EA Sports PGA Tour Review - Up And Down For Par
It has been a long time between drinks for EA and Golf. Rory McIlroy Golf was the last effort from the once prolific golf publisher and that was way back in the very early days of the Xbox One/PS4. In that time, The Golf Club aka PGA 2K Golf has risen to fill the gap, creating a game that, while it has its problems, has satisfied those of us with a hankering for some action on the virtual links. But EA has decided to come back to the sport with EA Sports PGA Tour and has set up what has the potential to be a juicy rivalry for years to come, the likes gamers haven’t seen since the height of the PES/FIFA wars.
EA Sports PGA Tour is, for all intents and purposes, a true continuation of EA’s previous golf titles. There is a lot here that is familiar to those of us that spent time with the Tiger Woods games in the past. The swing mechanics, the power boost and the after-shot spin manipulation are all things that were pioneered by the franchise over the years and all are important parts of this game. In fact, you can feel the DNA of the Tiger Woods all over this latest incarnation. But there are some important innovations here, this isn’t just some redo of a past title with better graphics. Just like the actual sport, there have been a number of innovations that have been incorporated here. The most notable of which is the sheer amount of shot types available to players. Once a player has upgraded their skills enough, there is a total of 17 different shot types, all of which have ideal use scenarios and a lot of the strategy is choosing the right shot for the right situation. Need to drop it next to the pin and hit over a bunker? A High loft shot is your friend. Lots of wind about, a runner shot will keep the ball low and make it roll further. Trust your putter more than your chip? A Texas Wedge shot is there to help.
It can all get a little confusing if you aren’t 100% up on golf terminology but thankfully there is a nice range of training challenges and tutorials available to players that explains these shots and when to use them. In fact, doing these training challenges is almost essential, as they are the fastest way of upgrading your player’s skills as well as ensuring you have a good grip on the game’s mechanics. This is a must as Golf is an unforgiving sport where mistakes are punished heavily. These challenges can also be used to experience some key moments in Golf’s history and earn new gear from sponsors, making them a key first step for new players. Without doing the tutorial challenges, players will struggle to upgrade their players quickly enough to be able to compete in the career mode at an effective level. These skill upgrades are earned in traditional video game manner, through experience points earned in just about everything you do in-game, so doing these short, sharp and sometimes dull challenges may feel like busy work but it is time well spent.
The career mode is where the meat and potatoes of the game lie and it is a hefty mode to dive into. The goal is to take your player from a promising amateur, through Q-School, onto the Korn Ferry Tour and finally into the PGA main tour. The ultimate goal is, of course, winning the Masters and taking home that green jacket, but you can expect to play a lot of golf before you are ready to do that. In a somewhat baffling move, players can choose to play all four rounds of each competition or a quick version, where only key holes are played. The problem here is that when you play the quick version, you have no input over how you perform during the holes you don’t have control over. On more than one occasion I finished a day with a great score, only for the computer to give me multiple bogeys or worse while I wasn’t in control. It is very frustrating to be at -5 and then all of a sudden at +1 through no fault of your own. A much smarter move here would have been to allow players an extra choice of having all tournaments be one round instead of four. It cuts the length down without taking the result out of the player’s hands.
There are some other issues that are unavoidable too. The first of which is the lack of metric measurements in game. Seriously EA, 98% of the world uses the metric system so why the hell wouldn’t you include it in a game about a sport that is played all around the world? Honestly, that is either laziness or a lack of care from the developers. The other major issue I found is that the information supplied by the game can’t be trusted. For example, there is a putting line that can be turned on to give you a visual of an ideal putt, that just isn’t the case though because if you follow that so-called ideal line you will miss more than you will make. I found it much wiser to trust my own instincts and years of playing virtual golf titles than following these assists, it led to much better results. Finally, there is a big balance issue here. The career mode is, for a good early portion, almost impossible to get ahead in, especially if you are playing in quick mode. It feels excessively tough and unfair, forcing players to be nigh-on perfect to just make the cut. That is until you reach a tipping point in your skill upgrades when everything becomes super easy, birdies fly thick and fast and the computer gives you birdies and pars, not bogeys when you aren’t playing. It isn’t a gradual change, it just seems like a switch goes off and all of a sudden things went from frustratingly hard to cruising in an instant.
Presentation-wise, you can tell this has the power of EA behind it. For the most part, it is a slick, good-looking golf game that nails the feel and ambience of the sport better than anything else out there. The commentary is pretty great, with the only real problem coming from the game’s insistence on calling you the “featured player” which breaks the illusion. Otherwise, though the comments are accurate as to what is occurring in the game and often provide advice (especially when putting) worth listening to. The crowd reacts appropriately at appropriate moments, the courses all look great and the golfers themselves all sport a great amount of detail. This is the best-presented golf game that money can buy right now and it feels like things are going to get even better if the franchise keeps going.
Multiplayer modes are also solid if a little bare bones. You can of course play couch co-op (the best way to play a golf game with friends) or online. The online modes are limited to a social mode which takes a select few holes to play through with no pressure, or a competitive mode which is a 9-hole round that leads to ranking on leaderboards. I feel like more could be added here as time goes on. In fact, the game already added some recreation moments from this past weekend’s real-life Masters tournaments so I can see EA incorporating more of this into the multiplayer components of the game. I would like to see some of the crazier stuff from past titles come back into the game for multiplayer though. Things like speed golf and the fantasy courses all made for a cracking time with mates on the couch so it is sad to not see them here.
EA Sports PGA Tour is a really good golf game, but not a great one. This is understandable considering it has been quite some time since the last EA golf game. It has wonderful presentation and gameplay mechanics but it is let down by some structural problems and frustrating design elements that will get on players’ nerves. I enjoyed my time with the game but there is no doubt there is room for improvement. What excites me most however is the potential for a golf game arms race between EA and 2K as they try to out do each other as both of their franchises compete. It can only lead to great things for fans of the sport. As it is though, each of the games excels and stumbles in different areas so there is no clear winner at this point. Regardless of all that, EA Sports PGA Tour is worth your time and effort if you are hankering for a solid round of golf, just don’t expect perfection when you hit the course.
EA Sports PGA Tour was reviewed on the PS5 with code kindly supplied by EA Australia.