Tiger Woods' first foray onto the Xbox 360 was a prime example of style over substance. The courses looked great, but they numbered just six and there weren't many different ways to enjoy them. It also didn't play much differently than it did on the consoles--a disappointment for those who were expecting it to be more than just a prettier version of what they had been playing for years. EA Sports has addressed those issues by adding a new aiming system, doubling the number of courses, and adding a host of new play modes. There's still room for improvement, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 is a great golf game that plays as good as it looks.
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, best-ball, and four-ball. Battle golf, which is a twist on match play, is a new addition. The goal here is to win the most holes--as it always is in match play--but here you are able to remove a club from your opponent's bag after each hole you win. Needless to say, it's great fun to watch your rival tee off on a par five with a two-iron because you've taken all of his woods. Also 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. One-ball is another new game, where you and your opponent share the same ball and alternate shots. The strategy in one-ball lies in trying to set your opponent up with difficult shots so that you're the one left with a makeable putt. If you're the one who drains the putt, you win the hole. Before each shot, a large blue ring that represents the target area appears on the course. This is the area in which your shot must land, or else it's a "betrayal," and you'll lose a turn. For example, on a par four you may be able to put the ball on the green with your second shot, but that will leave your opponent with a putt--and that's not good. You can, however, shoot the ball into a sand trap that surrounds the green, thereby forcing your opponent to be the one who has to put the ball on the green. This play mode is great for learning how to recover from bad shots, but it can be frustrating to play against the tenacious CPU and is best played against another person.
Right off the bat you'll notice the improved presentation. As soon as the game loads the camera sweeps around a beautiful driving range, finally zooming in on Tiger, who's juggling a ball with his club, a la the Nike commercial from a few years back. From here you can immediately hit the range to practice or jump into a quick game, but you're encouraged to immediately create a golfer so that you may embark on a career. Tiger's unrivaled character creation mode is back and much deeper than in 06. If realism's what you want, it's a breeze to create a male or female golfer in your spitting image, and you're limited only by your imagination when it comes to making zany, off-the-wall characters. You can also customize your player's swing as well as their reactions.
Your created golfer has unlimited potential, but at first they stink. It's up to you to head to the training course to help them develop their skills. Each of your golfer's attributes--power, power boost, ball striking, driving accuracy, putting, recovery, approach, and spin--can be improved by completing short minigames. You can face other golfers in a longest-drive or a putting contest, play quick competitive rounds of T-I-G-E-R or 21, and race the clock in minigames that test your mettle with long irons and your shot-recovery skills. The number of minigames is impressive, but many of them are little more than slight variations of each other. It's still tough to complain about, though, after last year's barren set of options. After completing a challenge your individual attributes are raised, based on what skills the challenge focused on, as well as your performance. In an effort to keep people from training their golfer over and over before venturing out on the course, your attributes are now capped based on your experience. You'll need to actually go out and win some matches before you're able to go any higher than 25 percent in any skill category. This does work as the developer intended, slowing your progression through the game, but it's frustrating to have a skill artificially held back when you've already earned the points to raise it. Should your skills need a little boost, you can always pick up some new clubs or some jewelry for a small skill bonus. New equipment and clothing can be purchased in the pro shop, which is easier to browse this year. If you're lazy and you've got the cash, you can skip all of the "hassle" of playing the game to earn skills, courses, and equipment. A quick trip to the Xbox Live Marketplace and a few hundred points is all it takes to get everything unlocked.
The team tour mode from the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC versions is nowhere to be found; it has been replaced by the Tiger challenge. Here you'll take your created golfer up against fictitious golfers like Pops Masterson and Big Mo, PGA professionals, and, eventually, Tiger himself. It's understandable that EA wanted to show off new animation for each golfer, but the inability to skip your opponents' turns makes rounds last far too long. However, you can skip the CPU's pre- and post-shot routines once they've started, and you're able to fast-forward their shots once they're in the air. If your interests lie in more-traditional golf, the PGA Tour season, which now uses the FedEx points system to rank players for the PGA's new playoff format, offers up more of a challenge than ever before. You'll first need to train your golfer and then win a few matches in the Tiger challenge, or your golfer won't have a prayer against the punishing schedule of four-day tournaments. You can simulate rounds of a tournament and you don't have to enter every event, but it really would have been nice to have the option of setting how long you'd like tournaments to last.
Should you grow tired of playing solo, you can head online for a greater challenge. There are daily tournaments, ranked and unranked rounds of stroke and match play, as well as alternate game modes, such as best ball, battle golf, three-hole golf, skins, one-ball, four-ball, and alternate shot. We had some difficulty getting into matches, and it was annoying to get booted all the way to the main menu after a round, but once we did get in a game everything ran smoothly and lag was never a problem. 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. NBA Live 07 on the Xbox 360 had the ability to stream ESPN video content while online, but that feature is not available here.
