During a recent Electronic Arts press event in San Francisco, we got our first look at the Xbox version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 and had an opportunity to try out some of its new features firsthand. EA has seen fit to make changes to practically every aspect of the game this year, and we’re pleased to report that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is shaping up to be the most realistic and challenging entry in the series to date.

One of the first new features you’ll notice in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 (assuming that you want to create your own character), is that EA’s ever-improving GameFace technology now lets you choose a voice for your player as well as determine his or her appearance. You’ll have the option to play as any of 15 different PGA Tour players if you prefer, of course, but we’ll be surprised if the likes of Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, and Mike Weir see a lot of action once you get a taste of the all-new character development system being introduced in Tiger 06.

Unlike previous Tiger Woods PGA Tour games, in which you improved your created player’s skills simply by spending points on various aspects of their game, Tiger 06 will see your character’s game improve according to what he or she actually does on the course. If you spend a lot of time playing shots out of the rough, for example, then your player will get better at it. Another example would be consistently hitting fairways with your tee shots, which will improve your character’s shot-accuracy rating. What we don’t know at this point is whether it will still be possible to finish up with a “perfect” player, whose skills are all maxed out. We’d like to think that this won’t be possible, since it stands to reason that any player spending a lot of time in the rough isn’t shooting with much accuracy. The other obvious downside to a system that would allow you to create a maxed-out player is that you might end up deliberately playing shots in and out of hazards to improve that particular aspect of your game more quickly, which wouldn’t be unlike the mindless grinding that goes on in many massively multiplayer online role-playing games.

Once you make your way to the first tee, you’ll notice that the swing mechanic from last year’s game has been refined somewhat. You’ll still use one of the analog sticks to perform the swing, but now you’ll also use the second stick to control the impact point of the ball as you do so, determining its trajectory and spin in a way that requires much more skill than the system employed in previous Tiger Woods games. Putting draw or fade on your shot will be especially challenging in Tiger 06, since you’ll have to face the direction in which you plan to hit the ball, rather than the point on the fairway or green where you’re hoping it’ll come to rest.

You might also notice that the “Tiger vision” option from last year’s game, which you could use to more or less guarantee that you made a putt once every nine holes, is no longer present. Replacing it, sort of, is a gamebreaker system not unlike those found in EA Sports’ “Street” games. In Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06, the gamebreaker system employs a meter that reflects the confidence of your player according to your performance so far. Playing good shots and making birdies will fill the meter up, while spending half of your time in the rough en route to a double bogey will see it taking a hit. If you manage to fill up your gamebreaker meter, you’ll have the option to play a gamebreaker shot with more length or accuracy than your regular strokes.

Like previous Tiger Woods games, Tiger 06 will feature a meaty career mode in which you’ll attempt to accrue winnings that make the titular sportsman’s bank balance look like pocket change. You’ll be able to play up to 10 52-week seasons before retiring your character, and en route you’ll be offered sponsorship deals from a number of real golf equipment manufacturers. Both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 will also support online play for up to four golfers, complete with online tournaments, stat tracking, and a new handicapping system.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 that we got see in action is the all-new “skills 18” mode, which promises to add a new level of challenge to all 14 of the game’s 18-hole courses. The mode uses a Stableford-style scoring system (you’re awarded points for your score on each hole), and when you stand over the ball for any shot that isn’t a putt, three rings will appear somewhere between you and the pin: one green, one yellow, and one red. The colors of the rings relate to how difficult it is for you to put your ball through them without completely messing up your approach, and when you are successful in making it through the rings, the colors also reflect the number of points that you’ll receive for doing so. The green rings, at least those that we got to see, were invariably located close to the ground and weren’t terribly difficult to hit without going out of our way. The red rings, on the other hand, were floating high above the fairway, and would generally require a shot played with a lot of draw or fade to avoid landing in the rough after going through them.

In addition to three fantasy courses, the 14 courses of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 will include seven that are new to the series, including Las Vegas’ Reflection Bay, Miami’s Doral Golf Resort, and Santa Cruz’s Pasatiempo. Returning favorites will, of course, include St. Andrews and Pebble Beach.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06 is currently scheduled for release this fall. We’ll bring you more information on the game, including its all-new, top secret putting system, next month.

Note: Source: gamespot.com