Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 Updated Hands-On
Bust out your sweater vests and your knickers: We've got a hands-on look at Tiger 08, which is on its way.
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EA Sports' Tiger Woods PGA Tour series has been coasting steadily since its Xbox 360 debut back in 2005. While previous games focused on improved visuals, there hasn't been much about the new crop of Tiger games that screamed "next generation." That looks about set to change with the upcoming release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08. Though we got a brief look at the game back at E3 2007, Tiger 08 publisher EA Sports recently dropped off a preview copy of the game, which we were able to take out for a few rounds.
One of the most ambitious new features in Tiger 08 is the GamerNet feature, which will let you record on-course shots or rounds you've completed, then post them as challenges for other players to beat. At any time in the game, you can choose to record a shot or round to your local system. Later, you can take any of your performances and post them to EA's servers. Then you can set the challenge win conditions, which define what other players need to do to "beat" your shot, and try your hands at a few of the already posted challenges yourself. The more difficult the challenge, the more points you can earn if you beat it. Your points total will also be posted to leaderboards so you can compare your performance against those of your friends or the rest of the Tiger 08 world. Challenges are organized into "channels" in the game, so you'll have a channel for trick shots, 9-hole rounds, 18-hole rounds, and so on.
Some of the example challenges already posted by Tiger 08 testers were intimidating to say the least. In one, a player had managed to "swish" (that is, no bounce or roll) the ball into the hole from about 160 yards out. In another, the player had bounced the ball onto the green off the tee; the ball then proceeded to bounce off of an official's stand on the backside of the green, and then, impossibly, roll backward into the hole. Sure, it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime-type shot but we gave it a go anyway. You can try--and if you're like us, fail--to match that incredible shot, as well as many others found in the different GamerNet challenges. In addition to challenges based on individual shots, you can play 9-hole or 18-hole round challenges, among others. The "win" criteria can be as varied as beating your round score, matching a certain number of birdies in a round, or even getting a certain number of birdies (or eagles, or pars) in a row.
Challenges will be "rated" based on their popularity, and the most successful challenges will be the ones that draw the most folks choosing to play them. EA is expecting a bunch of challenges once the game is released. Luckily, you'll be able to filter through the list of available challenges to look for those posted by friends or by an individual. You'll also be able to make videos of your specific shots and post them to a Tiger 08-specific EA Web site. Unfortunately, it looks like you'll only be able to enjoy GamerNet features on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game.
When it comes to gameplay, Tiger 08 is firmly focused on your virtual player's concentration level for each shot in the game. The game will record absolutely obsessive stats on every shot you take, every hole you play, and every club you swing (all easily accessible through an in-game menu). How you've played in the past will also affect you. If you've had problems avoiding the water on the eighth hole at TPC Boston, you're going to be up for a challenge the next time you play that hole in the game. Your concentration level (or lack thereof) will be affected by each shot you take and will manifest itself in the accuracy of the circular aiming icon that was first introduced in last year's game. The more rattled your golfer is, the wider the circle will be; thus, you chance for error will be greater. Various factors, such as a club, shot type, distance, and the risk involved with a shot will all affect your player's success for that shot.
Interestingly, a golfer's confidence seems to even supersede his skill level in the game, so that even if you have your golfer's stats maxed out, he can still lose his cool and blow it based on his confidence level. We're not completely sold on that idea yet; after all, Tiger Woods' supreme skills seem like enough to compensate for a momentary lapse in concentration. On the other hand, we've seen plenty of golfers with great skill melt down into puddles of insecurity with just one bad shot (see: Jean Van de Velde, British Open, 1999). It will be interesting to see how the balance between confidence and player skill ends up in the final version of the game.
Long-time virtual golfers probably remember the three-click approach to swinging a club that had seemingly gone the way of course creators. That is, until now. Tiger 08 will see the reintroduction of the three-click approach to swinging the club. By clicking down on the right stick, you can switch between the default analog controls and the new (or is that old?) three-click system. After spending so many years with Tiger's analog approach, getting reacquainted with the digital swing takes some getting used to, but there are certainly times when it will be useful.
Putting, which was far too easy in previous Tigers, has taken another step toward providing a proper challenge in Tiger 08. The ideal putt cam, which showed you the proper angle to approach your putt, has been replaced by the putt preview camera. Unlike the ideal putt cam, which you could access as much as you wanted, you'll have one view per putt with the new camera system, so you'll want to line up your shot beforehand then use the putt preview cam to check your angle. On the plus side, you'll be able to swing the camera around and zoom in or out using the new camera, which you couldn't do previously.
The single-player Tiger Challenge has been revamped a bit this year. Instead of progressing through a series of one-on-one matchups, the new Tiger Challenge will let you proceed in a semi-non-linear fashion, picking and choosing a path through the challenge, as well as unlocking new challenges as you go. You'll still have to face matchups against tour pros, such as Chris Demarco or Jim Furyk, and fictional golfers. You'll even face a challenge that pits you on the links against Manchester United's Wayne Rooney. Making your way through the various Tiger Challenge events will open up new areas of the game, including new GamerNet challenge rooms that are locked by default.
The gamer face system, which lets you create your golfer from scratch, has always been popular in the Tiger Woods series, and it's getting blown out for Tiger 08. You'll be able to import pictures of your face (taken with either your Xbox Live or EyeToy camera, or with your own digital camera) into the game to create a model of your face, apply it to your golfer, edit it as you see fit using the flexible game face toolset, and then hit the links with a virtual duffer that looks more or less exactly like you. No word yet, however, on whether or not you'll be able to use your imported and tweaked character model in next year's Tiger entry, but we're keeping our fingers crossed.
With all of the special game types from last year in the game (as well as a new game type called bingo bango bongo), five new courses to play on (Cog Hill, Harbor Town, Westchester, East Lake, and TPC Boston), and online play to boot, Tiger 08 should be packed with enough content to keep golf fans busy for quite some time. We'll have more coverage of the game in the coming weeks.