If you just want to stick to the pros, there are 15 professional golfers (and a host of fictional golfers) in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. The list includes the likes of Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie, Justin Leonard, John Daly, Jim Furyk, Mike Weir, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh, and Rich Beem, among others. For the first time, LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam is a playable character. The course list has doubled from six to 12 since last year, but it's still underwhelming when compared to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, which have an impressive 21 courses. Joining returning favorites like TPC at Sawgrass and Pebble Beach are Firestone Country Club, Glen Abbey, the Prince Course at Kauai, Spyglass Hill, Bandon Dunes, and the vaunted Scottish course, St. Andrews. Once again, there's no course designer--still one of the series' most glaring omissions after all these years. You can put together your "dream course," using holes from any of the 12 courses in the game, but this doesn't make up for not having a true course editor.
Tiger 07's gameplay isn't vastly different than last year, but there are a few changes that make the experience more challenging and enjoyable. Swinging your club uses the tried-and-true method of pulling down and then pushing up on the left analog stick. You can add a draw or a fade by moving the left analog stick down and then up at an angle during your swing. The right stick is used to change where you address the ball. You can hit under the ball to add loft and backspin to a shot, while striking the ball above the center gives your shot a lower trajectory with lots of topspin. A little extra oomph can be put on your shot by pressing the left bumper or the A button during your swing, and spin is added by pressing the same buttons and a directional while the ball is in flight. A new system called "true aiming" makes shot selection a less by-the-books affair by replacing the cursor that essentially pinpointed where your shot would land with a large circle that covers a much wider area. If you hit your shot just right, the ball should land somewhere in that circle. Should you miss, however, you're likely to end up in serious trouble. When using golfers with higher levels of skill, the circle doesn't come into play too often, but anyone playing with a new golfer will frequently find themselves questioning if the extra 10 yards of distance on a club is worth the increased size of the landing zone. You can still take huge risks--you're just more likely to pay for them now. The clumsily implemented gamebreakers from last year are thankfully nowhere to be found.
The standard control scheme for putting works much in the same way it did last year, with a few noticeable changes. You still use the left stick to putt, but you can now add a little extra speed by using the right stick to hit the top of the ball, adding topspin. Conversely, you can take some speed off of a putt by hitting it lower and adding some backspin. Both of these options come in handy for putts that are on either side of the putter's power level. An overlay is placed on the green, and you'll need to read the slope by how fast the white dots move along the grid. This is more important than ever because the ideal putt-cam that shows you the ideal putting line is gone--at least on the default difficulty level. It's still available on the easy setting, and you can turn it on in the game options. Veterans of the series shouldn't have much of a problem adjusting to life without the putt-cam. The basic system is very familiar and it's forgiving enough that you'll still be able to make long putts, except now you won't be making them on every hole.
There's no question that Tiger Woods 07 is a fantastic-looking game. The created golfers look wonderful and have a host of unique animations to bring them to life. Each golfer has a unique swing, which makes them not only look different but also play different. The professional players generally look good, but there are a few that look pretty rough, and many of their animations are canned and repetitive. Tiger, of course, looks great, as do Annika and Vijay. John Daly doesn't look a whole lot like the real John Daly (perhaps this is a good thing), and Colin Montgomerie is downright scary. A new picture-in-picture window shows player reactions in real time as the ball is in the air. This is entertaining for a bit, but most of the golfers don't react in any way that's worth watching more than a few times.
Courses also look better than ever, though like in the rest of the game, there's room for improvement. Vibrant colors, crisp visuals, and little touches, such as flocks of birds flying over the green or waves breaking along the shore, make each course beautiful. On the negative side, some shadows appear and disappear for no reason, green and fairway textures look poor under close inspection, and the rocks on the cliffs at Pebble Beach are last-gen quality at best. Crowds line each hole and will track the ball as it's hit. You can even watch them run up and down the side of the fairway as they scramble for a better view. Unfortunately they don't make much of an effort to get out of the way of your ball. This is a big problem after a drive, where any chance you may have had of your ball rolling onto the fairway is routinely killed by a fan that's anchored to the ground. Occasionally this works in your favor, particularly around the greens when fans sacrifice their bodies and keep errant shots over the green from going too far away.
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. Their negative comments appear to have been toned down a bit, but the duo still drinks "Haterade" and just loves to rub it in after a poor shot. 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.
Tiger Woods 06 had some of the most difficult achievements of any game to date. With requirements like "compete in 1,000 online matches" and "make 25 holes in one," it was possible to pour dozens of hours into the game and have no points to show for your efforts. A sizable time commitment is necessary to earn all 1,000 points in Tiger Woods 07, but boosting your gamer score, at least a little, won't be as futile an endeavor as it was last year. Points can be earned in a variety of ways, such as by winning major tournaments, by beating golfers in the Tiger challenge and minigames, and by creating a male or female golfer.
Almost universally, the changes and additions made since last year serve to make Tiger Woods 07 a better game than Tiger Woods 06. However, with many of the big problems out of the way, a few still remain, and other, smaller issues have become apparent. Twelve courses is still on the low side of what one would expect from a Tiger Woods game, a lot of the different modes feel the same, and with many of the graphics being outstanding, the ones that aren't so great are more noticeable. That said, Tiger 07 is a great game, and the improvement in the last 11 months shows that that EA isn't content to maintain the status quo. If you're searching for a great round of video game golf, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 is what you're looking for.