We hit the links with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 at a recent EA press event, and based on what we played, it looks like this year's game will up the ante to provide more of a challenge for experienced golfers.
One of the biggest changes in this year's game is the switch to an analog putting system. In past Tiger Woods games, putting simply required you to follow the caddy tips and select where you wanted to aim the ball, and then the power of the putt would adjust automatically. As a result, it didn't matter how much you pulled back on the analog stick; the ball would go the same distance. This time around, the putting requires a bit more skill and finesse. The caddy tips are gone, so you'll have to develop a good eye for reading the slope of the green. Once your putt is lined up, you can pull back on the analog stick to determine how much power you want to put into your swing. There's a power gauge on the left side of screen that increases as you pull back on the stick. If you swing too hard, you'll overshoot the hole, but if you don't put enough power behind it, your putt will barely leave the club. It sounds challenging, but in practice the system feels pretty forgiving. We did miss a few putts at first, but using the power gauge made it easy to judge just how much power we were working with.
The second analog stick also factors into the putting. You can pull back on the right analog stick to move a target on the ball icon in the bottom left corner of the screen. If you hit the ball high, it will have more power and will roll much further than a normal full shot. If you hit it low, the ball will roll much more slowly, which could be useful for downhill shots or tap-ins.
Full shots use both analog sticks as well. As usual, the left stick controls the power of the swing. The right analog stick is used as a "shape stick" to give you more control over your shots by letting you choose the point of impact between ball and club. As you move the analog stick, you'll see the target move on the ball icon in the bottom right corner of the screen. You can hold the target where you want it, but if you hold it too far, it will eventually center itself. This puts an emphasis on timing, since the trajectory of your shot is determined by where you have the target when you make contact with the ball. You'll have to wait until you've almost contacted the ball before using the shape stick to create a fade, punch, or flop shot.
Another new edition this year is the gamebreaker gauge. As you perform well in the game, a gamebreaker gauge will fill up. Once it's full, you can activate a gamebreaker, which will let you hit a much longer and more accurate shot.
Aside from featuring the new dual analog swing mechanic, analog putting, and gamebreaker gauge, Tiger Woods looks like it will retain the same look and feel of previous installments in the franchise. Many of your favorite courses and players will return to the series, and the extensive customization features of the Gameface player editor are still here as well.
The PSP version of the game has a unique Putting Frenzy minigame in which you have to sink as many increasingly difficult putts as you can before time runs out. The putting takes place on one of three fantasy greens, including a tropical paradise, the Scottish highlands, and Antarctica. As an added bonus, you can play Putting Frenzy wirelessly with up to four other players, using only one copy of the game.
Aside from increasing the challenge of the game with increased swing control and analog putting, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 looks like it will deliver more of the in-depth golf sim experience the series is known for. Be sure to check back for more details before the game is released this fall.