Version tested: Xbox 360
It's not a port! It's not a port! Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2006 on Xbox 360 is a new game. A neeew game.
[Goes off to play it.]
Wait, no it isn't!
I don't understand quite what the idea was here. Granted, I was a bit unpleasant about Tiger Woods 2006 the first time (well, strictly speaking I was warmly receptive of it the first time - the issue was that the first time was actually in late 2001), but this 360 game seems to have missed the point. It's different content (about half as much) and lined up in a different way, but the actual game you play is basically identical.
Starting off, you have access to just one course, Pebble Beach. By ploughing through the Career mode's range of tasks, you unlock more, and get to take part in key events (eventually, the PGA Tour itself). The first of these tasks are over quickly and double up as tutorials - chipping closest to the pin, distance-putting closest to the hole, etc. The later ones are more involved and, although sometimes they comment on more advanced techniques like shaping your shot with fade or draw, happier to let you do things yourself - completing all the par-5 holes on a course, for example, or playing a skins match against a pair of fictional golfers, one of whom will be a girl with amply under-shadowed knockers protruding from her fluffier-than-ever sweater.
Beyond that, you can engage in stroke play, match play, skins, etc. on any unlocked course, do some online golfing, and play around with the Game Face character-designer tool. That is the whole game.
You play the same way you did in the other 2006 versions. The main change there was to putting, which is now based on a grid with moving lines (like most other golf games) and the degree to which you pull the analogue stick back before following through, rather than guestimations based on how far left, right, long or short your caddy specifies. Thing is, once you work out how the "ideal putt camera", which draws a line on the green, relates to the putt length you've selected and the surface you're on, you won't find it particularly difficult. Just hours after I started playing, I would hit A to view the putt line, aim about half as wide as it suggested, give it about 2/3 strength and it would usually go in. I had the Birdie Streak trophy ball without really thinking about it.
And that's kind of the problem with the whole game now: you simply don't need to think about it. Tiger's a lackadaisical kind of experience. You just zoom to a marker and position it where you want the ball to go, zoom back to your golfer and choose a club whose maximum distance (whether affected by wind or the lie of the ball) best fits your goal, you haul the stick back and thrust it forward, and unless the game's decided to pick on you for that stroke, you'll probably manage it to within a reasonable margin of error - a margin that diminishes with each passing round as you garner experience points to plug into attributes like focus, power, approach and so on.
It's bland, and rather easy for the most part. When it's not easy, it's simply gruelling. The "Q School" for example consists of four rounds of the same course, and the idea is to finish in the top five overall to qualify as a pro and get on the PGA Tour. Completing these rounds is as easy as anything else - most of your slip-ups will be down to outright laziness (rather than just the usual auto-piloting) or the game picking on you by randomly sending your tee-shot wayward - but the process of catching up with those at the top of the leaderboard demands good fortune on both fairway and green. Fortune that as often as not has more to do with the side of the bed the game got up on that day.
Those people you play against, too - they're faceless. Just numbers that you check in with at the end of your hole. For a game that's been around for so long and boasts that ever-so-slightly galling "Exclusive Licenses" stamp EA's started whacking on the front of its sports games, you'll spend a surprisingly large amount of time feeling isolated.
But of course the Xbox 360 is a machine with the capacity to do all manner of new things to the world of golf. Presumably? No? Ok. What it does do is give us lots more trees (some of which still pop in), lots more automatons lining each hole, and water that resembles tech-demo water. The problem isn't so much that it isn't using the Xbox 360's power - it's that the designers don't seem to understand how to build atmosphere, or breathe life into their worlds. Yes, the blades of grass are distinctive, yes, those jeans are pulled tight over Missy Golfer's arse-cheeks in an unerringly convincing manner, yes, the sand kind of kicks up a bit when the ball hits it. But where are the gusts of wind striking the brush next to you? Why is the rough so neat?
Admittedly, it's not a bad-looking game. It's no FIFA Zombie Horror Show Apocalypse. Tiger's relatively distinct almost Pixar-leaning character rendering saves it from the embarrassments therein. It doesn't look realistic - the branch-of-a-tree ponytails, polished tarpaulin-wrap clothing effects and peculiar facial make-ups can't evade ridicule completely - but the main likenesses don't push things too far and since all the golfers here really do is walk and swing clubs, you can rely on the animation to look convincing. It's just the world that aggravates you. It's so full and yet so empty.
Tiger Woods has been redeveloped specifically for Xbox 360. Yes. But it's more like the team got to the end of the other versions and called a mulligan, and then just did the same thing again until someone walked in and yelled, "Release!" It'll soak up plenty of your time, but it's a real trudge, and rarely presents anything new or exciting - you've experienced most of the good by the time you've qualified for the PGA Tour itself, and indeed most of us will have experienced it all by, er, well, had experienced it all by 2003.
It's probably worth making it clear that Tiger Woods PGA Tour is built on mechanics that initially satisfy - particularly with friends around. But then... if you haven't played it yet, you might as well buy the real 2006 version, because it has loads more content. A confusing release.
6 / 10