X05: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 Hands-On

We get our hands on a work-in-progress version of EA's upcoming golf game.

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AMSTERDAM--Tiger Woods PGA Tour for the Xbox 360 was on display at this week's X05 press event, and the game has made some strides since its unveiling at E3 back in May. We got a chance to take the game out for a few holes and felt at home right away with the controls while marveling at some of the new graphical tweaks powered by the Xbox 360.

First and foremost, the graphical showcase hinted at back in May was mostly in full effect during our time with Tiger. Player models benefit from some excellent light and shadow work and have more-realistic skin tone than ever before. Even more impressive, however, are the courses themselves, which take full advantage of the technological prowess of the Xbox's fledgling console. For the first time, you'll see actual crowds in the audience watching you play on the links--something that has been obviously and painfully missing from the game's PGA Tour modes of the past. On the course, in medium to tall rough, you'll easily make out individual blades of grass, sure, but truthfully, we found the short stuff the most impressive. The greens in Tiger for the 360 are graphical masterworks of subtlety and undulations, and thanks to these ultrarealistic textures, it's easier than ever to read the break of the green, even without using the dynamic grid lines, a feature that has been ported directly from the console version of the game.

That's not all that's been brought to the 360 either. The shape stick, which is the right-analog-controlled shot influence feature that let you put draw, fade, backspin, or topspin on the ball, is back, and it works exactly the same as before. Similarly, you can still add topspin on the ball once it's in the air by rapidly pressing a button. And although the greens look much more detailed in the 360 version of Tiger, the putting doesn't feel much different at all. Power "zones," which measure the maximum distance a putt will travel, are still in place, and it's still pretty easy to sink long putts by using the ideal putt camera feature. We'll reserve final judgment on the game's controls when the final version is released, but so far things are feeling very familiar.

Unfortunately, Tiger for the Xbox 360 will also be suffering some cuts in gameplay features while bringing all of this graphical fidelity to light, including a reduced number of courses compared to the current console game. Rivals mode--the centerpiece of the current generation's single-player game--is out the door and replaced by a revamped PGA Tour mode that will feel similar to that from a couple of years ago. You start out as a rank amateur and work your way through Q school, eventually earning your tour card and heading out to take on the big boys.

Luckily one thing that is remaining is the Game Face feature, and it's just as insanely detailed and addictively fun as always. While there are still a ton of parameters to choose from when adjusting your created players' features--from cheekbones to chin length--it's even more effective this time around, thanks to the high-quality player models that are a big part of Tiger's success. We expect to once again be spending an inordinate amount of time with this feature, and we won't feel the least bit ashamed in doing so. Online features will be limited to playing in pickup matches with friends or in tournaments, which EA plans to host regularly on Xbox Live. There's no word yet on how specific achievements will be noted in your Xbox Live gamer profile, but we're hoping that any holes in one are noted prominently somewhere for the entire world to see.

In all, if you loved Tiger on the Xbox, you're going to feel right at home with Tiger on the Xbox 360. The revamped controls are all here, and while it remains to be seen whether the challenge level will be tweaked in the next-generation game, it's hard to deny the game's appealing look and amicable style. We'll have more on Tiger in the near future, so stay tuned.

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