I’ve been playing PGA Tour golf games developed by EA since the 1990 release of PGA Tour Golf. Back then the PC screen could only show part of the hole with no terrain of any kind. On the green you had to switch to a secondary screen that showed the actual geometry of the course. You had a grand total of four golf courses to play and only one set of clubs to choose from. Sound was simple beeps and bloops that were not representative of the game in any way. Your golfer was one model wearing pink pants and a yellow shirt.
Since that time golf games have grown to become incredibly realistic simulations with sometimes near photo-realistic visuals. The last game in the series to be released, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 featured more than 25 golfers from the PGA and LPGA Tours as well as Legends of the game. 20 courses shipped with the main game with almost that many more available as DLC. You also had 21 real world tournaments, including the Masters to compete in. That game launched in 2013 and the series then took a year off.
Since that time the relationship with Tiger Woods has ended. A new golfer, Rory McIlroy, has added his name to the game. New consoles have been released. A new engine, the Frostbite Engine, was used to develop the game. All of it should make for a great refresh for the series. Despite everything good about the game, however, it feels almost like the series is taking a step back.
Let me get this out of the way first, before I talk about the things that make it feel like the game has taken a step backwards. Everything in this game feels great. There are more options than ever for how to control your golfer. You have three default options for swinging your club. You can choose a traditional three button press system which lets you time button presses to control power. You have a more arcade feeling swing mode that uses one of the analog sticks to swing and a more professional version of that which forces you to be far more precise and accurate in your motions. The actual feel of swinging the club feels better than it ever has.
The Frostbite Engine was touted as a huge advance in the technology allowing for much quicker play and better looking visuals than ever before. For the most part that’s exactly what it has been. Load times do still exist. There is not an instantaneous movement from one hole to the next. You still have an unskippable scorecard screen that pops up between holes while the data loads. You can go nearly anywhere on the golf course, something you’ve never been able to do before. Previously if you hit the ball way off course you could incur a penalty that adds a stroke to your score and you drop the ball close to where it went “out of bounds” most of those places are now completely gone and only real-world out of bounds designations come into play. That alone makes for a far more interesting bit of play as you can have some VERY compromising lies to play out of now. Visually the game has never looked prettier. The water on the holes is clearer and more fluid than it’s ever been. Blades of grass, leaves on trees, petals on flowers all stand out and look and feel like they take up real world space. The look of each course in the game could almost transport you to those locations at times because of just how good they look. It’s a visually stunning game and it only gets better every year.
The actual playing of golf is also as good, if not better, than ever before. The sheer number of customization options alone means that just about any skill level can customize the game to their liking and be competitive against anyone else. You have customizable options for viewing where the ball lands, where you’re aiming the ball, whether or not you want to be able to have the game read the line of a putt for you and much more. You can customize just about every aspect of the HUD to help you be the best golfer you can. Then as you learn the different parts of the game you can then begin switching those things on and off to give yourself more of a challenge.
Online play works flawlessly and has multiple options to play as well. You can compete head to head with other golfers in a quick round of golf. If you’re feeling more competitive you can compete in daily and weekly golf tournaments against players from around the world. You can choose amateur or professional levels of play that will change up how difficult the game gets.
The PGA Tour Nightclub allows you to complete various challenges on different courses. These challenges light up the night with neon lights around the greens and the fairways. Your golf ball glows a bright yellow, as does the flag stick. These challenges range from closest to the pin, aim challenges, putting challenges and many more. There are multiple challenges per hole that test out every part of your golf game. You’ll start out with challenges off the tee and proceed towards ending each hole with putting challenges, then you put all of those challenges together before moving on to the next hole. As you complete these challenges you’ll unlock fantasy golfers that you can then use in regular rounds of golf.
Now, let’s talk about where it seems like things aren’t so good. Character customization is incredibly limited this time around. You can choose to create a golfer, but you are limited to a few preset face options and a change of clothes. You can’t get in and customize every aspect of your character to make them look as close to you as you can or get outlandishly crazy. I couldn’t even go in and give my character facial hair or glasses.
Lack of courses is also a big problem. There are only 10 courses that shipped on the disc; eight real world courses and two fantasy courses. That’s half of what shipped on the previous game and there has been two years since that release. While there courses that are there are excellent courses. You have some selection from some of the best in the world such as The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Troon, Wolf Creek, TPC Sawgrass and others. The two fantasy courses are also great. One is a par three course set on the island of Paracel from Battlefield 4. You start your round hitting a tee shot from the deck of a destroyed aircraft carrier. At other times an out of control destroyer could suddenly appear blocking a shot and the ground is littered with all kinds of military debris. Coyote Falls is a fantasy course set in a desert which features some of the longest holes in the history of golf games at over 800 yards. There is even one hole shaped like a U that, if you could cut across the canyon in the middle of it would be the shortest hole in history. As it stands you have to play a couple shots just to get around the bend and come back the right direction. It’s just a shame there are so few courses because you’ll end up playing them all so many times over the course of a career that they could start to feel old and uninteresting.
Then you have the roster of golfers. Previous series namesake Tiger Woods is nowhere to be seen. I’ve only ever heard him briefly mentioned in passing commentary. The list of golfers also doesn’t include other big names like Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els or Retief Goosen. You do have many of the up and comers like McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. Another curious omission is that of any female golfers. Yes, you can choose to create a female golfer and there are two pre-made female golfers that you can unlock, one of them being an 80 year old grandmother, but the lack of any LPGA golfers is strange. Considering how big a deal it’s been in the past to have them and the tech they worked on to get them in the game it seems very strange not to include them this time around.
Also gone are the modes that put you in the role of the pros, especially Tiger Woods. In the past the game had a whole section dedicated to reliving some of the greatest moments in Tiger’s history, but that mode is absent this time around. The only chance you get to play as Rory McIlroy is when you first boot up the game and replay his run at the PGA Championship. While modes like this aren’t the primary way to play the game taking prominent features away seems like they’re taking a step back.
There are definitely issues with the game, such as the lack of courses, female golfers and features being removed. However, those are generally outweighed by just how good the game is. Playing golf in this game is more fun than it’s ever been. It’s so easy to set things up how you want them and create the perfect difficulty level for you to provide a challenge. The courses themselves are absolutely gorgeous and show off just how powerful the Frostbite engine can be for a game like this. If all you’re really interested in doing is getting in and playing golf then it’s well worth the asking price. If the lack of features, and golfers, is a problem you might be best served waiting a bit and picking it up a little further down the line. I fully expect that the lack of courses will be addressed through DLC. In fact one course, TPC Scottsdale, was available as a pre-order bonus for free.
More than anything this doesn’t feel like a continuation of the Tiger Woods series. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour feels like the first game that will set the foundation for a brand new golf experience from EA Sports in the future. Is it perfect? No, but what’s here is really, really good.
Review copy of the game was provided by Electronic Arts.