Xbox 360 Review: Tiger Woods 06

From the viewpoint of a die-hard fanatic of EA's Tiger Woods franchise, the first Xbox 360 rendition is impossible to judge. It seems to do everything to cause irritation in a group of loyal followers who understand why the series is the way it is, while at the same time, keeping the basic gameplay that drew people in to begin with. It's easily contains the widest feature set of the disappointing group of launch titles from EA Sports, and that's what carries this latest edition.

The gameplay adjustments made on the previous generation of consoles are all here, including a radically redesigned putting system. While the days of "caddy tips" were aggravating, this new system doesn't do much to involve the player anymore than the old system did. In some ways, it's a step back. The putting camera simply slaps a highlighted line on the green showing exactly where the shot needs to be lined up.

To say it destroys the most difficult portion of the sport is an understatement. While there's an adjustment to make for people familiar with the old system, it's a shame the expansive power of the hardware doesn't take any steps toward forcing players to read the greens themselves, and without a grid. The surfaces all look flat, and any height differences are negligible (unless truly severe).

What the hardware does add are details to the courses. These are not always for cosmetic reasons, as trees now overlap tee shots, sit in the middle of a fairway, and cause other general disservices to a golfer's ego. The restored spectator gallery (dropped in the 2005 edition) will also stop an errant ball, though as they lay in the fetal position after being hit, the last thing on their minds is helping you miss a sand trap.

The analog swing still feels innovative seven years later, and Xbox owners are in for a shock. The ease of adding power is no more, as the unchangeable controls force virtual pros to use the right bumper to push a shot farther. It's definitely something that will take practice if you've stuck with Microsoft hardware for your Tiger Woods experience. Playstation and Gamecube fans won't see a problem since their respective consoles used the shoulder buttons.

That sadly eliminates the possibility of using the right-analog Shape Stick, outside of working on the greens. There are definitely moments where it would come into play, adding the ability to gain loft on a shot to clear a tree. As is stands, power is almost always the suitable answer.

Each of the slim selection of six courses (all real and two are brand new additions to the series) offers a unique challenge in the career mode. This is where your entire single-player experience should take place, building, changing, and leveling up as you move up the professional circuit. Extensive Game Face character customization returns to prove that you still have no idea what you actually look like.

Starting as an amateur has its challenges, and presents a new way to begin. The PGA apparently requires young golfers to play an entire round using only a 3 iron to qualify for their ranks, as that is one of the many varied challenges you'll need to face. Through the tournaments, you'll find far too many familiar sites. The courses recycle their small challenge constantly. This is not a game that can be beaten in a week, and in this case, that's not the desirable situation to be in. Repetition sets in before you even reach the 50% completion mark, and at that point, you should also have a fully powered-up golfer. As such, the games brightest aspect (character creation/building) is done in a few lengthy play sessions.

Online offers the basics, and is the only way to earn Achievement Points. That's ridiculous, even if they are for all purposes pointless. To not earn anything for a hole-in-one on a par 4 just because you're not locked in an online struggle is ridiculous on the part of EA, especially given their lag-filled servers. Prize money for winning tournaments now has the singular purpose of wagering online. Since it's not used for anything in the game to begin with, what's the point?

It's easy to pass this edition of the Tiger Woods franchise off as a loss. Initially, you probably would. However, days pass and you continue to drive balls down Pebble Beach's fairway, sub-par game or not. You'll finally accept that no matter the exterior, you're obsessed with trophy balls. Forty hours later, when you eagle that final par five to earn an acknowledgement proving you spend too much time playing, it somehow feels like $60 well spent on an average video game.

(*** out of *****)

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