With the demise of arguably golf’s greatest player, Tiger Woods, comes the inevitable removal from the longest standing console golfing title, EA’s PGA Tour. For years and years we’ve played golf with Tiger, as Tiger, even to the point where we re-lived his childhood and were collectively pissed off with his Dad honking the stupid foghorn every time we tried to take a shot...but those days are gone now, there is a new kid in town. No, not Jordan Spieth, but indeed our very own Rory McIlroy replaces Tiger Woods as the front man for EA’s now bi-annual golfing franchise.
New front man, new engine, new consoles, what could possibly go wrong? A lot as it happens. The hype around this new release was quiet to say the least, with EA only releasing a gameplay video a few weeks before the big day and as well as that info was generally not forthcoming. Warning signs were ringing for many long-term fans, this one included, but the hardcore pre-ordered and crossed everything that this would be the “next gen” return to form the fans wanted. Sadly the alarm bells were ringing for good reason and from the very beginning of the game it hits you that this isn’t really what fans wanted it to be. Straight off the bat it’s incredible that the game is utilising the much lauded Frostbite 3 engine, as graphically it’s very much all over the place. Rory himself looks more like Shrek, bless him, the courses look adequate but have a rather annoying (and pointless) additional effects in the shape of insects. Yes, through several courses there is a continuous stream of annoying little insects added, one can only guess, to add realism - well, not only does it not add any realism at all it is in fact hugely annoying. The courses themselves look adequate but there is no wow factor and marry this with the endless performance issues (experienced on Xbox One) it would be great to just go back to Tiger Woods August on the Xbox 360. Performance wise it’s borderline an absolute embarrassment; from the pop-in on the very first menu screen you see to the crowds disappearing and reappearing on the 18th hole, fourth round of a big tournament, the poor performance hits just keep on coming. Hyped up as the “first ever sports game to use the Frostbite 3 engine” if this is going to be the norm, then it’s probably best if it’s never used again. Disappointing doesn’t come close to describing how a long time franchise fan, counting down the days for this one to be released, will feel during that initial fifteen minutes.
Graphics however do not make a great game, more often than not it’s the content that does so how does Rory and EA fare in this respect...not great is the answer. There is a scant amount of courses that come with the game; from the beginning you are presented with twelve playable grown-up courses, down from a rather fetching twenty on the last generation’s versions at its prime. EA are promising a few free DLC courses to potentially soften this blow but this doesn’t seem to make a a great deal of sense. It would all make perfect sense however, given the way the game is, to suggest that it was rushed so only shipped with a limited amount of courses - either way, this is not good, and once again goes along with the aforementioned new gen, less game theme we have seen across the EA franchises.
Do they make up for this lack of courses with some heavily customisable career modes, and elite competitions around the world….? No, no they don’t. Career mode has player customisation an N64 golf game would be embarrassed of and the general golf career mode is a soulless shell of an experience. Any sense of connection with your avatar is diminished immediately as there is little to no chance it will look anything like you (they’ve removed game face too) and the tournaments themselves lack any sense of atmosphere and tension. What used to be a core mode in PGA Tour seems to have been reduced to a knock about on the local pitch and putt. Nothing here is god-awful but the disappointment given the previous iterations and the new tech is huge.
Other modes include an extensive nightclub challenge golf mode, which for some reason is vastly more extensive than an actual golfing career mode. Think crazy golf with skill challenges along with the odd Battlefield reference and you get the picture. There are 170 or so of these to conquer if you are so inclined and to be fair it provides some fun moments...but it’s not golf is it.
Not everything is a let down in this new version however. Load times are a thing of the past and to be fair everything loads fantastically quickly - at first you don't really notice this little perk so much but the more you play the more you realise that you’ve never seen a loading screen between shots, and that is really something which if you cast your mind back, used to waste a ton of time for every 18 hole round. Alongside this improvement are multiple swing options to suit a player's play style - analogue, three click and advanced are presented to the player and can be switched out at any time. You even have the ability to completely create your own customised control set so the game plays just like you’d want it to with no need to compromise
Rory McIlroy PGA suffers from the same issues that we’ve seen with many other EA titles over the years, particularly when new hardware is introduced. For some reason EA franchises reach this pinnacle of excellence, absolutely nailing everything gamers could ever want from the sport in question, then year on year they strip it all back rather than continue to build and innovate. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for this Benjamin Button effect which seems to sweep across the EA stable but it has absolutely happened to PGA Tour. There was a time during the previous console generation where it was just sublime. More courses, tighter graphics, great customisation, flawless multiplayer, it was a game that fans would sink hours and hours into. Fast forward to today and those same fans are presented with a shell of a golf game, supposedly utilising the latest technology and missing the mark on so many levels. Sadly for all concerned, especially those that had pre-ordered and had been counting down the days, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a huge disappointment on multiple levels and if there was a viable alternative (The Golf Club is a good effort but janky as hell) then it wouldn’t do anywhere the numbers it likely will do in the first few weeks of launch. Please EA, go back to the drawing board and invest.