Has Anyone Seen the Fairway?

Some observations about Tiger Woods 2006 (PC):

– Without realizing it, I wasted more than an hour just trying to create my golfer using the Game Face feature. I skipped TW last year, but there are more options now than there were for 2004 when the feature debuted. It’s almost overwhelming in that you can specify the degree of facial blemishes, lines, scars, etc. The only thing I couldn’t tweak to my liking was my player’s eyes. There’s a very soft look to the actual irises (almost anime-ish) that I don’t care for. Not that it matters one bit. It’s just that there’s really nothing left to say about Game Face because you have such a sick degree of control over everything else.

– I think if EA is going to have, I don’t know, about a billion different pieces of apparel and equipment for your golfer then they should at least let you sort it more than one way. I actually found it frustrating to try and choose a new iron set and golf glove, for example because I couldn’t sort them based on price. Again, not a biggie. It’s just something that gets in the way of getting your stroker ready for the links.

– Advanced mode, using the vertical True Swing, is sickly difficult using an amatuer golfer. I haven’t tried a pro yet, but my poor schlep has a rough go of it just trying to hit for 200 yards with a driver off a tee. And god help me should I have to clear a hill. It’s all over at that point. The nice thing is, I actually mean that as something of a complement. They may have gone a touch too far with making an amatuer golfer suck rocks, but it’s a refreshing change from 2004 where a low-skilled golfer could pretty much hit every fairway at will. The number of times the swing meter has told me I not only didn’t hit a ball pure but flat out toed or heeled the sucker occurred more over the course of 36 holes last night than in all three prior editions that I’ve played combined.

– Putting has me flummexed. I hit short when I think I’m putting right on, I’ll hit long when I think I’m using a fair degree of touch. I’ve never quite struggled this much with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad putting is finally a challenge, but I thought I had read that greens were supposed to be easier to read this year and as far as I can tell the grid and green shading are pretty close to the same as they’ve always been. In any case, I think I five-putt three holes last night because I’d get so frustrated after two consecutive bad puts that I’d just start smacking the ball around like I was at putt-putt. Come to think of it, this makes it a much more authentic experience for me than in prevoius versions.

– Hitting from the rough or a slope has a *huge* impact on your ability to hit a quality shot. This combined with the increased difficulty of hittng fairways with regularity really all combines to successfully add to the difficulty in this game.

As a whole I think this is a phenomenally improved game. The question is whether or not the degree of difficulty slopes downward too much if you play with a skilled golfer rather than an untrained hack. If you can just stick it out, max out your attributes and then start sinking birdies every hole then I think that’s a problem. But I’ll worry about that point when and if I get to it. For now I’m having a blast with this game.

Onto the Tour mode. Again, I don’t know what EA/Headgate did with the Tour mode in the 2005 version, but I was supremely underwhelmed with the 2004 version. In that one they did away with a true calendar and instead made the amatuer tour like a series of challenges that you could pick from a list, play and replay until you’d racked up enough attribute points to play in more advanced competition and eventually qualify for the PGA Tour. I never even made it to the PGA portion after getting too bored to continue with it.

This year, the calendar -mercifully- is back. But I think EA/Headgate made a rather bizarre choice in having your golfer start out as a completely raw “hack” that hasn’t even qualified for amatuer competion. Basically, I’m to believe that my 24-year old golfer is stepping onto the course for virtually the first time and will, within a year or so make it to the amatuer tour and then the PGA? Not to put too fine a point on it, but what were they thinking?

I like the idea of having to build up your golfer and earn your stripes. I like the idea of having to first qualify to reach the PGA Tour. But there’s a line. I don’t think it’s really good gameplay to have your golfing career start from the beginning of time. And if you’re going to go that route, why not at least be marginally plausible with it by making your golfer no older than a high school kid with high school (and later, college) competition. Yeah, that’s a route that’s rife with pitfalls too, but this whole hacking around the golf course with my “buddies” eventually leading me to the PGA tour just doesn’t have a toe-hold on reality. (At least in my opinion.) Regardless, I’ll stick with it and hope that advancement comes a little faster than it seems to have after four 9-hole “hack” rounds last night.

I do, however, love that they have finally separated experience from earnings. In the past you made money from tourneys and could use it to improve your golfer or buy new stuff for him. This year that money can still be used to buy training to learn new kinds of shot, but improving as a golfer is dependent on accumulating experience. Each of the four hack competitions in which I competed last night, for example, netted me about 1,000 experience points (based partially on performance, I believe). Those points are what you use to improve your golfer’s abilities, which consist of the usual chipping, driving, shot mastery, putting, etc. At one point I hit a 20-foot putt (ironic given that I’d been missing six foot putts with alarming regularity) and got an automatic 2-point bonus to my putting ability. Frankly, I think that’s better than dolling out experience points because your increase in skills is based on something you actually did rather than just using points instead of dollars to buy them up. Regardless, either method is preferable to the old way of buying up your points with cash earnings. That was just silly.

There’s a ton more I could get into as Tiger Woods 2006 is an incredibly deep game this year, but this is probably more than enough for now. At this point there are certainly things to quibble with, but based on a first impression this is by far the best version of Tiger Woods to date.

(By the way, is there a way to set this thing so you don’t have to watch AI golfers in your party actually hit there shots? I know you can skip to thend once they hit each shot, but I’d rather not even have to seem them swing. Takes too damn long.)

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One Response to Has Anyone Seen the Fairway?

  1. Craig Tompkins says:

    I’ve been playing some Tiger 06 PC as well. I have to 2nd all of Todd’s comments. I agree with every one of them. And if you find out a way stop watching your buddies, please let me know. I hope it does not stay this way in the PGA.

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