Has it really been a “hole” year since Tiger Woods 12? EA Sports must have really clubbed together and bunkered down to pull another game out of the (golf) bag. Ok, I’ll stop with the golf puns.

Tiger is back, courtesy of EA Sports with more features than ever. TW12 was an extremely competent golf game, which I greatly enjoyed – let’s see what TW13 can bring to the party...

The big news is the addition of Kinect support for Xbox. I guess, instead of being air guitarists, TW13 is the first game that lets you be an air golfer (although PS Move and Wii MotionPlus support already exists on the other formats). And the Kinect element is very well integrated into the game play. When your player is standing on the tee, simply lift your left hand to your eyes, as if shielding them from the sun, to zoom into the distance and see where the ball could land. Then reach out and close your hand (impressive that Kinect can recognise this) to move the aim around.

Voice controls feature here too – simply speak out commands to change clubs or swipe menus with your other hand. If you want to check the lie of the ground, just crouch down – and appreciate the textures of the grass. It’s near photo realistic.

However – you have to stand sideways on compared to a real golf shot. That is – facing the television. So as a right-handed player, I have to swing as if shooting ninety degrees to the left of my TV. This turned out to be far less of an issue than I feared though. Facing the TV allows constant eye contact with the screen and your on-screen player replicates every movement and twitch in real time. It soon becomes immersive.

That said, while the Kinect controls are great for hitting long, powerful shots – for putting work it is a little less precise. Here, the crouching down to view the lie of the ground really comes in handy and is intuitive – unfortunately it’s just a little more difficult to precisely modulate a part-strength putt.

It’s still a refreshing change and a lot of fun. But I have always loved the stick controls in the Tiger Woods games also. As in 2012, take aim and draw the left stick back for the backswing and push it forward to hit the ball. Great precision must be taken to get a clean, straight shot at the correct strength – the controls are precise and reward the care you take with your inputs.

So I have been playing it as a mix of both control systems as they are both enjoyable to use in different ways. Almost immediately when starting your first game, the narrator admits that this year the game features “Total Swing Control” – the game is paying particular attention to swing tempo for smooth backswings and measured downswings to achieve smooth, straight hits. This is a theme that runs right through both control methods – and it reflects one of the myriad things you have to get right when swinging a real golf club.

The game is fully featured for multiplayer – it is possible to organise all sorts of online games against friends or random opponents. Another new addition is Country Clubs – the golf equivalent of clans. It’s possible to start a club or join an existing one and compete as a team.

And beyond that the game is jam packed full of features as ever – the game features golf’s wunderkind Rory McIlroy this year among others, there are all sorts of golf clubs, shoes, clothing etc all accurately recreated – I played Tiger virtually two nights ago and he was wielding the exact Nike Core putter I was considering buying last year. Crucially too, the feeling of being out there on a serene, beautiful golf course with the birds tweeting and the breeze blowing is well replicated and soothing.

Downsides? Two really – firstly it is an evolutionary step from last year’s game. If you already have Tiger Woods 12 then the game amounts to a series of improvements and new features. The second drawback is the DLC courses. When starting the game, 20 of the game’s 36 courses are locked. It is possible to earn in-game “coins” to pay for rounds, or to complete challenges to unlock courses permanently.

Fine in theory, but the reality is that these are far too time consuming to be feasible and the game tempts you towards paying Microsoft Points or PSN store credit to unlock the courses straight away. I can see why EA did this – there must be a demographic of well-heeled golf players out there who probably do not play any other games and will want all of the features immediately. It’s just a little sad to see EA focus on in-game micro transactions so strongly.

The other barrier to entry here is that you actually have to like golf! If not playing it then at least watching it, or following it a little. But if you do, then this is still a relaxing, compelling, fully-featured game that offers a challenge and encourages progression. As a chill-out game, I find it pretty hard to beat...


Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 is out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3