Golf is a rich man’s game.

Country club memberships aren’t cheap.  Golf is probably the single most exclusive sport in the world, where the time and money required to even practice is miles above any sport played by throwing a thing into a thing, or hitting a thing with another thing.  The patina of elitism that surrounds the game is one publicly poo-pooed by its fans but not-so-secretly relished by the entire institution of golf.  And now, Tiger Woods PGA tour brings that same sentiment of exclusivity to your living room.  I hope your wallet is within reach.

Before I tear into what an obnoxious travesty this game turned out to be, I want to come clean about two things.  One, I don’t like golf, real or virtual, and I don’t actually care that much about any game of said sport whether it takes place on my TV screen or outside on somebody’s oversized lawn.  You might think that makes me a poor choice to review a golf game – and that opinion is granted without contest, although I think my arguments against what EA has done here stand regardless  – but it should also cast my unqualified praise for certain parts of the game in a more trustworthy light.  I’d hate the shit out of this game completely if I could do so honestly.  The second thing is that in one important way, PGA Tour 13 revolutionizes the way video-game golf is played, and EA deserves high marks for having the guts to throw everyone who’s ever fantasized about being a computer-golf prodigy in with the sharks and letting them sink or swim.  Schadenfreude?  Maybe a little, but this is the way sports games are supposed to be.

PGA Tour 13 introduces “Total Swing Control,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  You, with your controller, have complete domain over every shot you make, and the game will not help you.  At all.  The game is Tiger Woods’s angry, demanding father, expecting more out of his little golf prodigy that even ten-year old Tiger can produce, wearing a stern and unforgiving expression the entire time.  The left stick controls every aspect of your golf swing, speed, arc, time, the works.  There are no shot types, no pre-sets, no meters, no meters to help you out.  A simple white arc guides you towards the perfect shot, and is all that separates you from total failure on the green.  If you can’t hack that, prepare to dig a lot of dirt and chase a whole hell of a lot of balls.

That is, as I think, it should be.  Games shouldn’t be easy.  Fun, yes, but being good at anything is its own reward, and to not succeed on your first try, all things being equal, is only a discouragement to the kind of people that video games shouldn’t be made for.  That said, this is where I part ways with PGA Tour 13.  I hope their system is mimicked – stolen, even – by a lot of other games, because it’s great, although one of the huge problems with this game is that they never teach you how to use it.

There is absolutely no guide system to walk you through making the perfect swing, or even just a relatively good swing.  You either get it right, or stand befuddled at your total failure.  The game is almost entirely an exercise in autodidacticism.  While I take a certain amount of pleasure at golf weenies suddenly sucking at their own favorite stupid sport, this is a video game, and video games are (again) supposed to be fun.  Sucking at a hard game is one thing; hitting your head against a wall for three hours because the designers didn’t have the foresight to at least include a short tutorial is a whole frustrating other thing.  This isn’t actual golf, I’m not a pro, and most importantly, I’m not getting any money from getting better at this – quite the other way around, in fact.  The Tiger Legacy Challenger provides some hint of a walkthrough, in that it presents you with increasingly difficult shots to master (beginning as a 2-year-old Tiger Woods and working your way up to the majors), but there still isn’t any kind of guide, and learning how to play is the worst kind of tedious trial-and-error.  You get better (or you don’t) as a result of repeating the same mundane tasks hundreds of times of over, often as not retrying the same level until you feel like taking a golf club to your game system in a very not-virtual way.    Don’t get me wrong – you feel like a god when you actually pull off a win.  But I don’t need to play 50 hours of computer golf feeling like I want to kill someone because the game doesn’t have the courtesy to show me what I’m supposed to do to master its artificial abstraction of the world’s stuck-uppiest sport.  Tiger Woods got to have millions of dollars and a sex scandal; I just get to be late for work.

Tiger Woods 13
Tiger Woods 13

That brings me to the single worst part of PGA Tour 13.  As with most sports games, standard career mode is probably the best and most polished area of play.  There’s an experience system that lets you unlock clothes, clubs, equipment, yadda yadda, and a “pin” system that gives you temporary advantages and enhancements to make some of the trickier levels more bearable.  You have to use them right away or discard them, which keeps it from seeming unfair, although you can use “Coins” to purchase or refill pins in a tight spot.  Coins actually let you buy a variety of things, so you really have to conserve and spend them wisely, as good coin-earning performance is not easy to come by in this game.  Here’s the problem with coins.

Out of the 36 courses available in PGA Tour 13, 20 of them are actually playable once you pay for the game and bring it home.  The other 16 are DLC, and can be rented – yes, rented – per play using coins.  What if you don’t have enough coins?  I bet you know the answer already.   You can buy them.  When you pay for Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, you pay for the right to play just over half the game.  The rest of it comes at a premium.  Ain’t that some shit?

Of course, you can unlock these courses without cash, after completing a mind-numbing series of event challenges on each level individually, the so-called “Gold Mastery Tasks.”  These are so difficult, tedious, and time consuming you can’t help but be disgusted.  By the way, PS3 owners, you can’t use your PSN wallet to unlock the levels; you have to buy coins first, and the number of coins needed to open a level compared to the amounts of coins available to purchase doesn’t even match up.  Prepare to buy extra coins, just because!  What a fun game this turned out to be.

Of course, the especially hardcore pretend-golf-gentle-man-or-woman can join or form an “Online Country Club,” so you can pool your achievements and open up new levels more quickly than just sitting alone in your living room, crying.  Clearly, though, PGA Tour 13 is an attempt to bring realism in golf games up to a new standard – the standard where you have to spend enormous amounts of time, or alternatively just be rich and spend money like water, for the privilege of hitting a small ball with a variety of sticks.  I’ll bet PGA Tour 14 will break the mold again by forcing you to undergo a rigorous disclosure of your income, social life, and political affiliations before allowing you past the main menu.  They might even be generous and let those of us who don’t pass muster play on a single level that uses Google Earth to recreate the experience of hitting a putter into a cup in your backyard, or the nearest local park.  Co-op play will be possible, but you risk losing all your gameplay privileges if your friends drive their golf carts over the posted speed limits.  Welcome to America!

8 / 10