Also On: Xbox One
It’s been a little over two years since the last release of EA’s PGA Tour series, and this year marks the first time that the Tiger Woods brand hasn’t emblazoned the cover since 1998. Rory McIlroy, Irish pro-golfer and two-time PGA Championship winner now gets cover credit, as EA Sports struggles to bring the series to current-gen platforms, while making some strides with the inclusion of DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine.
First, let’s cover the positives. One of the reasons for the Frostbite 3 engine to be used with this installment is to help with the course loading, something that was typically done on a hole-by-hole basis in previous releases. Now an entire course can load at the beginning of the game, allowing for a smoother transition from one hole to the next, cutting down on load times considerably. This works pretty much without a hitch, you’ll notice some texture pop-in on occasion, but by and large the courses look great, and you can move through any given game quickly.
While the real-world course selection is a bit light this year, what’s present on disc is pretty well designed, and seemingly true to real-life. There’s some decent looking day and night skyboxes on display, courses are varied and alive, occasionally with bits of wildlife peeking in from just outside the rough. There’s some slight choppiness on the multi camera introductions for each course that should have been ironed out, but when you’re actually playing, PGA Tour seems devoid of any real technical hiccups.
There’s a pro-career mode present, which makes up the meat of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, along with your standard exhibition matches, online and offline head-to-head competitive modes, and online tourney’s. Another addition to this year’s entry is the Night Club Challenge, featuring a number of specific arcade-style events that harken back to some of the minigames found in other sports titles like Virtua Tennis. Here you’ll attempt to hit targets, diminishing spots on the green, or quickly knock-out plates in a test of skill and speed. All of this is done via courses lit up in bright neon, and this mode provides a fun alternative to your standard 18 holes of golf.
I also liked the inclusion of different play styles, like Arcade, Classic and Tour. Arcade is basically the mode that anyone can pick up and play, simplifying the golf swing to just pressing back on the left analog for your backswing, and then pressing forward once you’ve hit max power. Outside of moving the analog stick to the left or right when pressing up, you can’t really screw up your shot here. This mode also comes with all assists on, allowing you to see an arc to plan where your ball will land, along with all the standard putting assists to show slope and direction.
Classic features a more traditional three-step process, which requires you to get some timing right in order to maximize a shot’s potential. This mode is pretty standard for golf titles even outside of the PGA Tour series, and if you’ve ever played a golf game before, you’ll pick up on this quickly. It also disables options like spin and power touches while the ball is in mid-air, something that is only available in Arcade mode. Finally, TOUR is basically hard mode, disabling assists and the ability to zoom in on where your shot might land, forcing you to rely on line-of-sight only when hitting shots. If you’re a PGA Tour pro, or you’re looking for a deeper simulation style of play, this is the mode for you.
So what doesn’t work well this year? Well, just about everything else. Golfer and course selection this year takes a step back to the 2013 release of PGA Tour. There’s 12 courses on disc, with one extra if you pre-ordered. There’s really nothing wrong with the course selection, but there are noticeable courses missing, like Augusta National. However, it’s hard to justify going from 20 courses in 2013 to 12 in 2015, regardless of how much free DLC might show up down the road. The same goes for the player count, which gives just about a dozen or so real-world players, along with a few unique characters like a Battlefield soldier and a couple of other unlockables. The lack of any LPGA pro’s is also disappointing.
Character creation also feels like it’s taken a step back for career mode. You can choose between both genders, but the face/body/hair selections are not great, lacking variety and sliders to help fully customize your golfer. I did like the inclusion of background stories to influence commentary, but everything else regarding character creation is pretty dismal. I had a hard time finding a face that didn’t look like it had been attacked by bees, and I’m baffled at all the shades of brown for eye color, compared to the pink, blue, and purple hair color variations. Even the pro character models, like McIlroy, look pretty rough this year, surprising considering this title was built from the ground up for current-gen systems.
Also, the commentary team change brings nothing new or exciting to the table. I’m generally indifferent to commentary in sports games anyways, it often does a poor job of mimicking televised events, something you’ll be reminded of every time you hear Frank Nobilo and Rich Lerner open their mouths to say something here. Also, commentary was surprisingly repetitive in a short span of time, I could go forever without hearing the “plumber” comment when missing a putt again.
And then there’s online play. I was really only able to test this out on Xbox One, so maybe PS4 will fare better, but I have my doubts. Connecting with other players for simple one on one matches, ranked or unranked, was easy and quick enough. However, there’s a number of elements to the presentation side that make online play feel like it’s something that didn’t quite get the attention it deserved prior to launch. There’s no commentary during matches, which is understandable, but there’s also no music or crowd noise, making for a pretty quiet round of golf.
Players pop in and out of view, with all players in a match taking their shots concurrently. This gets to be a bit distracting, and sometimes comical, when players simply appear and disappear while putting. Also, if you finish the round quickly, you’re stuck looking at a static overhead view of the course from a few different angles, with no option to spectate other players finishing up their rounds. And if someone disconnects, you apparently all disconnect, and the entire round is lost. This happened to me more than once, with the first occurrence making me think that my entire system had hardlocked due to the number of loading screens and black screens I saw before being ejected back to the main menu.
All in all, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour fees like a pretty mixed bag this year. It’s a competent enough game of golf that I think it’s worth fooling around with for exhibition and career modes, but from a content perspective it really pales in comparison to previous offerings. There’s so little competition on the market right now for golf titles that EA had a chance to really knock this out of the park this year, but even with two years off it’s disappointing that this is the best they could come up with. I certainly wouldn’t suggest running out and picking this up day one, but I would check it out via EA Access or a rental somewhere down the line.