Version tested: PlayStation 2
There's a school of thought (founded and attended by me, in this paragraph, although I suspect others have enrolled in their own heads) that says we'd be better off if Electronic Arts adopted a subscription model for Tiger Woods. In a sense, it already has: each September, you pay a flat fee for a box of new toys, and the presence of old save-data gives you a small boost (in this case, a bonus per-hole for using a particular brand of golf-club). Tiger Woods 07 is hardly disguising the fact it's the same game as last year with a few upgrades - they've even put little "New!" icons next to things that have been introduced or altered.
In many ways, Tiger Woods 07 is the most complete Tiger to date, with every eventuality covered. If you're returning, you get a bonus. A range of tutorial videos allows you to learn everything from scratch, if needs be, or to simply pick out the "New!" bits. You can select between standard and alternative swing types for tee and approach shots (either using the left analogue stick for everything, or using the right analogue as a "Shape Stick" to bend your strokes) as well as putting (grid lines and "ideal putt" camera, or caddy tips telling you roughly where to aim on a naked green).
You can create a custom character to now spectacular levels of depth (although randomising usually builds you an unspeakably mole-ridden face). You can customise your swing. You can change your clothes. You can set the game up to skip all post-shot animations and proceed to the next one by pressing R1. You can play alone or build up a team, with four-player games online and off, and new game modes to service the size of your group. You can build a team of AI players.
You can build in handicaps to challenge yourself (as in, ouch-my-leg-fell-off handicaps, rather than golfing ones - trying to win without hitting trees, starting with a shot deficit, etc.). You can play in "Real Time Events" - challenges that crop up depending on the actual day you're playing. You can play through a career mode, building up experience for your character, or take part in the PGA Tour. You can play on 21 courses, and while there's no Ryder Cup, you can always opt for the K Club and pretend. You can get really, really good and turn off all the shot assistance.
In short (and I bet you're gagging for that now), it has pretty much everything. And those things it doesn't have aren't the sorts of things it needs another manufacturing run to add. Why not make the first of the next-generation Tigers the last boxed run, and then hold off again until there's real change to be made?
Because otherwise, I'm going to give you 7/10s until my hands fall off.
The control and experience systems in Tiger Woods 07 propel you (and the ball) through the game as ever they have. Depending on your choice of shot type, you either pull the left stick back and push through to swing, angling it diagonally to add fade or draw; or you do the first part, and use the right stick to change the bend. During and after, you can hammer various shoulder buttons to add boost and spin. As before, you need to be quite dextrous, but it's forgiving enough that even a complete novice can juggle the various contortions to professional standard within a short space of time.
You have all the usual readouts on the screen to help you select your club: advice on what percentage of the maximum strength you'll need to apply to reach the point you're aiming at, what direction the wind's heading and how fast, the relative height of the terrain you're shooting from and aiming for, and so on. On the green, you can either judge by the contours and pace-arrows, or aim for a spot dictated by the caddy (e.g. 11 inches left, 2 foot long). Play the game with all these assists on, as they are by default, and you'll be outscoring Tiger in no time. I got an eagle on the first hole I loaded up. Turn all this off, or play without due consideration, and things become trickier. And as ever, you gain experience points to spend on shot power, accuracy, striking, approach, spin, putting, recovery and luck, so even if you're only keeping pace with the world's best from the first tee, you'll be doing laps around him by the time you've put a dent in the sofa.
With "Rivals" mode abandoned, this year's "Team Tiger" stuff is a sort of single-player co-operative campaign. You unlock up to four team slots, pick bested adversaries to join you, and some tasks involve splitting the effort across the team, which obviously hinders experience dispersal. Get some friends around and you can of course toss the pad between each other and play actual co-op.
There's certainly a lot to do besides that if you've got pals over, mind, with new team-play modes and some suitable for two-player. Along with stroke- and match-play, speed golf and other traditional inclusions, there's elimination mode (after each hole, the loser is eliminated; last team standing wins), bloodsome and greensome (four-player games; four tee off, but only one ball for each team is played for the rest of the hole, with the difference being greensome has your team select your team's ball, while bloodsome lets the opposition), and one-ball (you and your opponent share a single ball, and the winner is the fellow who holes out). The former pair play out fairly inevitably, and entertainingly. Once your friends have gone home, you can opt for Skills 18 and other challenge-based modes if you're bored of the main campaigns.
It's comprehensive then, but if anything it's a lesser game than Tiger Woods 06 was on current-gen formats, partly because Rivals mode took ages to play through and Team Tiger does not. With the exception of a couple of new multiplayer modes, most of the changes are superficial, and what's new is hit and miss. Caddy tips are generally easier to use than contours for putting, in my experience. Driving through the ball still feels weak and flimsy. And while there are lots of mini-challenges (like getting closest-to-the-pin) and the omnipresent Trophy Balls to try and collect (hole-in-one, eagle, longest-putt, etc.), Tiger Woods has never been all that hard to play, and working through the list of achievements you've already collected in past editions is laborious rather than invigorating.
As for the new modes, I did enjoy bloodsome, but elimination was a game my friends and I invented three years ago, and one-ball is a bit rubbish. The idea is that you have to play at least half the distance to the hole before your opponent takes over, and that failing that, or aiming for hazards, gives them two turns to try and hole out. But with hazards and tricky lies never that hard to escape in Tiger, and putting as the only real strategic element, you might as well be playing on the practice green.
There's little argument overall that Tiger Woods 07 is the best possible starting point for golf-game beginners (not least because EA will probably turn off the servers for Tiger Woods 06 a year sooner than they will these), but anybody who was getting a bit bored of the same formula last year will be even less impressed with this outing. It certainly looks nice, and Xbox 360 owners who avoided the weaker 360 version of 06 and waited for this ought to be relatively pleased (we'll take a look soon), but as I rolled around the K Club yesterday that just made me feel like grabbing the nearest squirrel and branding him with "New!" logo. Maybe a download or subscription model's a silly alternative (ask the Gran Turismo HD thread), but they ought to think of something, because the other alternative is just telling you not to buy it unless you're new, or really desperate.
7 / 10