It’s been almost eight years since EA Sports politely bowed out of the virtual golf arena with its half-hearted Rory McIlroy PGA Tour on the PS4, ending decades of dominance from the publisher – and inviting 2K Sports to take its place. But after a couple of commercially successful PGA Tour 2K titles, the Redwood City juggernaut has decided it wants back in the clubhouse – and the all-new EA Sports PGA Tour is the result. The big question: does it make a clean connection – or is it, ahem, below par?
Well, it looks absolutely extraordinary – it’s by far the best looking golf game ever made, and 2K Sports has got its work cut out if it hopes to match what EA Tiburon has achieved here. Powered by the Frostbite Engine, and designed exclusively for new-gen systems like PS5, every hole has been rendered painstakingly here, with lush natural foliage, painterly lighting, and stunning attention to detail, informed by state of the art photogrammetry scanning.
There’s never been a golf game quite like this from a presentation perspective: Pebble Beach, with its whipping waves crashing against rugged cliff faces, and St Andrews, with its rustic surrounding architecture, feel distinct and unique, rather than courses created using copy-and-paste assets. Meanwhile, the Augusta National Park, which will be of particular interest to fans considering the ongoing Masters, is decorated with its distinctive botanical features and vivid greens.
This level of quality extends across the entire game, and all 30 of its meticulously realised courses. There’s never been a better selection of officially licensed courses than this: from the large lakes of Bay Hill to the idyllic scenic backdrops of Tara Iti, you can almost taste the clean country air as you tee off. There are even a couple of fantasy locations, designed specifically by EA Sports, with the promise of more to be added post-release – including the beautifully rural Oak Hill.
It should be noted that each course responds realistically to EA Sports’ lighting engine, meaning you get subtle changes in time of day as you work through all 18-holes, with the weather also playing a big part in the presentation as you progress. A course can look glib and overcast at the very beginning of your first tee, but the clouds can part as you work your way through the back nine, exposing a beautiful setting sun. It’s truly dramatic and wonderful stuff.
We should also stress that the sound plays a big part in the overall presentation, with 3D audio used to stunning effect, capturing the sound of birds circling overhead and water swirling nearby. You can honestly just sit and drink in the atmosphere while you wind up your shots; EA Sports has captured just enough of the matchday experience to make competition exciting and engaging, without losing that serene sense of still that makes golf such a relaxing pastime.
But quality like this does come at a cost: the game is restricted to just 30fps on PS5, a surprising and unorthodox choice for a sports game. While golf is generally more sedate than, say, basketball or football, the slower frame rate affects the smoothness of the swing mechanic, which demands you snap the analogue stick back and forth to simulate the action of whipping a real-life club. We’ve had a little trouble timing up the mechanic, as it works on a slight lag, and we don’t think the frame rate helps.
You can adjust to it, but be warned that PGA Tour’s greens and fairways play faster than you may be used to in other simulations, and controlling the ball requires a deft touch. This is where the release’s RPG mechanics come into play, because as you progress through your career with a created player, you’ll earn XP which can be used to purchase Skill Points, unlocking new shot types. Perfecting those perfectly lofted approaches, so that the ball lands dead on the green rather than rolling perilously into the rough, is a huge part of the learning curve.
There are hundreds of coaching missions you can complete to perfect your game, although we feel they lack the kind of feedback new players will need to truly understand the nuance of shot selection, and therefore don’t really fulfil their purpose. If you’re looking for a lot of content, though, you’ll find it here: various missions based on iconic real-life golf performances are available, all with unique reward tracks and unlockables.
There’s actually a lot more meat to this game than originally meets the eye: Specs can be attached to different clubs to fine-tune their performance, and you can customise pretty much every facet of your character, from the strap they use on their golf bag through to the shoes they wear on Day 2 of a tournament. You’ll unlock a lot purely by playing the game, but of course you’ll also find EA Sports’ customary microtransaction currency, which can be used to purchase items from a rotating in-game shop when you run out of virtual money.
Daily tournaments refresh every 24 hours, with the best players unlocking unique packs of loot, and there are even higher stakes leaderboards you can enter using virtual tickets. Then there are both casual and competitive online options spanning a variety of modes, from traditional styles like Stroke Play through to more outlandish alternatives like Skins. The sheer density of the release, and number of ways to play, is impressive – and beyond what your initial impressions may lead you to believe.
Perhaps our biggest criticism, aside from the frame rate-induced swing issues, is that the pace of the game is impeded a little by how undeniably brilliant it looks: EA Sports wants you to appreciate every hole, and so it can feel like you’re jamming the skip button a helluva lot as it lingers on long flyovers, commentary pre-ambles, and celebrations. The quality is consistently good, but it’s hard to find a groove when the title’s constantly stopping you in your tracks.
EA Sports PGA Tour proves what the publisher is capable of at its pomp: this is a jaw-droppingly beautiful sports game, with a sublime selection of licensed courses and a surprising amount of depth. Its demanding swing mechanic is slightly let down by a sluggish frame rate, but its single player is boosted by a strong sense of progression – and in multiplayer there’s tons to do. This is an impressively strong effort overall, and a sign of good things to come ahead of the company’s other anticipated comeback, EA Sports College Football.