Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 Hands-On

Tiger returns to the Xbox 360 and we've got a first look at an early version of the game, straight from Cog Hill Golf Course in Chicago.

Last year's Tiger Woods 06 debut on the Xbox 360 was notable for a couple of different reasons. First, its slightly refined controls and upped difficulty level made for a more realistic game of golf than the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of game. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the six courses and handful of PGA Tour pros in the game starkly contrasted with the more full-featured games found on older consoles. With the second game on the Xbox 360, the developers of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 are aiming to bring more content to the game than ever before, while changing things up a bit when it comes to the game's controls. We got a chance to check out a work-in-progress version of the game from Cog Hill Golf Club outside of Chicago during a recent EA press event.

While Tiger 06 featured only six courses on the Xbox 360, this year's game has doubled that course number to 12. Six courses from last year's game are returning, and added to the course roster are the following: St. Andrews, Princeville (a classic undulating Hawaiian course), Bandon Dunes (a linkslike course in Oregon), Firestone Country Club, Glen Abbey, and Spyglass Hill (which is located next to the famed Pebble Beach and considered by some to be a better course). More than 20 PGA Tour pros will find their way into this year's game as well, including new entries such as Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomerie, and LPGA star Annika Sorenstam.

This year, Tiger will have twice as many courses to play on.

As for the control changes, Tiger 07 is going to feel a bit different than last year. For example, instead of aiming your shot with an on-course arrow, as in previous games in the series, you use a new system that displays a huge circle on the course, indicating a general position in which your ball can land. After you've struck your ball, it can land practically anywhere within this circle, though the size of that circle will shrink or expand depending on a couple of factors. First, the size of your club: A sand wedge, for example, will have a much smaller field of aim than a 2 iron. The second factor is player skill: The more talented your player, the smaller the aiming circle will be, and the more accurately you can place your ball where you want it.

The challenge with the new aiming system is in its emphasis on player choice. Do you aim for the middle of the fairway and play it safe? Or do you guide your aiming square so that part of it falls within the crowds lining the course--or into the water hazard--in the hopes of gaining a better lie for your next shot. The decisions you make in where you aim your shot will definitely affect your game and, much like the real game of golf, the challenge will be constantly finding the compromise between playing it safe and taking a chance.

Another change in Tiger 07 is the swing. You still swing with the left analog stick using a smooth back-and-forth movement. However, the shot-stick functionality that was tied to the right analog stick in last year's game--and gave you the ability to fade, draw, loft or punch the ball depending on where you aimed a cursor on the ball--is no more. Instead, Tiger 07's swing is much like the swing in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005; you can add draw or fade on the ball by moving the left analog stick at an angle. This year, the right analog stick is used to add loft to the ball before you make your shot. Move it back to open up the club face and send a ball sky-high; move it forward to keep the ball low to the ground. When putting, you can also use the right stick to add or take away a little off your putt to make up for tricky distances. Other notable changes to gameplay: The gamebreaker system is thankfully removed once and for all from the game, while the power-up and in-flight spin system is still intact. When putting, the "ideal putt cam" will be off by default, but if you can't get your short game together, you can always head to the options and turn it back on.

Another big change to Tiger 07 has to do with the real PGA Tour. Starting in 2007, the Tour will adopt a NASCAR-style playoff format for the final four events on the calendar. A set number of players will qualify for the final tournament by earning points throughout the regular season, and the final season champion will be decided during the final four events. Tiger 07 will feature a similar setup in the single-player game, as your created player goes on to compete in the FedEx Cup (as it's formally known). The top 30 players from the regular season will move forward to the playoffs in the game, where you'll be fighting to take home the coveted Cup (and the cash money, as well).

From a presentation standpoint, Tiger 07 looks considerably different from last year. In addition to redesigned menus that greatly reduce the onscreen clutter, Tiger 07 also features a number of new camera angles that are aimed at showing off the amazingly lifelike player model of Tiger Woods. Captured through EA's much-vaunted U-Cap technology, Tiger looks as realistic in the game as he ever has, with impressive facial animations and movements that are more lifelike than ever before. And producers said there's more to come in the animations before the game ships in the fall. More variety will be welcome; we saw lots of Tiger's million-dollar smile during today's demo; we expect we'll see more facial expressions (and audio comments) from the virtual Tiger in the coming months. Unfortunately, it seems that Tiger is the only PGA Tour pro that has gone through the U-Cap process so far, so the other players probably won't have the same amazingly lifelike detail to them.

Tiger's player model is amazingly lifelike.

Tiger's player model aside, there still is a lot to appreciate about Tiger 07's graphics. The crowds that line the course, for example, have tripled in size, according to Tiger 07 producers. What's more, they're mobile. You'll notice folks walking around after you've taken your shot or tracking your ball off the tee as you launch a huge drive. They're more audible than before, too; just before you set up for your shot, you'll hear their murmurs reduce to a few whispers before finally settling to complete silence. And once you hit the ball, you can expect a roar of approval from the crowd--assuming you don't hit it into the deep stuff, that is. Fans of Gary McCord and David Feherty's wry and amusing play-by-play and color commentary will be pleased to note the duo returns to the booth for Tiger 07.

Creating players from scratch should still be fun in Tiger 07, as the Game Face system has added goodies for those who like to tinker with their created hacker. New clothes, faces, hairstyles, and animations means you'll be able to once again create a golfer who looks exactly as you want him or her to. And once you embark on your single-player career (either in the FedEx Cup chase or through an entirely different mode where you aim to knock off the different PGA pros featured in the game), your fan base at events will grow as your success blossoms. Starting out, you may only have a few stragglers following your progress--win a few tourneys, and expect the galleries to fill up with fans.

The courses themselves look great on the next-gen platform as well. Undulations on the course, such as on Saint Andrews' famed "Valley of Sin" on 18 or the rolling hills of Princeville, are very prominent. Rolling shadows from the clouds above create a real sense of place and depth to the courses themselves, and the grass textures are varied and quite authentic looking.

In all, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 for the Xbox 360 looks to be heading in the right direction, mainly because there's going to be so much more of it than last year. Added content both in courses and featured pro players are a good thing for the hardcore PGA fans. We're curious as to how the new control changes will affect our virtual handicaps, and we'll be sure to be bringing you more on this game in the coming months.

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