The PGA Tour series of golf games is finally making its way to current-gen consoles, and shepherding in that arrival is a new cover athlete, and the use of the Frostbite 3 engine, better known as the visual muscle behind the Battlefield series. How does the first entry on Xbox One/PS4 fare for virtual golfers?
Is it a visual and functional tour de force, or does it suffer from many sports franchises’ first entries onto a new console with the cutting of major features? Read on, fellow golfers.
First off, I understand when games launch the next iteration of their series on a new console, that oftentimes they are starting with a new engine entirely (not always the case, but sometimes). As a result, the game may APPEAR to remove features when compared to previous releases. I think back to my PS4 WWE 2K15 review, where the game was bare bones compared to 2K14 on PS3. The mistake there was assuming that 2K15 was simply the next entry in the WWE series and doing nothing more than porting over a game engine, as opposed to what it actually was, which was starting the franchise over from scratch with a brand new engine and mechanics. In essence, 2K15 was a reboot of the franchise; a new game entirely. The same can be said for Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. It’s rebuilt from the ground up, but comparisons to the previous Tiger Woods series are inevitable, so while I will mention certain things that are missing, I am in no way holding it against this year’s game. Think of it more like a PSA for fans.
The first thing anyone is going to notice is the fact that Tiger Woods is no longer the cover athlete. Wunderkind Rory McIlroy now graces the cover, which has dropped the “15” year designation (not sure if that’s going to be the case going forward). With the exclusion of Tiger Woods from the game, certain features from years past have also been removed. Gameplay modes like Tiger Challenges and even Historical challenges are no longer in the game, which I suppose is understandable. Why focus on these game modes when you have a brand new game to launch? Might as well put your efforts into the core game itself, making sure you have the strongest offering for the public. Also take into account that Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is not the first golf game for this generation of consoles; The Golf Club launched last year (developed by HB Studios, who were supposed to work on the cancelled Tiger Woods game), and actually ended up being a pretty decent game. With that in mind, it’s probably best that EA focused on the game itself and nothing fancy.
So assuming this is the case, the core game should be pretty awesome, right? Well, yes and no. It certainly suffers from “first time effort” jitters, and even though the Frostbite 3 engine has been heavily advertised, the game could stand to look better. When one thinks of Frostbite 3, one immediately thinks of Battlefield 4/Hardline and the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront. The Frostbite engine is pretty much synonymous with top of the line visuals, so it’s expected that RM PGA Tour would live up to that reputation, right? Kind of.
When it comes to the game’s environments, everything gets an A+. The PGA Tour series has never looked better, and that’s not a hyperbole. Everything from the grass and sand to the water and trees looks so spectacular, oftentimes nearly photorealistic. The way everything sways about in the wind and birds fly by just looks “alive.” EA Tiburon gets a thumbs up for making what’s arguably the star of any golf game, the courses, as beautiful as they are.
That’s where it goes south, though. The characters don’t look as good as the courses, and even though it’s clearly a step up from last-gen, there’s still a lot to be desired. Major names like Rory McIlroy himself look fine, just not GREAT, and oftentimes he appears way too robotic. Created characters look even worse, and when viewed alongside real life golfers, they stick out like a sore thumb. In fact, the caddy looks better than any of the golfers in the game.
However, even though the visuals didn’t get my heart all fizzy with excitement, it’s nothing compared to the lag that prevalent through the game. My goodness; you would think with the power of these new systems that lag would be an non-issue. You certainly would not expect it to be WORSE than last-gen. Loading up the game takes forever. You are forced to sit through loading screen after loading screen, then another loading screen as you are connected to the EA servers. Then when you’re actually in the game and navigating menus, you’re stuck dealing with some tremendous input lag. You press the directional pad down to select a menu item, then wait as the game catches up and actually performs the task a second or so after you’ve pressed the button. And this is how ALL the menus in the game are. I don’t think I need to explain how excruciating it is to switch out your clubs in the equipment menu and deal with all that lag.
