaw that exists renders this new system as unsuccessful at offering any major challenge as previously. Noting where the white stripe of the 'ideal putt camera' meets a background object such as a tree, then mirroring this angle in relation to the same piece of background scenery as you prepare to swing almost promises success if you've judged the power correctly.
The career mode in Tiger Woods 06 has been renamed Rivals and gives you the opportunity to create a character before working your way towards golf superstardom, seeing off challenges from golfing greats from throughout the ages along the way. The wealth of options included to shape your character is easily large enough to mould an avatar that looks similar to yourself or anyone else you want to take to the tee. One of the best new inclusions is the ability to choose the voice of your player, both in pitch and tone. The accents available are all hideously American but it's certainly something fresh with the potential to build on in later games. The Rivals mode works you through a process of varied mini-competitions against competitors and while certainly it is a lengthy process it is let down once again by the lack of any real challenge. When you come face to face with the likes of Nicklaus and Tiger himself they're just not as threatening an opposition as you'd expect them to be. As long as you've got 'ideal putt camera' and a keen eye for background props you're well on your way to shaming Tiger and his peers in front of their loyal fans.
Away from the seriousness of the Rivals and the PGA Tour Season mode are a comprehensive set of other options. Best Ball, Four Ball and Battle Golf matches accommodate up to four players for a competitive team game amongst friends, for instance. There's something about the leisurely pace of golf that makes multiplayer games a lot more intense. Having to wait your turn when you're losing while your competitor takes an age to eye up his next shot becomes unbearable very quickly, with the result of making you even more competitive! An online mode is also supported, presumably though it suffers in the same way that the offline game does, with proficient players golfing like masters after they've discovered the major flaw and subsequent simplicity of aiming. Away from the sweaty-palmed multiplayer action is the Skills 18 mode. This is great for touching up on the accuracy of your swing as you are awarded points for thwacking your ball through numerous coloured rings that hover above the course.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf 06 is the most realistically convincing golf game around and definitely worth a look in for those wanting something less cutesy compared to Everybody's Golf or the GameCube's little known beauty Ace Golf. Animations are smooth and consistent with the nature and mood of each golfer (who are all considerably well detailed), and the courses border on artistic such is the beauty of their aestheticism. The only way that EA could possibly further have captured the sensual experience of playing professionally would have been to hire staff to freshly cut gamers' lawns before they commenced play and perhaps given them all a few hearty thumps on the arms to replicate muscle tiredness. With this in mind it is such a shame that the overall challenge of the game is marred by a new inclusion that is easily flawed in the same respect as its predecessors. There is no doubt that another sequel is in development as this overview is written. What remains to be seen is whether EA can reintroduce a suitable element of difficulty to knock the series back in the right direction without forcing an unintentional bogie.