The main problem with releasing new instalments year in, year out for longrunning sports franchises is always the same: coming up with enough new ideas to make this year's game significantly different to last year's. But in this case, we can only assume that somebody at EA's development studio had been nudging the turps a bit too hard, because this year's big Tiger Woods innovation - and this is no word of a lie - is TIME TRAVEL.
Straight up. We're talking science fiction and professional golf combined in a non-stop explosion of time-bending, wedge-chipping action. Forget your woods and your irons - this is as much about Newtonian space-time physics and flux capacitors as it is about pars and bogies. It's not the hole you'll be shooting for on the green, it's the WORMhole!
Okay, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration, but, amazingly, time travel forms the central premise behind Tiger Woods 06's new Career mode. Not content with the simplistic, slightly disjointed World and Legend Tour modes of previous games, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 now boasts a full era-skipping story. Called Rivals mode, it involves following Tiger Woods (resplendent in full period golfing costume) through history as he challenges the best golfers of yesteryear in an attempt to not just become the greatest golfer, but the greatest golfer of ALL TIME.
Which clearly sounds like a bit of a laugh - and it is, providing you realise that all it really comes down to is a slightly different front end for the same old par-three challenges and match-ups against fantasy and real-life golfers. There are no actual time-travelling pyrotechnics, just a few static clubhouse screens that change decor to suit your current time period, and the option to pick a match or challenge from the board behind the desk. If anything, it's a step back from 04 and 05's Tour modes in terms of ease of menu navigation, but then when did those versions ever have Tiger in a flat cap and a pair of 1930s brogues?
However you end up feeling about Tiger's timetravelling adventure - and we get the feeling this one's going to split opinion - it's simply another example of the staggering amount of content that's been packed into this year's game. Apart from Rivals mode, there's still the PGA Tour mode (which can now run for a ludicrous 30 seasons), real-time events that unlock according to your Xbox's internal clock (with a different event for every day now no less), a new hoop-hitting 'Skills' game, plus all the usual matchplay, skins, Stableford and countless other golfing variations. In EA-speak, it's totally Tigerific!
But that's exactly what we expected. The Tiger Woods series has never lacked for content, after all. What's really at stake here are the changes to the actual golf itself, which leads us nicely to PGA Tour 06's biggest innovation - the Right analogue shot-shaping stick. In the same way you use the Left analogue stick to mimic the action of the club swing, you now use the Right stick to add spin, hook and draw to your shot.
While we like the idea in principle - the Left stick alone never felt suitable for subtle shot alterations - an immediate problem springs to mind for Tiger Woods veterans used to hitting the Black and White spin and power buttons: for humans with fewer than three hands, how is it possible to use both sticks and hammer the joypad at the same time? Answer: you can't, which initially makes the whole shot-shaping feature rather pointless. Why risk an awkward backspin shot on the analogue stick when you can just give the Black button a good bash instead?