With Electronic Arts focusing its energy and resources on next-gen consoles, there hasn't been a whole lot to look forward to with this year's crop of sports games on the PC. Rather than add radical new gameplay ideas or revamped visuals, the developer seems to be content to simply toss in a few new game types or subtle control changes, and then send the games off to the factory. Such is the case with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. It has different courses and a few new play modes this year, but ultimately, little has changed.
There's certainly no shortage of ways to occupy yourself with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. You can select from a number of different match and scoring modes, including stroke play, match play, skins, practice, stableford, alternate shot, scramble, and four-ball. New this year are bloodsome and greensome matches, both of which are team-based best-ball events. After you and your teammate hit your shots in greensome, you get to pick which ball you're going to play; in bloodsome, your opponent will choose which lie you'll use. If your interests lie in more-traditional golf, the PGA Tour season, which has more depth on the PC than on consoles, will offer you plenty of challenge. You can start all the way at bottom as a no-name weekend hack, and eventually work your way through Q school to the PGA.
Most of the new events this year are designed around multiplayer play, though you can play them against the CPU in team tour. Team tour replaces last year's ridiculous time traveling rivals mode. Now, rather than going back through time to play golf, you'll travel the world, taking on fictitious golfers and PGA professionals. As the name implies, team tour revolves around team play and not just the exploits of your created golfer. As you win events in team tour, you're able to add vanquished foes to your team and replace less talented team members with better golfers. Unlike on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, you can't upgrade your teammates' abilities after wins. You do earn points for yourself, which makes this the best place to upgrade your golfer before heading out on tour.
If you grow tired of playing solo, you can head online for a greater challenge. There are daily tournaments, as well as alternate game modes, such as skins, scramble, four-ball, alternate shot, and the skills competition. For the most part, everything ran smoothly when playing online, and being able to play while your opponents are playing really speeds up a round. There's a small amount of ESPN integration, but it's limited to a ticker that runs across the bottom of the screen, short text news stories, and brief ESPN Radio SportsCenter updates every 20 minutes. These features are available only if you're in an online lobby.
The thing that makes these game modes so addictive year in and year out is the ability to create a golfer and make him the greatest golfer on the planet. Tiger's unrivaled character creation mode is back and is as deep as ever. There are subtle changes to the process this year, but by and large, it's the same as in Tiger Woods 06. If realism's what you want, you'll love that it's a breeze to create a golfer in your spitting image, and you're limited only by your imagination when it comes to making zany, off-the-wall characters. Should you grow tired of your golfer's appearance, you can go back and change it at any time, or simply purchase the brown paper bag from the pro shop and stick it on his noggin. After completing a round or challenge, you're given points for individual attributes, based on your performance. These points can then be used to upgrade your golfer's skills. You'll also earn money for your wins, which lets you purchase new clothes and equipment. The more expensive the gear, the better it is, but here there are no equipment modifiers to worry about.
If you just want to stick to the pros, there are 21 professional golfers (and host of created characters) in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. The list includes the likes of Tiger Woods, Stuart Appleby, John Daly, Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, and Mike Weir, among others. For the first time, there are two LPGA golfers to pick from--Natalie Gulbis and Annika Sorenstam. There are just 12 courses in the PC version of the game--far less than the 21 that are included on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. A number of courses return from last year, but there are some noteworthy additions--Aviara, Riviera, The National, The K Club, and the ocean course at Kiawah Island. There's no course-designing tool in the game, and at the time of this review there is no course editor available for download on the game's home page. Resourceful players will find a large number of downloadable courses available on third-party sites, but these courses aren't officially supported. On consoles, the "dream course" feature lets you put together a course using holes from any of the courses in the game, but even that underwhelming tool is absent here.
As for how the game plays--it's as enjoyable as ever, but you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between Tiger Woods 06 and Tiger Woods 07. The Tiger Woods series has never been thought of as particularly challenging on consoles; the same cannot be said for the PC. Because your golfer doesn't start off with the ability to perform certain shots, it's quite a bit more challenging. You'll have to take lessons to learn how to hit a flop shot or a bump and run, put spin on the ball, and perform a power shot. It can be frustrating to not have all of these abilities initially available, but there's no question that you'll become a better video golfer for it. Lessons are unlocked by applying skills points to your golfer, but there's no clear way to determine how many points you need to spend to unlock lessons.
