EA returns to the PGA with an inconsistent, frustrating simulation, struggling with its identity. While gorgeous, with pro golf’s best interactive presentation, the on-the-course action delivers inconsistent results.
In licensing, EA wins, scoring the Masters and key courses like Pebble Beach. Presentation counts, like the Masters’ first day showing opening tee shots from Jack Nicklaus and others. Quiet commentary meaningfully discusses each hole during flybys. Gorgeous vistas line the courses, and every individually rendered blade of grass is visible, even on the fairway. Each hole is lined with realistic-looking spectators, but their lack of reaction when struck with a ball removes the immersion.
Prestige comes with a cost – this is a daunting golf sim. Fairways and greens seem stuck on their hardest/fastest setting. The analog stick swing functions logically, but results vary, with little feedback on what sent a tee shot slicing toward trees. Each stroke accounts for forward and backswing speed, length, loft, and wind. That’s true to the sport, as any one of those can cause a botched shot, yet EA’s PGA Tour doesn’t allow a sense of what’s going wrong at the moment.
With the ball airborne, a small window shows the analog stick’s motion, and any left/right deviation (no matter how small) means a drastic gaffe. This becomes more forgiving when leveling, however marginal the gain. Greens present a useless guide showing the best ball track but no indication of what that line represents to help aim. Even on easy, if the swing is a smidgen off in power or straightness, it misses, short putt or not.
Elements from EA’s retired Tiger Woods series remain. Notably returning is the chance to jam a button for power during the backswing and add spin as the ball goes skyward, a wholly unrealistic option. That’s the crisis facing EA Sports PGA Tour, trapped with the studio’s arcade-esque legacy while competing with golf-sim rival 2K Sports.
Setting up a career (the only long-term single-player mode), the disappointing character creator limits your options. Only generic heads and an abysmally small line of clothes fill the menus, the latter widening via the in-game shop.
From there, it’s a matter of entering tournaments, playing majors, and leveling up. Earning XP happens quickly at first, but the final stages in each stat take way too long, and the currency accumulates just as slowly. Meanwhile, PGA Tour pesters players to spend between $5 to $50 on in-game cash for new shirts or a +3 club power boost to speed up this process. When combined with the slow progress, the pressure to spend feels overt.
Training challenges offer sponsorships and XP, but it’s clumsy and tedious. Each typically lasts for a few swings – say, a driving accuracy test – then back to a loading screen, then the menu.
Graphical beauty can occasionally create problems. Before a crucial Masters tee shot, a fan’s body blocked the swing meter. Tall grass does the same, even if it’s translucent. Power becomes a guess because the meter doesn’t show, making the already-brutal difficulty unfair.
Leveling allows additional swing types, like power drives, to ease the challenge. These fit EA’s brand, akin to Madden’s X-Factors, but like the backswing button mashing, they seem like misfits in a game true to golf. While some shot types make sense, it’s illogical that many of these need to be unlocked in the first place; imagine going to the PGA without basic skills.
EA Sports PGA Tour captures the intricate nuance of golfing. However, the systems struggle with what a user can reasonably decipher from a mere analog stick, leading to a frustrating experience. EA Sports PGA Tour is a game at odds with whether it wants to compete with rival 2K’s realism or veer closer to its own more arcade roots, and in the process, lands its first drive on this new round in the rough.