Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06
It's A Muggy Monday morning in New York's Central Park -which actually features in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 as a fantasy course - and I've been granted an exclusive audience with the great man himself. Exclusive that is apart from at least a dozen interested parties analysing every word, each ready to blow a metaphorical whistle should the quadruple-checked questions veer off topic. Furthermore, I've been instructed to remove my Puma top for fear of offending the Nike representatives. Luckily, I'm shod in the Swoosh, otherwise the interview may have had to take place barefoot.
Given the absurdly exacting build-up, it's a surprisingly low-key entrance from a sharp-dressed and unbranded Mr Woods, who ambles in unannounced, pours himself a glass of water, sits down and introduces himself as "Tiger" through unfeasibly white teeth.
In the game he appears as a sullen latex-skinned robot in a pair of high-waisted grey slacks. In reality, with his outlandish hairstyle and laidback demeanour, he seems more surfer than golfer, liberally using the word "dude" and peppering the conversation with descriptions ranging from ''pretty cool" to "really neat".
Woods has been the dominant face of golf for so long that it's easy to forget he's only 30, and thus comfortably within the videogameplaying demographic, something he confirms by reeling off his earliest gaming memories.
"Oh, I've been a gamer all my life," he says. ''I remember as a kid we played Atari 2600, then the 5200, then Nintendo and all that stuff. Back in the day it was Pong, then it became Frogger and then Dig Dug, Galago, Donkey Kong, stuff like that."
It's all a world away from the ultra-realistic Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, the latest incarnation of the game that Woods has lent his name to since 1999. Endorsing a game was an opportunity he readily accepted, although he says: "It felt awkward having my own game in the sense that I'm actually part of a game. I've always played games, but never ever envisioned myself being in a game."
In the game he most certainly is, having squeezed into the obligatory motion-capture suit "It's pretty tight" says Tiger, "but at least it's not as tight as it used to be, and it's become more forgiving in the right spot.
The efforts would appear to have been worth any discomfort, and Tiger is more than happy with the end result. "I'm especially impressed by the swing changes that I've made. You can tell the difference from the first time I did it My swing's changed so much and you can actually see it in the videogame."
Realistic though his virtual character may be, Tiger claims never to play as himself, citing that "it's just too weird". Eschewing the bespoke Woods, lie prefers to use the game's character customisation feature. As he explains: "I create my own character. I always play as either one of two guys. One guy's really big and fat and round, and I try and get him as big as I can. The other guy is all buffed out with a big old afro."
Although not particularly vocal on the golf course, Tiger has recorded some dialogue for the game. As he explains: "I was just saying things that I normally say to myself, I just had to say it louder. Which is different because usually I just mumble it to myself and think nothing of it But this is stuff that I actually had to get out which was a little harder for me because I like being kind of sly and not really being heard."
Uniquely, the game features an option to 'trash talk' your opponents to put them off, something Tiger seems to be an advocate of. "With your buddies, that's all you do all the time. In tournament play, no-one ever does that anymore - but they used to back in the old days. The etiquette of the game has changed a lot now."
As a professional sportsman, it's tempting to think that Tiger's competitive edge would spill over when playing the game. Is that the case? "Oh god, yes. You kidding me? The onl\ difference is that we can't hit the reset button when we're out there playing." He even confesses to being a regular joypad thrower, employing a specific technique. "You have to throw it into the couch," he explains. "It's cushioned, so it's OK." Essentially the equivalent of a golf course tantrum, he also admits: Tve been known to toss a couple of clubs here and there."
As indeed has your correspondent So how can I improve my golf? "Practice. Honestly, the best way to improve is to do a lot of shadow swings in front of a mirror. Just make sure you keep rehearsing the same things over and over again so that when you go on the golf course it becomes a little bit easier." Alternatively, I could just stick to the game...
Download Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06
I kid you not, I was playing this title and my wife walked into the room and thought I was watching a Golf tournament as Tiger strode across the putting green. It looks holy-cow phenomenal. But where Tiger has pretty much hit the mark on all his other titles, this one seems to come up just this shy of being a 'Must Have'?. Why? Well read below and you'll understand better.
The 360 is an awesome machine, it pumps out stellar graphics and drives my surround sound system to places that I thought not possible in a game. But I almost think that some of the developers are getting a bit caught up with power in the system and are spending too much time making graphics that are even awesome to those making them. What suffers is the gameplay and content. Now don't get me wrong, the game has plenty to offer. But I find it hard to swallow that a new generation system that is standing alone on the next tier of gaming machines, has a golf game that does not include as much content as the franchise games that came before it. And those titles were on the last generation machines. What this means to you is that while you can play as many of the pro golfer currently in the PGA and/or create a character golfer and try your luck on the circuit, this game is a bit more stripped down then the previous incarnation. Gone are the classic golf characters, gone is the large selection of courses (6 instead of 15) and gone is the 'weight' that the previous incarnation seemed to have for a full-fledged sports title, and from EA no less.
But then back to the graphics, which are literally light years ahead of the last title. Muscle striation pull across the golfers' forearms, the green looks like it was video recorded and then placed into the game. It's just so darn fine to look at. And from what I can tell, EA has pretty much done this with all of its 360 titles.
Gameplay wise, the controls are fairly dialed in. I thought it was almost too sensitive though and by that I mean that there is certainly a wide margin of error. So many times I thought that I was hitting the ball right on the button with perfect impact and power but then, whoooshh' off into the thick brush it would go. Now I know that there is a certain science to golf in real life, but wow, I think they got the experience a little too realistic with the physics. Here I was playing as Tiger and I couldn't drive the ball straight 160 yards without tanking it. Just like I did the last time I tried playing golf.
You can hop onto Xbox live fairly easily and play in a foursome should you feel the need. Using the headset is nothing new to Xbox live users. What I liked was the leader board function the online game provides. You can see exactly who out there has mastered this title and where you stack up to them.
Tiger 06 looks great, plays OK, and leaves you wanting more. Golf fans will eat the title up and love doing it, but for the casual player, it may be too lacking in its final product.