That’s right, I’m reviewing the demo of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2008 for XBox 360. Why? The last version of Tiger I played at any length was 2004 for PS2. I’m trying to figure out whether to buy, and I’m unwilling to pay Blockbuster—my least favorite franchise business—$8 for a decision I can make in 15 minutes.
Mainly, what I’m going to deal with here is a few new features, controls, and other gameplay differences—differences, that is, from a four-year-old version of the game for a different platform. My hope is that someone who has played the full game will read this and address my concerns…
Those concerns begin with this: Becoming a Tiger 2004 expert had less to do with applying one’s knowledge of golf and real-world physics than it did with learning to negotiate with the mischievous spirits who so obviously worked to make one fail.
For example, putting, famously, was not about reading realistic greens; it was instead a process of interpreting—à la kabbalistic or early Christian exegesis—your invisible caddy’s tip. A tip to aim three inches short of the hole could mean a foot long or six inches short, depending on the course, your putter, and whether the smoldering pile of sage next to your console had extinguished or not.
A 4 MPH tailwind, too, could mean different things to different people, let alone different courses, again, and the relative positions of Saturn and Mercury to the Sun on any particular day.
Some, to be sure, complained about these less-than consistent aspects of the game. But once you achieved mastery, playing Tiger was like using the Force: It gave one a sense of control over physical reality unparalleled in real life.
The right spin could rocket a ball into the hole at a 210° angle from its landing spot 30 feet away. A proper draw on a 600-yard dog-leg par 5 could get you on the green in one. Scores routinely came in under 45, given the right course and some easy settings—and I still can’t shoot 45 over nine holes in real life. In short, there was, truly, no spoon.
It seems that the new generation of Tiger games has gone some distance towards undoing these transcendent possibilities. As the King James Bible and its immediate predecessors codified and standardized the Christian belief system, so does this new Tiger game make everyone an expert in the aspects of play that used to be so mystical.
In Tiger 2008, the overlay grids on the green are already much more informative than in years past. The Tron-esque spots of light that course through the grid and reveal its rolling grades are brighter and more true to the green’s actual post-putt behavior.
But a satisfied gamer is a gamer who will buy again next year, and in order to make putting even less potentially frustrating, Tiger now features a putting preview.
Once you’ve set up your shot, a tap of the Left Button shows you just how your ball will proceed towards its destiny. You can rotate the camera around the preview, zoom in and out, and take a good second read of your shot.
This takes that crucial first layer of trial-and-error out of play. Thankfully, it’s only available once per putt, but even so, I think a big part of the fun will be missing in the long term.
Draw and Fade Setup
Similarly, new options for planning one’s draw or fade all but eliminate guesswork. While zoomed to a target, one can use the Right and Left Triggers to move a targeting circle away from the ordinary targeting cursor.
The circle shows where your draw or fade will go, if you just hit the ball “straight.” In the old game, a draw or a fade was just a hook or a slice wearing a fancy jacket: To hit one, you had to adjust the trajectory of your thumb on a nanometric scale. A hair’s width too far, and you were bouncing from the cart path deep into the schmutz. “O.B.”, the game taunted, in smooth, white text.
Now, again, that guesswork is gone. If I want to shorten a dog-leg right, I can just aim straight into the woods and slide my fade circle fair. A straight shot later, I’m a Jedi master, even if it’s my first time playing.
And if you do mishit, not to worry: Before your follow-through is finished, feedback on your shot tells you how you hit the ball, from “perfect” to “pull” to “slice” to “use your turn signal.”
As you will have guessed, there was a time when you had to use your short-short-term memory to “feel” the path of your thumb on the stick. In an instant, you’d bet thinking, “Did I end at 12:00, or was it really more like 11:45? I think I’m gonna tail off here.” You’d adjust your spin accordingly. You’d also read the shot as it traveled through the air, watching for early confirmation of disconfirmation of those insights from your thumb-memory.
Now? Just read what the game tells you and follow your orders, soldier.
One of the most surprising additions to the game—this one definitely new for 2008—is the option to use a conventional triple-tap to make one’s swing. Personally, I’ve always felt that the analog-stick control was one of the more impressive parts of the Tiger franchise, despite being a somewhat rough port of the Golden Tee swing (owing to the limited direction-sensing capabilities of a stick as compared to a big ball).
Still, a review from Yahoo! UK review notes criticism leveled at the game for the swing. I can say that because of the shape of the XBox 360 controller and the dimensions of its analog control stick, it is on first play much more difficult to get a straight swing than on the PS2.
What I’m hoping exists in the full game is the ability to disable the three-click swing, at least for matches on XBox Live. I have a bad feeling that mastering the three-masher is going to prove easier than using the analog stick. During online play, this could provide a cheap-ish advantage.
(It’s also possible that when an opponent uses the triple-click control, one would see it on-screen, which would at least create an honor system for those not interested in tap-tap-tap matches.)
Adding Power and Spin. The jerkier swing with the XBox stick is probably the reason for the new three-click option. I can also say that because of the narrow space between the left button and the left stick, trying to add power the PS2 way is a disaster. Happily, there’s now the option to use the A button instead, for both power and spin.
On the other hand, I know I’m not as fast with my thumb on my A button as I am when I shift my right hand up to the top of the controller and hammer the left button like I was trying to resuscitate a hummingbird. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but…maybe not?
One-Tap Zoom to Target. One small but brilliant addition (and oh, man, please tell me this really wasn’t there in 2004, or I’ll feel like a twit): tapping the X button extra-fast to zoom to the target of your swing. You can still hold X down to get a look at the terrain between your ball and its future, but if you just want to get a fast look at the green, for example, a single tap smoothly —but very quickly—delivers you. Less waiting = more playing.
No More Speeding Up Time? In Tiger ’04, one had the option of holding a button down after one’s shot to speed up time by about 100%, and see a shot play out faster. This could be something I’ll find in the full game, but I haven’t figured it out in the demo, and it really cuts down on waiting time. I’m hoping it’s in there somewhere.
Better Physics. There’s a more realistic treatment of spin now, especially when the ball lands on the green. Rather than momentum-defying, constant-velocity zips around the green, the ball takes a quick hop or two before accelerating gently in the direction of the spin.
The rough is also much more consistent and realistic. Maybe I’m just getting tricked by the improved sound and graphics as you hack through the thick stuff, but it seems like you can really count on 66% power meaning the same thing every time you see it. (Am I happy about this? Too soon to say.)
Finally, I’m not sure whether this counts as “physics,” but it’s worth noting that you can actually hit in folks the gallery with your ball. It’s not just that they hop up and down, clutching their feet and knees, and cursing your name that makes me like this one. It’s that bystanders getting in your way is a realistic part of contemporary professional golf.
The only thing I’m still waiting for is an extra-loud “GET IN THE HOLE!” from one of the surround speakers every time you tee off.