"Fore!" Tiger Woods shouts as he swings. Is it an Ace? Nope, he missed. Golf, some say, "ruins a good walk" - and until recently, I would have agreed. The reason for my change of heart is Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, the latest handheld entry to the series, and the best golf game I've played.
Before hitting the course in Rivals mode, you enter the 'game face' player creation system, where you can customize every physical aspect of your in-game avatar, from facial features down to their body size.
Next, it's off to the pro shop to purchase some apparel. Brands on hand include "Adidas" and "Nike", as well as the free EA sports tops. Only the basic items are available to start with - the better items and courses require unlocking via rivals mode. After creating your player, you are almost ready to start. Before hitting the course, though, it is a good idea to check the tutorial, as it provides a useful guide to terms only familiar to golfers, helps in understanding what the commentators are talking about, and explains the intuitive analogue control system.
Quick play provides an 'instant action' fix for a quick round on the bus or train - just select the number of players, and the holes you want to play. Rivals mode pits you against 14 pro golfers, including Tiger Woods. As you progress, you earn points to raise your golfer's abilities, such as enhancing his power and style.
The novice-friendly camera system enables you to work out where you need to hit the ball and how much power to give your swing. Pushing the right trigger repeatedly while in backswing gives it extra power, and doing it again as you hit the ball will allow you to control the ball's spin.
The courses are well-designed, with varying degrees of skill required. Also making life a little harder for your golfer are shrubs, trees, water hazards and the sand traps. Sometimes the traps will work in your favour when an opponent repeatedly drives their ball into the water hazard, but more often than not, they will drive you crazy. Putting can also be a pain as too much force or not enough can make you miss even when you are mere meters from the hole.
This title is more about simulating Golf than looking pretty, and it drives this point home by sticking to practical visual effects, such as ball 'trails' indicating driving power and a putting grid which aids putting, while keeping the textures simple and polygon counts low. It is an effective way to keep the game simple and true to the sport.
The commentary sounds like what you would hear if you watched golf on TV. However, unless you have prior experience with golf and know what they are talking about, you have to read the tutorial to understand most of what they are saying. That said, the realistic commentary should please golfers.
I have never been a fan of the sport - except for the occasional game of mini-golf - and this game did not make me one. However, it is a step in the right direction; just add guns and I'll love it. Golf fans will get a lot out of this game, though, and it is certainly the best portable golf title thus far.