After taking a year off, EA Sports is finally back with the latest entry in its annual golf title, and this time with a brand new face for the franchise. Utilizing the Frostbite 3 engine, EA is poised to bring some of the most realistic golf experiences to current generation consoles. It’s time to tee off with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is developed by EA Tiburon and published by EA Sports
Stepping out of the clubhouse
The game opens with a relatively brief prologue, which basically serves as a quick tutorial for those either new to the game, or in need of a quick refresher course. It also introduces four available gameplay styles – Arcade, Classic, Tour, and Custom. I personally appreciated the “Custom” option, which allows you to pick and choose your preferred individual settings from across all three styles. Choices here range from shot mechanics (such as the left stick analog swing control of “Arcade” style vs. the 3-click control of “Classic”) to various assists such as visual compensation for wind or a putting line. Playing around with these setting will really give you the opportunity to create the perfect experience suited to you, or even gradually work your way toward feeling comfortable with the genuine simulation experience of the “Tour” style, which offers no assists – just pure golf.
Crafting a legacy
Upon completion of the Prologue, five subsequent game modes become available. I jumped right into the most appealing mode to me first – “Be a Pro” – and began my quest for the FedEx Cup. Here you will create a fictional golfer (backstory and all), and compete from earning your PGA Tour card through Major Championships, and all the stops along the way.
Character creation was a bit of a let down, as the options for crafting your avatar are painfully limited, and even after an extended session of dialing through options, I was unable to come up with anything even close to resembling myself. Once I hit the links though, avatar appearance took a backseat to the absolutely gorgeous scenery, which really takes advantage of current generation hardware. PGA Tour ships with twelve courses, featuring some of the most stunning textures and visuals I’ve ever experienced in a sports simulation, and making it very easy to lose yourself in the environment of some of the world’s most famous fairways and greens. Unfortunately in between these shots of beauty is when my avatar would often pop up again to sour the experience with repetitive cut scenes. Particularly bothersome to me were some of the celebrations, which include dancing “the robot”, or aggressively tossing a club in victory. If PGA Tour is my chance at a realistic PGA experience, I want it to feel that way, but some of my behaviour on the green had me feeling more like Happy Gilmore than a true PGA prodigy.
PGA Tour features the most realistic looking courses to date
Taking on the best
“Be a Pro” mode is a matter of leveling up your creation as you play, with each round resulting in boosts to at least some of your many attributes, and further bonuses unlocking at regular intervals along the way. Great shots and general overall good play will reward you faster, so the better you play, the better you’ll get, and the sooner you’ll start to find yourself cracking the top 25, then the top 10, and finally duking it out with Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, or Jordan Spieth for that Major Championship. I was instantly absorbed in my pro career, constantly aching to play just “one more round”, in order to boost my stats just a little bit more and watch as my average finishing position grew closer and closer to the top.
Normally playing 72 holes of golf for each and every tournament in “Be a Pro” mode would lead to a significant investment time in simulating a career – and you certainly have the option to do just that – but you also have the option to play your tournaments in “Quick Rounds” mode, where you will only play the most important holes on each round. This is a great feature, and much more reasonable for those who want the whole “career” experience without actually dedicating their lives to PGA Tour. In “Quick Rounds” you’ll play (from my experience) anywhere from 20 – 28 of the 72 holes from Thursday through Sunday, generally including the last 4 – 6 holes of the round on the final day. Using this method I found I was usually able to complete a tournament in anywhere from 30 – 60 minutes, and progress my career at an engaging pace. Performance on holes that you don’t play is simulated based on attributes, so this is just another reason to get genuinely invested in playing well and boosting your stats.
Lining up the perfect approach
Light up the night
The 2nd most intriguing mode I found in PGA Tour is the “Night Club Challenge”, a series of 170 score based challenges across 3 courses. As the name suggests, these challenges take place after dark, with the courses dressed up in neon like something out of Tron. Complete with a 3 star ranking system straight out of equally addictive mobile game titles, “Night Club Challenge” will test you in a number of short scenarios across all aspects of the game.
The secret to many of the challenges presented here are “power-ups” unlocked along the way – boosts that will allow you to bend physicals and manipulate your shots to achieve the highest possible score. “Nitro”, for example, will give your ball an extra burst of distance, while “Sticky Ball” will cause your ball to instantly glue to the next spot it touches. The power-ups you carry into each challenge become customizable as you unlock more and more, and while some challenges require a specific power-up, others let you pick and choose, leaving it to you to determine how to achieve the best score. Sometimes, revisiting an older challenge with a newly unlocked power-up makes a previously difficult situation surprisingly easy.
What happens on tour after the sun goes down?
Other ways to play
If you simply want to play 18 holes of your favourite course, a quick “Play Now” option is naturally available, and supports up to 4-player local play. It’s worthy to note (and this is true across all game modes) that in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, courses are loaded in full from the onset, meaning there are no load times in between holes. This definitely makes for a smooth playing experience, and eliminates a significant source of grief for impatient golfers.
PGA Tour also features two separate online modes of play – “Head 2 Head” and “Online Tournaments”. As “Head 2 Head” suggests, up to four players can compete in a round of golf (settings to be determined beforehand by the host of the match), in both ranked and unranked play. Luckily players take each shot (within a time limit) in synchronicity with each other, meaning you do not have to wait for everybody else in turn before your next play. “Online Tournaments” offer both daily and weekly events featuring unique course conditions where you’ll be able to put up your best score, and then compare it to other players all around the world. If you are among the elite, this is definitely the place to make your mark.
While Rory McIlroy PGA Tour isn’t exactly overwhelmed with a variety of gameplay modes like some of its EA Sports predecessors, I was very invested in the ones that did hook me, particularly the “Be a Pro” and “Night Club Challenge” modes. My avatar creation may have been a bit of a disappointment (and the occasional embarrassment in etiquette), but the stunning atmosphere and environment of each and every carefully crafted course itself was much easier to appreciate, and the lack of load times in between made each round I played a perfect escape. Rounded out by a solid commentary track and customizable control schemes, I’d say that Rory McIlroy’s inaugural outing as the face of EA Sports’ franchise is a favourable one.
+ Beautiful textures and environments
+ Entire rounds uninterrupted by load times
+ Customizable controls
– Poor character creation
– Could have used a bit more variety in gameplay modes
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5
Overall Rating 3.75/5 (75%)