A few years ago, seemingly out of nowhere, everyone was raving about Tiger Woods PGA Tour, its "revolutionary" swing mechanic and easy to learn gameplay. Since then, Tiger has gone on to crush the competition, to the point where it's the only PGA game on the market. Other than revamping the putting system, and a few minor changes here and there, the developers didn't change a whole lot in PGA Tour 06. It's a solid game to be sure, but unless you've unlocked everything in 2005 or you're looking for a little more challenge, you might want to hold off on this one.
The biggest change to the game this year is the new putting mechanic. Gone is the ridiculous "Tiger Vision" that essentially guaranteed you'd make three putts a round. Instead of your caddy giving you directions on where to aim, a grid has been placed over the green, with little dots moving to show the green's undulations. You can change the maximum distance you can hit the ball in ten foot increments, but putting the ball the proper distance is up to you and how far you pull back the analog stick – just like a regular golf swing. This new method of putting takes a little while to get used to, but for the most part, it works really well, except for one thing – the ideal putt cam. You have the ability to press X and watch the camera trace your ideal putting line. This helps you spot some tricky spots on the green, but like Tiger Vision, it can be exploited to make the game too easy. Simply finding an object in the background that's in-line with where the camera aims is all it takes for you to line up your putt with near-perfect results. Sure you don't have to use this, but like Tiger Vision, it's just too tempting to pass up for most people.
PGA Tour 06 also introduces a new way to shape your shots before you hit the ball. On the bottom right of the screen you'll see a picture of your ball, and on it there's a dot that represents where you're going to strike the ball. You can adjust this spot by moving the right analog stick, allowing you to play a slice or a fade, add backspin, or topspin to the shot. Striking the ball is still done by pulling the left analog stick towards you for your backswing, and then pushing it forward to complete your swing. You control how hard you hit the ball simply by not pulling the stick back as far during your swing, which does take some getting used to, but once you do, it's great. You can still add spin to the ball after you hit it, by pressing L2 and holding the left analog stick in the direction you want the ball to spin, but shaping your shot is a slightly more realistic way to do it. Unless you're playing the game on the harder level, where the after touch is disabled, there's really no reason to use the new shot shaping, but it's a nice addition, regardless of how little it will impact most people.
Sometime in the last year or so, Tiger Woods learned how to time travel, but rather than going back in history to prevent wars, invent the internet before Al Gore, or play "Johnny B. Goode" at his parents' High School dance, Tiger has decided to let you go back in time to prove that you're the greatest golfer of all time. This is called rivals mode, and it's similar to last year's legends pursuit" except that you're now taking on golfers like Nicklaus, Palmer, Hogan in their own time period, and eventually modern players like Daly, Mickleson, and Tiger. You'll play against an assorted cast of characters, each with their own style of play, personality, and dress from the period. In addition to playing against them in matches, they'll also offer challenges, such as putting, chipping, and longest drive contests. If you win these you'll get some money, as well as some points to level-up your golfer. You can even use clubs from each time period if you'd like. You don't have to use period equipment, and even if you do, it doesn't seem to perform in a realistic way (the clubs from the early 1900's are just fine) which makes it seem like a waste the clubs are even there. Unless you don't have a certain level putter unlocked in the modern equipment, it doesn't make any sense to buy an old putter if you don't have to. Rivals mode isn't much more difficult than last year's legends mode, but it is more time consuming because of all the challenges.
You can still play PGA events, and real-time events, that are fittingly, unlocked in real-time. You'll be able to earn endorsements if you play well. If you get an endorsement, you'll earn small bonuses for each piece of equipment or item of apparel you wear from the company. These start off small, but once you get noticed by the high-profile companies, you can earn some nice cash for selling out to the man.
Last but not least, the way you improve your golfer has been changed up a little bit. Instead of using money to upgrade your character's abilities, you'll now earn experience points based on how you play. There are general experience points that can be used to upgrade any ability, but there are also points that can only be used for one particular kind of skill. For example, if you putted really well during a round, you'll earn points that can be used to improve only your putting. Buying new equipment still plays a part in your character's abilities, but in a lesser fashion. Each club or item has four slots that can be enhanced with increased accuracy, more power, and the like. Other than being more cumbersome, because you're constantly moving around power-ups (doing cheap things like loading up your wristband, watch, and hat can alleviate this) the system isn't better or worse than last year's in any way; it's just different.
If the game's too easy for you, enabling reactive Tiger proofing will add some challenge to your round. Tiger proofing actually changes the course as you play, based on your performance. It's not going to move a fairway while you're in mid-swing, but it will make the next hole tougher if you birdie or eagle the hole you're currently on. It's a neat feature, though most people seem to enjoy shooting in the 60's, so they probably won't use it.
If you asked the average gamer to name one thing they know about the Tiger Woods series, chances are they would mention the outstanding create-a-golfer mode. Bar none, it's the best character creation tool available on any console game; nothing comes close. We're talking the ability to add crow's feet, freckles, braces, laugh lines, and even bags under your characters eyes. If you're patient enough, you can make an eerie replica of any person that comes to mind. When you're done with your golfer's looks, you can customize their outfit, celebrations, and even their swing. There are tons of different swings, from a wide array of realistic swings to some outrageous hacks straight out of Happy Gilmore. You know a mode is good when your friends are content to not play, but instead sit around and watch you re-create them in the game.
Tiger Woods 06 has a fairly robust online mode that appears to be quite popular. You can play a variety of different match types, enter tournaments, bet money, and even chat with your opponent via the headset. You can play as your created golfer or anyone else from the game, but if you do use your own golfer, be prepared for a whipping unless your character is leveled all the way up. There's a tiny bit of lag to adjust to, but after a few holes you'll probably not even notice that it's there. One cool thing about playing online is that it's not just kids playing, but adults too. I got my butt handed to me by a 56-year old, but he was as nice as could be and it was a very pleasant butt kicking.
PGA Tour 06 doesn't look a whole lot different than 2005, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. The golfers all look amazingly lifelike, and each one of the created golfers has their own unique and interesting look. The courses are slightly improved over last year. Tress and foliage look slightly better, but still look poor upon close inspection. The camera occasionally has some issues when you're near the trees, however, an easy workaround for this exists – just keep the ball on the fairway.
There are very few genres where you could eliminate sound entirely and still have the same game experience. Golf titles are one such example – and not because there's anything bad here, but more so because it doesn't matter. David Feherty and Gary McCord are back one again this year, and as they did last year, provide sparse (and quite often negative) commentary on the matches. I noticed several times where they called out the wrong score during match play, and they're often wrong when deeming a shot good or bad, but for the most part, they're okay. You now have the ability to pick a voice for your created character, and he'll chat away after shots. It's cool that they took the time to add this in, but it doesn't make the game any better or worse.
If you don't own Tiger Woods 2005, and you're looking for a golf game, Tiger Woods 06 is superior enough over last year's version to warrant a purchase. The new putting system is improved over the previous method, but it needs some refining before it can be mentioned in the same breath as the analog swing. On a side note: if you're going to be hopping on board the Xbox 360 bandwagon at launch, there's a Tiger Woods game coming out for that system, so you might want to hold off on picking up this version and get the prettier 360 one, even though it will have less courses.