It’s been many a year since the golf video game was in high demand. In fact you could probably trace its demise back to when the iconic Tiger Woods started his own, rather public, fall from grace. You see, back in the day it was all about the fun in the EA golf titles with the Tiger Woods series allowing a host of golfing opportunities, as players could spin, boost, smash and power their way to glory.
In a word or three, Tiger’s games were fun and instantly accessible to all, delivering enough real-world simulation for fans of the sport, and enough gimmick to drag in those who wouldn’t otherwise go near a bag of clubs.
But back in 2014 the team at HB Studies attempted to reignite the golfing genre with the arrival of The Golf Club – a super serious look at the best bits of the game, doing away with aftertouch and power boosts to create a ‘proper’ golfing experience. It worked too, and even though it was obviously set up to really only appeal to fans of the sport, it filled a void nicely.
And that, my friends is how we got to where we are today with 2K’s PGA TOUR 2K21; a game that on the face of it is 2K’s own attempt at muscling in on the scene – microtransactions and all. But really, it’s not, as HB have once again been the creative force behind this golf affair, so much so that if you delve into the finer detail you’ll realise that this ball whacker is just the next iteration of The Golf Club. And that’s not a bad thing at all.
So what do we have present? Well, as with any golf title, the basics found within are fairly simple – take to the course, hit a low round, take home a trophy and your job is a good ‘un. And with PGA TOUR 2K21 the main emphasis here is with the titular event, letting you work your way through Q-School until you get to prove yourself in the Tour proper. It’s a hugely in-depth affair, but one that will keep fans busy for some weeks and months ahead as they go about proving to sponsors – and themselves – that they have what it takes to compete with the pros. When you take in the fact that you’re playing on some of the most iconic courses of all time, that whole immersion that HB Studios have nailed with previous games really hits home here.
But it’s not just the Tour, and competing in one-off local matches or via the online scene is doable too. These work seamlessly – in fact I’ve been hugely impressed by how tight the online side of things is – as you get to choose from a huge range of developer-created courses, community affairs and official offerings. The chance to play the course of your dreams, at will, is hugely appealing, as is the opportunity to join like-minded players via the online societies. If you’ve ever wanted to get a few mates together in order to take some bragging rights, this allows for it.
There is more still though and PGA TOUR 2K21 will let you mess around with more settings than you could ever imagine, running Stroke, Stableford, Match, Skins, Four Ball, Alternative Shot and Scramble game modes, each of which can then be amended further to suit the players taking part. I’m happy to sit here and say it now: I don’t believe there is a more customizable, more in-depth, more settings-rich game out there than PGA TOUR 2K21. The opportunities are near endless. In fact, endless is the overriding factor here as when you also include the chance to create your own holes and courses with HB’s famous course designer then, well, it starts to get into ridiculous territory.
However you go about playing PGA TOUR 2K21 though, a golf game is only as decent as its main mechanics – thankfully this one lets you hit the sweet spot, time and time again. Setting things up so you can use either the left or right stick on your controller to control your shots, a simple swing back and push forward will see anyone and everyone able to hit a shot in this game. However, whether or not that shot goes straight is another matter. You see, not only does PGA TOUR 2K21 take into account the straightness of your stick swing, but play things too fast or too slow on the downswing and you’ll easily hook and slice your shots. Honestly, it’s taken me a good few rounds of action here to really be able to get a full grip on what is required to play a shot with decency, with initial holes and rounds complete with triple bogeys and shot limits reached. But get a handle on what is needed, and maybe even drop the assist settings in to help you, and you’ll find a game that is super rich in playability, letting you ping balls around courses like it is going out of fashion. You know that ‘practice makes perfect’ motto that many gamers run with? It’s never been so true than as here with PGA TOUR 2K21, yet should you still find yourself struggling, the training section is full of helpful hints, tips, and calibration tools to ensure you will get there in the end.
So HB and 2K have nailed what is needed for a proper PGA TOUR, and it’s an easy sell when you consider this in terms of the golfing mechanics which power things along. But what about the visuals and the audio? Do these complement the basic gameplay as we should hope? Again, yes, without a doubt, as both the visual delights and the audio cues which help with immersion are right out of the biggest hitters in the bag.
Visually and PGA TOUR 2K21 looks immense. Player characters are well-considered, and even though there is a fair old bit of familiarity and similarity found in the cutscene actions that accompany each birdie, eagle or bogey, the level of detail found is high. This is replicated across each and every shot that you find your character pulling off, with super smooth swings played out no matter whether you hit a power shot down the fairway or attempt to chip it in from just off the green. It’s helped that there is a fair bit of customisation allowed to your golfer’s clothes, kit and gear too, with a deep player creation tool ensuring that you can pick and choose how you wish to be seen on-course. The clubs that you can unlock and pick from aren’t just hit with visual changes though; there are a number of stats equipped to each, letting you fill your bag with sticks that complement your game. Yes, you may need some of 2K’s infamous in-game coins to buy some of these, and yes, there may be the opportunity to spend real-world money to help yourself out, but really it’s not needed with the game providing plenty of spending power should you manage to get good.
This high level of visual detail is transferred over to the audio. Now you may be sitting there wondering how on earth a golf game should be praised for its sounds; whacks, thuds, cheers and groans is about all you need. But from the birds cheeping to the unbelievably good commentary that is pumped out, there is little to complain about in terms of what will be thrust towards your ears. Again, there is a little repetition in the comms calls from Luke Elvy and Rich Beem, and occasionally we’ll hear a fairway call agonisingly end up in the rough, but on the whole the immersion delivered via this is right up there with what you would expect to hear. Credit has to go out to the commentary team for their deliverance of lines.
In fact, more or less everything that you will discover with PGA TOUR 2K21 is of the highest level. It’s a game that can easily appeal to those who know their way around a course, but thanks to a huge amount of customizable options, making the game – and your opponents – as hard or as easy to play against is easily doable. The only thing that stops this from going the whole hog as the best golf game we’ve ever seen is the fact that once again it may not appeal to all. For all the good it delivers, it’s not a game that is going to provide hours of fun to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the great game. It’s also a shame that the usual microtransaction route has been taken, for even though it’s not something that is thrust upon you every five seconds, the temptation to spend real-world money is still always there, nagging away in the background.
Without doubt I’m a big fan of what HB Studios have previously created with The Golf Club, and that love has instantly been replicated here, as PGA TOUR 2K21 is a very, very good golf game. In fact, you could say it’s the best replication of the real-world sport in the virtual scene yet, with this delivering everything that the golfing fanatic could ever really want. It may lack proper ‘fun’ with the omissions of any boosts and afterplays like the Tiger series was famed for, but that doesn’t matter too much and shouldn’t really put anyone off from playing.
It is so good that if you’re looking for a golf game to play, there is only one title you should be bothering with – PGA TOUR 2K21. As a golf simulation there is nothing else on the market to beat it, and much of that is down to the power of The Golf Club. However with that comes the same slightly staid, highly serious, old school clubhouse vibe that golf is famous for, and it’s a shame that we’re still sitting here waiting for a properly fun golf experience like those served up years back by EA.
I’ve got much love for PGA TOUR 2K21 on Xbox One and I’m fully aware it won’t be for everyone, but if you like golf and want to show your skills to the online world, this is the new go-to.