Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 Hands-on Preview -- You are the GolferBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Feb 10, 2012
Golf is a tranquil sport. You play it on a wide-open field with few people around, and there's generally very little talking going on during the play portion of the game, to give the golfer at the tee all the space he or she needs to concentrate. Even the commentators for golf tournament broadcasts speak in whispers. That's not what the scene was earlier this week when I went hands-on with EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 at a loud, crowded preview event held in New York City.
"Hands-on" is actually a bit of a misnomer in this case. In truth, my hands never actually touched a controller, or anything else, during my time with the game. PGA Tour 13 will feature an entirely new swing mechanic on the gamepad side, but my demo focused solely on another new feature for the series: Kinect support.
You can, in fact, play through an entire tournament without ever picking up your controller using a series of mostly intuitive hand gestures and body movements. While your golfer is standing at the tee you can raise your left hand up over your eyes, like you're shielding them from sunlight, to go into aiming mode. The camera zooms in on a high-angle view from further down the course, highlighting where the ball is expected to land after you hit it with whichever club you've readied.
Adjusting your aim is a simple matter of raising your right arm and directing it toward the screen, then balling your hand into a fist. Move your fist up/down and left/right to change the lie of an onscreen icon indicating where the ball is expected to land. The icon can't be pushed out any further than the maximum range of the club you're using.
Once you're finished, you open your hand and drop your arm back down to your side to return to the tee POV. From this position, you can raise your right arm again to access an onscreen menu where you can do things like change your club, ask your caddy for advice, or reset your aim. Alternatively, you can bring your hands together at your waist, as if you're gripping a golf club, to approach the tee.
The difficulty on the demo I played was set pretty low, but I'm told that on expert you'll need to essentially execute a proper golf swing in order to send the virtual ball sailing. You're required perform your swing while facing the TV, so that the Kinect can pick up every movement. On the easy difficulty that I played, my atrocious golf skills were fine enough; I swung my arms like I was taught to when holding a golf club, and the ball went flying out toward its destination.
The Kinect measures the tempo of your movements, so the faster you execute your swing, the harder the ball will be hit. This is true for all clubs, from a driver to a putter. Once the ball is in the air, you can twist and turn a balled fist in front of the screen to manipulate the spin on the ball. It's not exactly accurate to real life, since most golfers--possibly even all?--don't have telekinetic powers. It's a cool gesture-oriented take on a longtime Tiger game feature, however. Also, directing the ball's spin with the power of your hand allows you to literally "be the ball." Take that, Caddyshack-era Chevy Chase.
Putting works pretty much the same way, with one added twist. Once your ball is on the green, you can physically crouch down to have the camera shift to a low-angle perspective that stays tight on the ball. This allows you to examine the ball's lie and get a real sense of the green's physical landscape, so you can adjust your putt to account for any uneven terrain.
It all feels very smooth and intuitive, especially if you're familiar with the actual mechanics of how the game of golf is played. I still have questions about the higher difficulty levels; how accurate you need to be in terms of reproducing an actual golf swing and the like. However, the basic play for someone like me on a more forgiving difficulty setting was immediately enjoyable.
I also got to take an eyes-on look at another new feature in PGA Tour 13: the Tiger Legacy Challenge. This is a story-driven solo play mode in which you'll get to live out some of the key highlights from Tiger Woods' career as a golfer. No, there is not a text messaging mini-game. Jerks.
The tone of the mode is light and fun, especially with the action starting on Tiger at the tender age of two years old, wielding a kid-sized golf club for the first time in his parents' backyard. You'll go from hitting balls into a golf net and chipping them into a kiddie pool to taking on some of Tiger's most well-known career moments and various record-breaking performances.
The idea is that this also serves as a sort of tutorial, since through Tiger players get to learn some of the basic concepts of golf. As you progress, you'll unlock Tiger avatars at various ages for use in the rest of the game. It seems like a neat addition to the game; the idea of chipping shots into a kiddie pool as toddler Tiger is ridiculous, but it also seems like a painless entry for newcomers in comparison to a more cut-and-dry tutorial.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 hits the virtual links March 27 for Xbox 360 and PS3.