It's nice to have a challenge, but there a number of times when the game is more frustrating than it is challenging. Many areas of a course that normally wouldn't be out of bounds in real life are designated as such in the game. As a result, shots that are near the water, but still on dry land, are often deemed unplayable. On the other hand, there are other instances where you'd want the ball to be considered unplayable, but it's not, and you're left to hack away at the ball in the brush. As if it weren't difficult enough to hit the ball out of foliage, an invisible force field surrounds trees and plants, making them even more difficult to contend with. It's also curious that the angle of a ball's lie doesn't have much, if any, effect on its trajectory.
There are a number of different control schemes. Veterans of the series on consoles will be right at home with the analog stick shot control, which works by pulling down on the stick to start your swing and then pushing forward to strike the ball. Because the swing is so fast on the PC, the analog swing isn't nearly as satisfying as it is on consoles, but it technically works fine. The mouse is used for two different control schemes. "Trueswing" control has you pull the mouse toward you to initiate your backswing, and then move it forward to swing through the ball. An alternate method where you move the mouse right to left is also available. The trueswing controls manage to be easy to learn, responsive, and fun. You can also use the mouse for the more traditional two-click or three-click timing-based swing, but after using either of the other methods this feels boring and unsatisfying. On the greens, Tiger 07 strikes a nice balance with a putting system that's easy to learn, but tough to master. Instead of caddy tips or the ideal putt cam from the console versions, the only tool you have available to help you sink a putt is a colored grid overlay. If you're playing a round with announcers, they'll give you helpful advice on which way the putt will break. This method works quite well, though it would be nice to have beads that move along the grid (like in the console versions) to help you read the undulations of the greens better. Having a little more control over the power of your putt when using the analog or trueswing controls would have been particularly helpful when the greens are dry, since it's so easy to blow a putt right past the pin and off the green.
Tiger 07 looks virtually identical to Tiger 06, which is to say that it looks quite nice, but also that the visuals are showing their age in spots. Both the created characters and the professional golfers look good, if not a bit cartoonish. The golfers each have a unique swing, which makes them not only look different but also play different. The team tour mode is a great way to experience this because you're often playing with as many as four different golfers in one round. Courses also look very nice. Vibrant colors, crisp textures, and little touches, such as flocks of birds flying over the green and flowing waterfalls, make each course beautiful. From a technical standpoint, the frame rate is mostly steady, but it does hiccup from time to time--especially with all the graphic accoutrements enabled. Even if they aren't affecting the frame rate, you'll probably want to turn a few of the effects off--particularly the light bloom and depth of field. Neither effect looks good, and they're both used too liberally. The camera is rarely a problem, but it can be difficult to get a good view when you're among trees. Owners of widescreen monitors will be disappointed to learn that there's no widescreen display option.
Most of the audio in Tiger Woods 07 sounds good--or as good as can be expected from a golf game. The crowds are lively and react with enthusiasm to a great shot. David Feherty and Gary McCord are back and seemingly have nothing new to say. The commentary plays it too straight in a game that's otherwise full of personality. At least they are helpful here, giving you much-needed information on the path your putts will take. For the most part, their observations are accurate, though they'll occasionally praise you for hitting the ball in the rough and chastise you for what ends up being a perfectly good shot. Should you choose to forgo the announcers, there are lots of ambient noises to listen to instead. You'll hear birds chirping, planes flying overhead, and on Pebble Beach, the sea crashing into the cliffs. The included soundtrack is nothing to write home about.
Tiger Woods 07 is a good game, but it's so similar to last year's version that the question "Does this game really need to be a yearly release?" should be asked. You get a few new golfers and courses, but the whole package is roughly the equivalent of an expansion disc. If you own Tiger Woods 06, there's little reason to pick up Tiger Woods 07, unless you're just dying for new content, minimal as it may be. That said, if you've never played a Tiger Woods game before, or you've been away from the series for a few years, Tiger Woods 07 is well worth a purchase.