After sixteen–SIXTEEN–Tiger Woods games, EA has finally found a new mascot for its golf series. As somebody who doesn’t follow golf, well… Well, let me tell you everything I know about Rory McIlroy. He looks vaguely like Paul McCartney. He has the highest stats in this game. He stares with dead, soulless eyes, unblinking, eager to consume mortal souls.
Okay, maybe there’s less supernatural consumption, and maybe more golf. You know, blue skies on a Sunny afternoon, a gentle breeze and a challenging but none-too-stressful game of skill to pass the time. It’s always seemed like hardcore gamers are a bit more interested in golf games than other sports titles. Maybe we think it’s a good substitute for going outside.
But really, it’s more a matter that these types of games provide a pretty unique experience. It’s mostly all prediction and abstract strategy. You have to choose a line to the hole. Then a club. Then a shot type. Then you have to gauge the wind’s effect. Then how the ball will roll. Then your chances of hitting a hazard. Then, once you’ve wrapped together all these separate factors, you have this one really brief moment of skillful execution where you actually take the shot. Golf is a flow of cerebral play with occasional moments of skilled play that translates into a pretty unique gaming experience.
And it works as a video game more broadly than other sports games because golf itself is purely focused on a single person’s skill. Whereas other sports games–hockey, basketball, football, OTHER football–are about managing the movements of entire team through near-constant action, golf games put you in direct control of a single athlete’s movements–which is the unique, attractive thing about sports in the first place.
Rory’s PGA Tour gives you several different options for how to control those movements. There’s an old-fashioned three-click power meter, which honestly feels a bit too simplistic these days. The game feels much more interesting and challenging with analog controls. I’ve mostly played under arcade mode, where you draw the analog stick back for the backswing and thrust it forward to strike the ball. For maximum power, you need a quick, consistent motion on the stick, and for maximum accuracy, you need to keep the stick dead straight. Veer a little to the left or right when you’re bringing the stick forward, and your ball’s gonna end up in the rough, or in the crowd, or in the next hole over.
It’s challenging and interesting, and has a variety of points where you can either succeed to a greater degree of mastery or fail miserably on small mistake, which offers a room for your skill to grow over time. That’s the making of a pretty solid core gameplay mechanic. The game’s most challenging control scheme requires you to consider the length of your backswing and forces you to directly change the direction of your swing for draw and fade shots. That level of mastery isn’t something I was able to reach during my brief time with the game, but knowing that that degree of skill is supported here definitely raises my esteem of the game.
This is EA’s first current gen golf game, and the first after a two-year hiatus. And it definitely suffers from that malady which affects every first next-gen sports game. There’s generally a lot of jank. The menus are ugly and framey, and sometimes selections just won’t take until after two or three button presses. Character models look like they’ve tumbled straight down the center of the uncanny valley. Some things at the edges of the game just look a little weird, like when you hit the ball into the crowd and they give zero reaction. None of these things are game-breaking, but they do contribute to the product feeling a bit half-baked.
The lack of content and features is a more pressing issue. You can play a basic round of golf. You can play a basic round of golf online. You can play some crazy challenge golf. There’s the PGA Tour career mode, where you create a golfer and work your way up to the top of your game. The character creator is EXTREMELY limited, and it’s not super-clear what governs your stat increases. Not that you can directly allocate stat points–you’ve gotta pick from pre-generated loadouts–or that the stat increases are really necessary in the first place. After three tournaments, my total scrub player was already ranked third in the tour.
The course selection is also pretty limited, and you can run through all twelve of these courses in a matter of a few hours. I’m not a golf connoisseur, but I found the courses that ARE here to mostly be pretty good. This obviously comes from being based on real, world-class courses, but there’s plenty challenging design in attractive locations. There just isn’t enough of it.
Incidentally, that super-crazy-looking Battlefield course is pretty boring–it’s nothing but super-basic par three holes with some smoke and flames in the background. The best part about it is hearing the announcers struggle with war-related golf humor.
The thing I remember about Tiger Woods from ten years ago was how big of a deal it felt. You got licensed rap jams in your opening. You could play as such major celebrity golfers as Cedric the Entertainer. There were a ton of courses and a career mode that was basically an RPG and a best-in-gaming character creator.
This isn’t that. This is a game that’s just a sigh and a corporate directive that says “I guess we should probably make some kind of golf thing.” The core of it, the actual act of getting the ball down the course, is great. It’s challenging, satisfying, and perfectly captures the relaxing feeling of an afternoon on the green. But this is just a half-hearted shrug of a package. The lack of content and polish really drags down an excellent core mechanic, and all I can really do is sigh and say “maybe next year.”