Golf is deceptively simple and endlessly complicated; it satisfies the soul and frustrates the intellect. It is at the same time rewarding and maddening – and it is without a doubt the greatest game mankind has ever invented.
Arnold Palmer said that. It must be said that this quote came from a world before Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Golf came to us armchair 19th hole patrons. There’s been a lot of changes to the franchise over the past four years, some of them enforced by the changing dynamic at the top of the PGA rankings, and some of them enforced by the development cycle of the current generation of consoles. So let’s first address these changes.
Firstly, Tiger Woods is gone. The name, the player, the licensing, everything that was Tiger Woods is no longer here. Yes Rory McIlroy is the new cover star but it goes a bit deeper than that. I’ve constantly found myself referring back to the name out of habit and quite possibly expecting a similar level of depth, gameplay and customisation that a nearly eighteen year franchise should bring. This game is a very different game in some respects compared to what we are used to but the kind of reliable soul that the previous games have, that kind of feeling where you know what you’re getting and you know you’ll be pleased, is gone. It’s always a risk making this kind of change because you could completely break what has made the formula successful. They haven’t broken it entirely but something isn’t right.
Tiger Woods isn’t the only thing missing. In fact you could call the game anaemic compared to previous titles and even other EA Sports games. The game boasts eight courses and four fantasy courses, so twelve in total compared to the last game which had (including variations) thirty six. So we have a third of the courses of the previous game. We have just as much cut from the roster. Gone are the ladies tours and the amount of golfers that you can select. Gone are some of the licensed clothes, clubs and courses (The Masters deal having expired) and gone are a lot of the different faces and body looks that you can choose for your golfer. In fact, this is probably the worst cut of them all as, when embarking on a career, you lose any of the personalisation, the feel that you are a part of this career role playing and mostly just level up your character so he can hit things better. Yes, this is what you do anyway but it does show a lot more thanks to the lack of anything else.
The game engine has changed with the EA Sports signature Ignite engine giving way to the EA Games signature Frostbite 3 engine. Honestly, this hasn’t really made a lot of difference, the game still looks quite good although there are some odd moments where you have things like bushes and fences pop in and out, and the crowd very rarely moves in any fashion other than in unison. The faces in the game itself aren’t particularly great either with Rory McIlroy himself looking more like Formula One’s Pastor Maldonado. Strangely, with the menu system and everything else going on around it, it does feel quite… Battlefield-y. Like a mod of a Battlefield game almost. Not surprising given how much Battlefield there is with a humourous character and a playful destructible course. The actual gameplay is largely unaffected with very similar controls and displays as you would find in the previous games, although it does look a little easier to read, a litter tighter in the design and a little clearer overall, with the exception of the putting and green reads which are, frankly, pointless. All this is then coupled with an incredibly repetitive and cliche ridden commentary team that seems to have the NBC logo attached to it for no other reason than to look a bit like the TV. It’s absent everywhere else so it’s inclusion is confusing.
Gimmicks are here a plenty actually with a PGA Prolouge mode that introduces you to the game, its controls and a rather bored and nervous looking McIlroy speaking to camera about his Open Championship win, which you then recreate through the tutorial. There’s a Nightclub mode where you do several challenges that look like the golf course version of a nightclub (Why? I mean honestly, why? You want to show night, I get it but a “nightclub” themed mode in a golf game? Seriously?), and there’s an online play mode but mostly, much like everything else, it has all been scaled back. No skins mode (there goes my old drinking game), no select holes (back 9 for example) and no alternative game modes really at all. Which would be ok if you could actually play a full round of golf in the career but as soon as you start, you get the highlights of the last few holes. Your entire career mode is basically not messing up what the computer has already simulated for you. Hardly my career, is it?
We’ve had a few sports games lately on the site that are entering their first current generation attempts. It feels worryingly uniform now that (unless you are FIFA seemingly) game modes and features are haemorrhaged for seemingly little gain in the new experience or anything above an expected graphical improvement. It can’t be easy for EA Tiburon as they haven’t used the Frostbite engine before now, and they’ve produced, under the pressure of expectation, a stable and capable golf simulator. Unfortunately in doing so any of the magic and fun of the previous iterations appears to have left with Tiger Woods (although he certainly hasn’t kept that magic himself). It’s an interesting reboot with a big new name and with a sport that will likely see a much more open and less solitarily dominated landscape in the future. If only the game could have captured that.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a new direction for the EA Sports franchise that has had the chip lifted from its shoulder and let free again. An engine change and a new generation of consoles seems to gone well and the gameplay is still as reliable as it was before. So in one sense, job done. But the lack of game modes, massive cuts to the roster of golfers and courses, and customisation and career mode input has taken some of the spark from the game and really, for a generational leap, it has fallen way short and landed with a rather subdued thud in the bunker.
[tab title=”Good Points”]
- A nice looking golf game, with only occasional visual glitches
- A solid gameplay experience that has carried well from the last generation
- An easy to read display that allows you to play well, and quickly.
[tab title=”Bad Points”]
- A complete lack of features compared to previous games
- A huge lack of courses compared to even the last game
- It feels like its missing a little bit of its soul, like it lacks the confidence to be a new golf game.
[tab title=”Why a 5.5?”]
I mean, honestly, it’s not a terrible game. It’s very playable if only for the time it takes to play a casual 18 holes. But the lack of anything that made the last games great has really hurt this iteration. For once, in an odd circumstance, we’re actually upset that there isn’t more in the game to do because they have transitioned to the new engine and new generation quite well. But poor looking player models, a third of the courses and with 75% of the fun removed from the experience, it needs some saving to build on the solid gameplay they have next time out.
This review was based on the Xbox One version of the game, provided by Xbox. Thanks!