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Grasping at Thin Air
Bryan Armen Graham
April 16, 2012
The swing is the real thing in the latest version of Tiger Woods's golf game
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April 16, 2012

Grasping At Thin Air

The swing is the real thing in the latest version of Tiger Woods's golf game

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Video game developers have long aspired beyond the limitations of traditional handheld controllers, dating to Mattel's introduction, in 1989, of the Power Glove, which allowed Nintendo users to toss an on-screen ball using an actual throwing motion. That experiment was short-lived, however, and the years since have seen more misses than hits. But Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13, the maiden sports simulation for the Xbox 360's motion-sensing Kinect add-on (which debuted in 2010), largely makes good on the Power Glove's ambitions. Hands-free at last.

The latest installment in Electronic Arts' wildly successful video game franchise (last year's edition sold 225,000 units in the first week) is an engaging—and occasionally maddening—experience that can, in fact, teach a player a thing or two about his or her real-life game. The Kinect's sensor (which captures and replicates your movement from its perch atop your television screen) doesn't merely mimic your golf swing. It hyperanalyzes your motion, accounting for speed, accuracy and follow-through. Adjust your stance and fine-tune where you strike the ball—it all materializes on-screen, enabling a virtually infinite number of shots.

Frustratingly, given that precision, the game favors improvisation and experimentation, providing scant feedback. The closest approximation of a proper tutorial is the (albeit entertaining) story mode, in which gamers tackle a series of increasingly difficult challenges correlating to Woods's most memorable nontabloid moments: draining putts at age two on The Mike Douglas Show; the Junior World Golf Championships; his triumph at the 1997 Masters.

In the end your enjoyment will depend on your embracing the Kinect's motion-capture nuances (the voice commands for changing clubs or seeking your caddie's advice can be thrown off by background noise; aiming shots using your closed fist is more exasperating than it should be), but the charge of emotion that comes with swinging—actually swinging—and sinking a long putt on the back nine of Augusta as Jim Nantz emotes from the press box more than makes up for the growing pains that it will take to get you there.