As far as different gameplay modes go, this is where I’ll touch on a bit of what is missing compared to previous entries. Essentially all you’re getting here is an exhibition mode, career mode, and online play (which includes a challenge mode). Like I mentioned earlier, any of the historical challenges from previous years is gone, and surprisingly enough, there isn’t even something that’s equivalent to a Madden Moments mode, with the previous season’s major moments replicated in-game. That for sure would have lended a bit more replay value to the game, which basically turns into never ending exhibition matches once you’re finished with the career mode.
One thing that I found interesting is the inclusion of fantasy courses in addition to real world courses. You’ll get your classics like TPC Sawgrass and St. Andrews, but you’ll also get some really kooky courses like a Battlefield 4 themed one, and a variety of others that actually resemble real life courses quite well. One of the main selling points of this year’s game is “no loading times” between holes, but that’s only partially true. Yes, you won’t be faced with a leaderboard menu screen after each hole that you’ll have push a button to get out of…this much is true. But EA has done something more clever, I suspect, to mask the actual loading that’s taking place. After each hole, you’ll get a nice shot of nature with a quick leaderboard that pops up for a bit (you can’t skip this), then straight onto the next tee. So you’re not dealing with a screen that you have to button press out of, but you are essentially still stuck with an establishing shot that looks like it’s masking the actual loading that’s happening behind the scenes. So “no loading times?” Only kinda sorta.
Speaking of the career mode, this was probably my favorite part of the game. Any career mode in a sports game where you can create your own athlete and rise in the ranks is ok in my book, and RM PGA Tour’s career mode fits that to a tee….though it doesn’t really give you much more. You create a character, pick from three backgrounds (I went with golf instructor), then play through the seasons in your bid to win the FedEx Cup. You play tournament after tournament, level up your golfer, and gain better equipment and clothes. In the future, I wouldn’t mind seeing some more drama involved; not to a WWE level, but stuff like rivalries would be nice. Once you hit a certain point in your golfer’s level, you’re basically a god amongst men and you’ll find yourself winning every single tournament.
If you find the game to be too easy, you can tweak the difficulty settings, which I appreciated. Firing up the game for the first time will allow you to play through the Prologue, which is a handy dandy tutorial for those who are new to the PGA Tour series. The Prologue is pretty nifty because you actually get video snippets of Rory McIlroy himself narrating and giving his thoughts. Once you get the hang of the game, you can choose between three difficulty settings: Arcade (ability to add additional power, spin the ball in the air, putting line, zoom, aiming arc), Classic (3-click swing), and Tour (no assists, left stick swing). If none of those tickle your fancy, you can create a custom difficulty setting by mixing and matching. I appreciate the game allowing you a bit of leeway in terms of how you like to play. On a side note, even though I almost never used it, I still miss the Kinect swing that was in the older games. Sure it was pretty bad as far as accuracy goes, but it was always a nice conversation piece and something fun for people to try when I had guests over (translation: my father in law). Maybe in future iterations it’ll be back, especially since the Xbox One’s Kinect is supposed to be way more accurate. We’ll see.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is basically like a launch title for a new system; it brings about a significant visual upgrade from last-gen’s efforts, but presents a stripped down game in the process. Most of it can be attributed to the dev team utilizing a new game engine and testing the waters with new aspects of gameplay, so generally speaking, I tend to be a bit more forgiving with first time efforts on new consoles. Now if we time travel a bit and you’re reading my PGA Tour 2020 review and we’re still dealing with the same issues? That’s another story.
The somewhat bare bones game can be forgiven, but the long loading times and terrible menu lag cannot. We’re in a generation of consoles with unprecedented power and speed; it almost seems obscene to be stuck on a loading screen of such length or having to deal with menu lag with every button press. I’m hoping these niggles can be cleared up by next year’s entry, but if I remember correctly, the past few Tiger Woods games were plagued by the same loading/lag issues. If you want a tremendous looking golf game, then Rory McIlroy PGA Tour can give it to you, even with its funky looking character models. But for those looking for the golf game to end all golf games, this isn’t it. Yet.