Last year's Xbox 360 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 had its problems, namely a paltry list of golf courses to play and a frustrating achievement system (for those who care about that kind of thing). However, what the 360 version of Tiger got right, even more so than on the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 versions of the game, was its upgraded difficulty level. That trend looks to continue with the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 for the Xbox 360, a recent work-in-progress version of which we had a chance to check out for ourselves.
In some ways, Tiger 07 takes two steps forward and one step back. First of all, the control system has once again been revamped. Last year, you added draw or fade on the ball by aiming a cursor with the right analog stick. This year, practically everything involved with your swing is controlled with the left stick alone. In order to pull off a fade shot, for example, you pull down and to the right, and then push forward in the exact opposite direction. Similarly, you execute a draw by pulling back and left on the left analog stick and then pushing forward and to the right.
The right analog stick is now used primarily to control the loft of the ball. To put some more air under your ball (in order to hop a set of nearby trees, for example), you push down on the right stick. A small meter on the left-hand side of the screen will show your club face opening up, and then it's simply a matter of swinging away. To punch a ball low, you close your club face, by pushing up on the loft stick.
The biggest change to the controls in Tiger 07--and the feature we like best--has to do with aiming. In previous Tiger games, the aiming cursor, which showed you where your ball would land, was so precise that if you had a golfer of any sort of skill, you could more or less put the ball exactly where you wanted. That's changed this time around. Now, instead of a cursor to show you where your ball will land, you'll be aiming with an illuminated circle. Depending on your skill (and the club you're using), your ball will land somewhere within that circle, dependent on a number of factors such as wind speed and direction, angle of the shot, power boost, and so on.
It's difficult to overstate how superior this system is from the old precision aiming system; suffice it to say, then, that this adds more of a feeling of randomness to every swing you make, and will test not only your shot-making skills, but your decision-making skills as well. For example, say you're aiming for the green from, say, 225 yards out, with water on the right side of the green. Because the aiming circle is larger the longer the club you are using, do you use a three wood and deal with the water hazard (which is occupying half of your aiming circle), or do you lay up with a two or three iron and play it safe? It's just one of the many new decisions you'll have to make thanks to the changes in Tiger 07.
Another added challenge to Tiger 07 is four distinct difficulty levels to choose from. The lowest level let you use the old precision aiming system (as well as the suggested line putt feature, which is removed in all other difficulty levels). At the default level, you will use the new shot-aiming system. The upper two difficulty levels are defined by less forgiving clubs and tougher competition. In other words, no matter your level of skill, you'll likely be able to find a tough round of golf in Tiger 07.
As in previous Tiger games, you'll be able to play a career using a golfer created from scratch using the series' fun and flexible game face system. Depending on how much time you wish to spend on it, you can create a reasonable likeness of yourself and then head out to make a name for yourself on the PGA Tour. A number of different modes are available to you--Tiger challenge, PGA Tour Season, and rookie challenge--and you'll also be able to access any rewards and trophies you've earned at any time. The Tiger challenge plays a bit like last year's historical matches--it's a match-play, ladder-style tournament in which you face off one-on-one against a series of PGA pros until you're ready for the ultimate showdown with Tiger himself. The PGA Tour Season is the heart and soul of the game--here, you'll participate in a number of tourneys going up against your fellow PGA Tour members for cash. Interestingly, we didn't notice the Q School tournament, which you had to complete in last year's game to get on the tour.
The ultimate goal in Tiger 07's PGA Tour Season mode is to qualify for the FedEx Cup chase, which takes the top 10 golfers on the season and has them play in a number of tournaments at the end of the season to determine who takes home the FedEx Cup championship. For PGA Tour fans, this system won't be used in the real PGA until next season, so Tiger 07 will be your first peek at how the new setup will work.
In previous Tiger games, you bought upgrades to your player's various skills. In Tiger 07, the system has changed a bit. Now, you increase your attributes through skillful play on the links. Hit an especially long drive off the tee, for example, and you'll get a boost to your power rating; nail a difficult putt, and your putting and luck skills might increase. Another easy way to boost your attributes will be by taking part in the various rookie challenges. These are essentially minigames against another golfer where, if you win, you earn a boost across several different stats. The game "21," for example, is a putting contest whereby you choose a green on the Tiger 07 practice field, a specific hole location, and a starting point for your putt. The player who gets closest to the hole gets three points; if you sink the putt you get five points. Conversely, if you need more than two putts to find the bottom of the hole, you're deducted two points. The first player to get to 21 points is declared the winner, and you'll immediately earn a boost to attributes such as luck, putting, and approach.
One other area of achievement from last year: The Xbox 360 achievements aren't impossible to attain. Last year the game included achievements, mostly tied to online play, that only the most dedicated of Tiger fans had any hopes of getting. This year, things seem to have evened out a bit--there are achievements ranging from the ludicrously easy (such as creating a male or female golfer) to the considerably more difficult (such as winning every trophy in the game, or winning the FedEx Cup).
Graphically, Tiger 07 is shaping up nicely. The best-looking thing about the game is Tiger himself, of course. The so-called UCAP technology seems to have captured every nook and cranny of Tiger's toothy grin and, even if the other PGA pros aren't re-created with the same level of detail, they are all certainly recognizable. The courses themselves look good as well, though you'll still see the annoying shadow pop-in periodically. The courses we saw available in the PGA Season mode are Princeville, Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, Turnberry, Glen Abbey, Pinehurst No. 2, Bandon Dunes, TPC at Sawgrass, St. Andrews, Caroustee, and Firestone. We assume there are also a few of the fictional courses from last year.
Thanks to a revamped control scheme and an increased level of challenge, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 seems like it's well on its way to being one of the best entries in the series yet. The game is due for release in mid-October, and we'll have more on the game in the coming weeks.