Devil Ball's Proving Ground is the space where we review the latest and hottest products in the golf world. Today, we kill time between rounds with the latest installment of the Tiger Woods video game series.
Quick hit: EA Sports' latest entry in the Tiger Woods franchise is a quirky, fidgety first step in a new world for video games.
Background: Gather 'round, young'uns, and I'll tell you of a time when video-game controllers had one stick and one button, and we liked it! Well, not really; we just didn't know any better. Most game controllers now have more buttons than your standard airplane cockpit, which is fine. But it's right about time for an advancement in controller technology, and Tiger Woods '13 jumps on board the Kinect bandwagon for XBox. (The game is also available for PlayStation 3's Move system.)
The game: By now, you know the deal with the Tiger Woods series. You can play as, or against, Tiger and an assortment of other well-known pros, including Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Graeme McDowell, Luke Donald and many others. You can play at many of the world's best-known courses, including Kiawah Island (site of this year's PGA Championship), Pebble Beach, the Old Course at St. Andrews and of course Augusta National. Even if you're a jaded gamer vet, there's still something fairly awesome about standing on the 12th tee at Augusta, wondering if you have what it takes to stick your shot on the deck … or watch it spin into Rae's Creek.
The Kinect: With the Kinect, the player is the controller, meaning that as you swing, your online avatar swings. As you putt, your online avatar putts. As you hesitate and try to figure out what to do, so too does your avatar twitch and fidget. You calibrate the Kinect by standing about 6-10 feet away from it, and then it tracks various points of your body – hands, shoulders, hips, knees – to mimic your swing. You have to face the television, meaning you're turned at a 90-degree angle from your online golfer, but once you get over that visual disconnect, you're fine.
What this means is that if you've got some facility for golf, you can get up to speed pretty quickly. It's like the late, lamented Guitar Hero serie: If you already know how to play guitar, you were decent at the game from the start. Likewise, the basic mechanics of the game are the same as real-world golf. That's a real pleasure if you know what you're doing … and very frustrating if you don't – like, say, many gamer kids. (Which is not the worst thing in the world; it was sweet revenge seeing my kids, who destroy me at Halo, struggling off the tee while I striped it 300 yards down the fairway at Augusta.)
Putting is the trickiest element of the game; all too often I was either sending the ball half a mile past the hole, or more frequently, leaving it well short. And with no controller to throw, all you can do is stomp around a bit. Which is probably for the best.
The modes: The new "Legacy Mode" lets you play as Tiger all the way through his career, from age 2 (which is weird) to age 22, when he won his first Masters. Cutting it off that early avoids all the easy Perkins-related jokes for Tiger, though the opportunity to play against, say, Rocco Mediate for the 2008 U.S. Open would be a welcome (and probably future) addition to the game. You can also play in the standard match-play and stroke-play styles, with a variety of scoring methods.
There are 36 courses available, though 20 of them are locked when you start the game. You need to earn your way into them one way or another, either by winning challenges or by paying online. Whether you see that as a manageable obstacle or an annoyance probably depends on how much time you have to spend.
Bottom line: Tiger Woods '13 with the Kinect is a quantum leap forward in terms of control, but as such it's not quite as smooth as it will be one day. If you can put up with a bit of frustration learning the techniques (swiping your hands like you're cleaning windows to get the screen to change, for instance), it'll pay off. Regardless, there's always plenty to enjoy about the Tiger franchise, and if you can't get on Augusta or Pebble any time soon, it'll make a fine substitute.
Copies of the game and Kinect were provided for review purposes. To have your product considered for a future Proving Ground segment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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