It's a sobering thought that we're already on our third Tiger Woods on the Xbox 360 - I guess we're way past the point where we can talk about Microsoft's breakdown-prone box as a next-generation console, and also past the point where we can get too excited about the usual annual franchise updates. Tiger Woods 06 bought the franchise into the HD era, but as several courses and plenty of content had gone missing in the transition from the PS2 and PC versions, it felt like a bit of a rush-job.
What's more, it bought us one of the most terrifying examples of the ‘uncanny valley' yet seen in a video game, with a digital Tiger seemingly straight out of the Stepford labs. Tiger Woods 07 made good some of the deficit by cramming in more courses and game modes, while also warming up our virtual champ. The problem is that it didn't do much more. We're still left wanting a game that could truly take golf somewhere new.
Well, frankly, anyone expecting to see any vast improvements in Tiger Woods 08 is in for a big disappointment, particularly when it comes to visuals. In the interval between Tigers, the likes of Gears of War, GRAW2 and Bioshock have redefined what we should expect from HD-era games, yet the 08 update seems stuck in a rut. True, there are better, more realistic textures on the greens, and the picture-in-picture nonsense seems to have been toned down. There are some nice atmospheric effects and depth-of-field blurs being thrown around, and the long grass doesn't fade in so obviously anymore.
Yet there are still many areas where the game could really do with some attention. The lighting on the courses, skin and clothes seems oddly flat, the trees look distinctly artificial, and there's a sense that all the different components in the scene - the players, the grass, the tress, the crowd - still don't quite mesh into one coherent whole. Don't get me wrong: this is still the best-looking golf game around by some margin. It's just that other genres are training us to expect a whole lot more.
In fact, the biggest graphical enhancement isn't anything to do with the engine or the art, but the introduction of the Photo Game Face feature. At last, you don't have to play Tiger or some PGA stalwart, or use the Game Face feature to create some vague, idealised facsimile of you; you can get your own face in the game and walk the uncanny valley in your own weathered skin. Simply, upload a front shot and a side shot to EA's website or connect a USB camera - Microsoft's Live Vision camera in the 360 version - then position a small number of markers, and after twenty minutes or so of cogitation the game spits out a reasonable likeness, ready for tweaking.
The results are surprisingly good, particularly with a little work on the hair and facial structure, even if I seemed unable to transform my neck from a weird olive-green colour to the pasty flesh-tone it actually is. The oddest thing about the whole thing is that you can then watch yourself performing the various angry tantrums and smug celebrations in-game, accompanied by an annoying American voice that only makes the whole experience more eerie.