PGA 2K23 - Another Solid Round
Golf. It is one of those sports, right? Some people love it, some hate it, and most seem to be a little ambivalent. But in the world of video games, Golf has somehow risen above the real-world feelings for the sport and created a legacy that only the biggest of team sports can lay claim to. HB Studios have long been keeping the torch burning for golf on gaming systems and with 2K23 they have put their best foot forward to ensure that a walk around the virtual links is going to be a feature on consoles for some time to come.
Kicking things off in the right way, this year Tiger Woods in on board. Normally that would be just another pro athlete putting his name to a video game, nothing too exciting. But in this case, things are different. Tiger was brought on to provide advice to HB Studios about life on the PGA tour, provide help with recreating the feel of competitive golf and generally just pointing out anything that could use some tweaking to give players a better experience. It is hard to say how much he contributed, but the game certainly presents more like a slick professional sporting broadcast this year, with much-improved commentary, insights and a tv-like presentation. It is the next step in this franchise’s journey from a kickstarted golf game, to mega sports franchise and it is a welcome one.
One thing that is a little bit of a letdown is the graphics. It isn’t that they are bad, but they are hardly setting the world on fire either. I feel like this is partly due to the limitations of the engine the game is built on. Being based in Unity, I wonder if that isn’t what is holding the game back a little in the looks department. Back in the day, golf games used to be graphical high-water marks in a lot of cases, but that is not the case here. Don’t let it put you off, but just be warned this one isn’t exactly a graphics card melter.
Career mode is the area that has received the most attention in 2K23 and I can say that attention is welcome. The Career mode in 2K21 was serviceable, but ultimately a little hollow. It had cool ideas like rivals and sponsorships, but it never really gave those ideas enough weight, meaning they were little more than checklists. In 2K23 all of these ideas have been fleshed out to the point they feel like wonderful inclusions. The sponsorships are now level based and you can upgrade your sponsorship level with good play, earning new gear and clothing. The rival system is also a nice way to spice gameplay up, with the commentary team making note of it during the game and generous rewards being doled out for winning the rivalry.
Upgrades and improvements are handled in quite an interesting way. There is no buying skill points or upgrades to abilities, everything is based around your gear and how you like to play. Each club is essentially the same, no matter the brand, until you start tweaking with it. You get gear modifications that can say, improve your drive distance but at the cost of decreasing your accuracy. Like to use backspin? Then equip the club with a shaft that favours spin over draw or fade. Each club has two components that can be adjusted and it really encourages players to make their clubs their own, tailoring them to how they like to play. There are also bonus skills that can be earned through levelling up your golfer, but these tend to be small boosts that are activated as certain conditions are met. For example, if you miss the fairway four times in a row, there is a skill that will activate and give you an accuracy boost for a short period of time. It is a nice way to help players struggling without punishing those that are mastering the game.
As for the actual gameplay, things haven’t changed too much here. The game is still played using the analogue stick swing method and can be very punishing for those that can’t get their timing or swing direction right. Thankfully PGA 2K23 has some excellent difficulty and accessibility options that make it easy for gamers of any skill to adjust things and find that sweet spot between too easy and rage. Playing online means that there are certain levels that have to be used, but there is so much single-player content, as well as couch multiplayer that I could easily skip the online component completely. Speaking of content. The course creator is back in a big way, with a whole bunch of top-rated, user-made courses from 2K21 being included from the get-go. The course designer is a powerful tool that has always had good support so there is essentially an endless number of golf courses to test your skills on. It is a wonderful feature that really ensures the game has a long life ahead of it.
Finally, it wouldn’t be a 2K without some VC-related monetisation. Thankfully, in PGA 2K23 it is fairly minor. There are no boosts or stats that can be purchased at all. Instead, there is a season pass. For $16 you can buy the pass and get some cool clothing, clubs and balls for every level you reach. None of it is pay-to-win and none of it boosts your skill, it is all cosmetic and a lot of what is on offer actually seems like a lot of fun. It is hard to be upset with the monetisation in this instance and it makes me happy that 2K haven’t swamped the golf world with some of the nasty stuff they do in the NBA space.
In the end, PGA 2K23 isn’t a revolution. It is however a wonderfully thought-out and considered upgrade from the previous title. Every aspect of the career mode has been tweaked and improved, the gameplay, while much the same, has been tightened where it needs to be and the presentation aspects have come forward in leaps and bounds. I know there isn’t exactly a lot of choice at the moment when it comes to serious golf titles (though that is changing with EA apparently getting back into the game next year) but that isn’t a massive problem when the only contender for the title is this good. HB Studios continues to hone their craft in welcome ways and the future for the franchise is incredibly bright. Simply put, no golf fan should miss this and even those who have only ever enjoyed the sport in a virtual form should absolutely check it out.