Many video game developers could learn a thing or two from the phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.
Ubisoft did it with Assassin’s Creed and now the series is in the best shape it has possibly ever been. The same could be said for why we’ve waited over six years for another mainline Final Fantasy title. Then there is the almost eight year wait for a new golf title from EA SPORTS. And with EA SPORTS PGA TOUR, it looks like that time away has been spent very, very wisely indeed.
After the lofty heights of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 – 2006, the series had been heading out of bounds until Rory McIlroy PGA Tour seemingly put the final nail in the coffin. Not the player associated with the title though, it has to be said. Poor Rory cannot be blamed for anything.
The headline of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR is undoubtedly having the licence for Augusta National once again, a course not featured in a golf game of any shape or size since 2014. Heck, the game even suffered one final delay to make sure it released during the week of The Masters tournament, played at the same venue.
But there are also twenty-nine other courses bundled in, with more to be added over time. It’s a decent amount to start off with, especially considering some of the additional courses that feature. St Andrews, TPC Sawgrass, Pebble Beach and personal favourite Wolf Creek are all included, alongside a couple of fantasy courses from past EA games.
And they all look absolutely stunning. The decision to launch on current-gen consoles only has paid off somewhat, but more on that later. But yes, the courses are absolutely gorgeous. Each one has its own unique style and personality that EA has done a fantastic job of replicating. And you can see them visually change too over time; shadows lengthen, the wind dynamically changes and the crowds swell.
You can feel the difference in the way they play too. Each course has been extensively recreated using a combination of photogrammetry, GPS and even helicopters equipped with LiDAR technology. That technology is typically used to map mines and underground caves, so using it on the surface of the golf course means that every seemingly insignificant bump and mound has been meticulously and faithfully recreated here.
Because they are so well recreated, you cannot approach them the same way. For example, I kickstarted the Career mode by winning The American Express at PGA West by four shots. That aggressive play caught me out massively in the next event at Torrey Pines and I was in three bunkers in sequential holes and barely made the cut. Lesson learned after that.
That Career mode is where you will spend most of your time with EA SPORTS PGA TOUR. It isn’t a game that bloats out the package with tons of similar modes. Even Career mode does away with sponsorship goals like PGA Tour 2K23 does, and lumps them into a Challenge mode. Here you can unlock unique clothing and equipment by completing one of literally hundreds of challenges. More are added based on what is happening in the real-world of golf; a boat load more have just been added after The Masters. Though thankfully there are no falling trees in the digital version.
Then there are the standard online modes for competitive and social games. Competitive has a disappointing two match types at launch – Amen Corner at Augusta and a random nine holes – but more should be added in soon. Along with a more stable online portion, having tried to join a game I have been kicked back to the Xbox dashboard a couple of times.
You can also create your own golfer, but options here are limited. It’s a minor issue but a more robust creator would have been nice.
More frustrating is the levelling system. It follows the traditional method of awarding skill points as you level up, but certain shot types are hidden behind specific attributes until you level them up. I am someone that prefers to putt off the green where possible rather than chip towards the hole. However I had to pump several skill points into my putting skill before I unlocked that shot type. I wanted to be levelling up my approach accuracy instead but was forced to essentially waste these points on an attribute I am fairly competent with.
Sometimes that approach accuracy goes out of the window completely. At the moment, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR simply cannot cope when you are taking a shot in front of an obstacle. Whether that be a tree, a gallery stand or something else, if you cannot see your player, the swing meter imposed around them will be missing too. And if you cannot see that, it is complete guesswork as to how much power you are putting on your shot. This has been stated as an incoming improvement to the game, but it arguably should have been noticed before launch.
Something else that could potentially be patched in later on are the performance settings. It is what I was alluding to earlier, despite launching on current-gen only, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR is locked at 30fps. It’s not a major issue for a slower paced sport such as golf, but we can only assume it is down to wanting to make these games look as gorgeous as possible. There is however, mention of a performance setting on the website. But currently, there is no sign of it in-game.
Also set to be added in a later patch is the old-school method of a three-click swing. As it stands, the only way to play is by using the analog sticks to replicate a swing. It’s a method that’s been around for a few years now, but newcomers may struggle with it at first. It makes EA SPORTS a more simulation sports title, but one that still retains certain arcade features. You can increase the power of your shots by spamming the A button during your backswing, and you add spin whilst the ball is in-flight. Some would argue that EA SPORTS PGA TOUR suffers from a lack of identity but honestly, this healthy mix elevates it way above anything 2K have released whilst EA has been quiet.
And then there are the Heartbeat Moments.
Making a return are these extra special moments that make those crucial shots even more impressive. Hit a shot from distance that is heading straight for the hole and the screen will focus in, the action slows down and a heartbeat begins pumping out of the speakers. They don’t happen all that often, but they are something you will never tire of.
Not that it is recommended on a golf course, but EA have knocked it out of the park with EA SPORTS PGA TOUR. It is a welcome return for a series that no longer needs a golfing legend to grace the cover. And long overdue it has been too. The 2K PGA games have had us covered in recent years but there will only be room for one golf franchise going forward. Welcome back to the club, EA.
Walk the road to The Masters in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR on the Xbox Store