Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 Controls Spotlight

Just like Tiger's in real life, your swing in the new EA Sports PGA game will be changing. Read on to find out how.

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Normally, several hundred words about the mechanics of a golf swing would be enough to put even the most ardent links fans to sleep, but when it comes to the new Tiger Woods game from EA Sports, the new controls warrant the attention. Much like Tiger's new and improved swing in real life, the swing mechanics in the Tiger Woods PGA Tour have received a long-overdue face-lift. We've spent a lot of time with the new golf game to get a feel for how different Tiger's virtual swing is from previous entries in the series. In our latest hands-on preview, we take a look at these differences to show you exactly how, like Tiger's, your swing will change in 2005.

Tiger's got a brand-new swing--and so do you, with the new swing controls in Tiger 06.
Tiger's got a brand-new swing--and so do you, with the new swing controls in Tiger 06.

It's no news that last year's Tiger Woods game was a tad on the easy side, even at the highest difficulty level. The combination of a forgiving swing system and some potent controls for power-ups and ball spin meant that 300-yard-plus drives were commonplace, and placing the ball close to the pin even from 150 yards or longer was more expected than a pleasant surprise. As anyone who's played a few rounds will tell you, golf shouldn't be that easy, even if you're controlling some of the best players in the game.

For that reason, the development team at EA Sports has endeavored to come up with a few new twists on the control scheme that add more challenge and more subtlety to the golf swing than ever before. It has done so by following the direction many other EA Sports titles have taken in the past year or so: working the right analog stick into a much more prominent role in gameplay. Just as in last year's game, the left analog stick is used to control your backswing, and just as in previous years, you'll want to swing in as straight a line as possible. Push too far left or right in your backswing or your follow-through, and your ball flight path will suffer accordingly.

Where things differ from last year is with the newly introduced right analog controls. Essentially, the right stick is used to put spin on the ball and control the fade or draw of your ball's flight. This is the case in both the console and PC versions of the game--for the first time, Tiger 06 for PC will support Logitech dual analog controllers, in addition to the standard two- and three-click mouse swing methods. A small representation of your ball on the tee can be found in the lower right corner of your screen, and by aiming a blue icon anywhere on that ball, you can control exactly where your club face makes contact with the ball, and thus the path your ball takes in the air. It's a fairly intuitive system: Aim to the left of the ball, and you'll draw the ball in that direction; aim to the right and you'll pull off an effective fade. The further toward the edge of the virtual ball you aim your icon, the more drastic the effect will be on your ball's flight path. Furthermore, extracting maximum draw or fade on your ball will require quick timing for your backswing. This is because when you place the blue icon on the furthest edge of your virtual ball, the icon automatically returns back to the center; you'll need to reel off your swing quickly, just as the icon reaches that outer edge, in order to really put some swerve on your ball.

In addition to controlling draw and fade, the icon also controls what kind of and (to a lesser degree) how much spin you put on the ball. For topspin, aim high on the ball--but be careful not to aim too high, or you'll risk topping the ball and looking like a weekend public-course hacker. For that all-important backspin, aim low on the ball and watch as your Titleist (or whatever brand of ball you prefer) heads back toward the pin, as if drawn by a magnet. The new swing mechanism also lets you design your shot before your club makes contact with the ball. Do you want to draw your ball slightly, with some topspin? Aim slightly left and up on the ball. How about pulling off a nice fade shot with a touch of backspin? Move that icon diagonally left and down, and you're in business.

How the ball flies once it's in the air depends on where you aim your club face.
How the ball flies once it's in the air depends on where you aim your club face.

Though using the shape stick, as it's known, to control your shot will put some minor spin on the ball once it launches, you can still add that extra spin to the ball by repeatedly pressing the appropriate button and aiming with the left analog stick as it travels through the air. Similarly, you can still power up your shot during your backswing, just as in last year's game.

The Short Game

Of course, once you're finished on the fairways, rough, and bunkers and have reached the green, your job is only half done. The short game in Tiger Woods 06, namely putting, has received an overhaul as well. Gone is the automatic "gimme" that was last year's Tiger vision system, as well as the caddy assist that gave you precise directions on where to aim your shot and just how much power to put behind it. In its place, the grid lines that illustrate undulations on the green are more interactive this year. Tiny beads moving along the grid lines indicate the direction and degree of particular breaks on the course so that with a bit of eyeballing, you can still choose a pretty accurate angle to putt. The grid is color-coded as well--degrees of blue indicate a downhill slope, and red indicates a rising green surface. If you're still having trouble pulling the trigger on your putt, a simple press of a button will give you a brief "ideal putt" camera that will show a suggested line to approach your shot. Just as quickly as it begins, however, the ideal putt angle ends, though you can access it as many times as you like before addressing the ball for the final time.

Drive for show, putt for dough. Putting has a new look as well.
Drive for show, putt for dough. Putting has a new look as well.

Another new twist on the putting system is the new power system. Instead of the strength of the shot being strictly controlled by the length of the backswing, the new power system in Tiger 06 lets you work within specific power "zones" that you can control with the left and right triggers. Within each zone, an onscreen arrow indicates the farthest a ball will travel if struck at maximum strength on a flat green surface. By pressing the right trigger, you can move that zone out and thus put more force behind your putt. Pressing the left trigger reins in the "strength" arrow and thus the power of your putt. The complexity comes in deciding exactly which power zone to use on a particular putt and then how close to a full backswing to use within that zone. A long uphill putt is going to require much more power than a normal putt, so you'd want to place your power zone marker a click or two (or more) beyond its normal setting. A downhill put, on the other hand, might require you to place the power cursor well before the hole, or carefully control your backswing to avoid overshooting the cup. The second analog stick on the controller can also be used to control the spin on puts, but you can only aim up or down on the ball, instead of all over the place, as in the regular swing.

The gamebreaker feature, which peppers other EA games, like NFL and NBA Street, makes its debut in Tiger 06 as well. Unlike other games, however, the gamebreaker meter in golf is dynamic--you fill it up with good shots and lose gamebreaker momentum each time you choke. Therefore, it may take a while to completely fill up your gamebreaker meter, especially if your virtual golf game is as up and down as ours is in real life. Once you do fill up your meter, however, you can use it on yourself and nail an extra-long drive or a beautiful approach shot or sink a 50-foot putt, or you can turn it around on your opponent and completely drain his or her meter. It's important to note that gamebreaker shots in Tiger 06 are not guaranteed gimmies. More often than not, they're simply excellent shots that are longer or more accurate than normal.

Pressure is no stranger to PGA Tour golfers, and in Tiger 06, pressure shots are emphasized this year. Instead of the sound of your heartbeat drumming along as you prepare for a shot, the screen shakes on high-intensity shots this time around, which can be extra-nerve-wracking when trying to set up putts. It's all designed to put you in the shoes of a PGA Tour pro, for whom a single shot can be, and often is, the difference between victory and defeat.

No, Tiger isn't hallucinating. The putting green grid lines look very different in 06.
No, Tiger isn't hallucinating. The putting green grid lines look very different in 06.

Golf isn't an easy game--which is why so many players consider it a sport they love to hate. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06's new controls aim to bring that same kind of unpredictability and challenge to the series, which, until now, has been as inclusive as possible. From what we've seen of the game so far, it's a step in the right direction. We'll have more on Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 as we approach the game's release, currently scheduled for late September.

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