Since 1998 Tiger Woods has been the face of EA Sports’ PGA Tour. When many companies dropped Tiger like a two foot putt, EA continued to back him after the 2009 cheating scandal. Since then Tiger has been in a downward spiral battling injuries, dodging TMZ and trying to get his game back on track with little success. So it comes as no surprise that EA Sports has finally moved on, looking for new blood. That new blood comes in the form of Rory McIlroy, the current World Number One and a four-time major champion.
After taking a two year hiatus since the last time EA released a golf game, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour arrives with a new engine, new features and a new direction. There is no question it feels fresh, almost like a bit of a reboot which is something the series needed. I drifted away several years ago as I felt ‘franchise fatigue’ kicked in and frankly I got sick of it. Coming back to the franchise all over again feels great and there is plenty to love about this new version of PGA Tour. It’s forgiving for new comers and hardcore fans should find plenty to enjoy. Still, before I go parading around my living room like I just opened a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour isn’t the definitive golf game by any stretch and there remains a massive amount of room for improvement.
” Rebuilt from scratch and running on the Frostbite 3 engine, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is impressive looking and quite easily the best golf courses have looked on consoles to date.”
First things first, how does the first EA Sports golf game to land on a PS4 and Xbox One look? The answer: pretty amazing. Rebuilt from scratch and running on the Frostbite 3 engine, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is impressive looking and quite easily the best golf courses have looked on consoles to date. The colours pop from the screen as courses like TPC Sawgrass, Royal Troon and Bay Hill look absolutely stunning. The attention to detail is remarkable as all the courses look similar to their real-life counterpart. Not only do they look the same but they behave in a similar manner as well. For instance, courses like TPC Sawgrass and Bay Hill stop the ball more quickly and produce less roll compared to courses like St. Andrews and Royal Troon which promote more bounce and roll. It makes for a more authentic experience that gives the game and its 13-courses out of the box some personality.
The only negatives when it comes to the games visuals would be some of the player animations and technical hiccups. I experienced a significant amount of texture pop-ins where images would appear as the camera moved closer. This is most noticeable during some of the initial loading sequences in the main menu but also rears its ugly head from time to time in-game. Also, I noticed some of the player animations looked a little odd (slightly oversized faces, disproportionate body types) and somewhat dated. The character customization is also very limited lacking basic things like facial hair. Compared to some of EA Sports’ other sports games on the market, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a little behind in the player animations department. The lack of in-round load times however, is fabulous. No longer are you waiting an eternity in between holes. This feature shaves boat loads of time off your round. So bravo Frostbite 3, bravo!
When you first fire up the game you are greeted with a snappy prologue which acts as a tutorial where you learn all the basics of the game. It is an interactive tutorial as you take control of Rory as he competes for the US Open at Chambers Bay. It was a great way to get back into the game and also allowed for the opportunity to test drive the three unique playstyles (Arcade, Classic and Tour). Arcade was my preferred gameplay style as it has an old school feel where you use the analog sticks to swing and control the spin of the ball in mid-air. Sure it’s the easiest way to play but damn I pulled off some nice scores with the Arcade playstyle. Classic uses the 3-click control scheme which is difficult to master, as you cannot add power and spin to your shot in mid-air. The meter runs painfully slow but if you want more of a challenge 3-click is the way to go. Tour swing is equally difficult but is considered the authentic way to play as it turns off all the assists. Bottom line, there is something for everyone when it comes to the various playstyles.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour includes the usual slate of modes where you can play head to head matches, online tournaments, a career mode where I sunk a massive amount of time and a mode where you can jump in a quickly play a round. There is also a new mode called Nightclub Challenge which drops you in a quasi-nightclub themed environment across three courses where you tackle over 170 challenges. I had a lot of fun with this mode as each challenge only takes around 5-minutes and it’s an excellent opportunity to work on your game. I am a little puzzled why your character starts out as an elderly man but you do unlock new characters and equipment as you progress. The online modes do however seem a little bare at the moment. My opponents popped in and out of game, and it felt odd playing in an environment with no commentators or crowd noise. Perhaps things will pick up when the game is released to the masses but for now I am very wary and disappointed in the online play. I just don’t find myself wanting to go back.
“The extra development time has given the series a face lift by introducing a new engine and locking in someone with a little less baggage to be the next face of the franchise.”
As far as the swinging and putting mechanics are concerned Rory McIlroy PGA Tour nails it… well, mostly. The only issues I encountered are with the short game. Putting is a lot of trial and error. Quite often following that virtual putting line is not the best way to go. For nearly every putt I would have to carefully select the best path and really monitor that white grid so I could properly read the greens. Likewise, using wedge in the game takes some touch. Initially, I was blasting the ball well past the hole but if I aimed several feet in front of the hole I would be fine. Regardless, the main message I am trying to get across is not to simply trust where the game tells you to place the ball.
The audio is rock solid. The highlight for me was quite easily the “Baba Booey” one-liners from the fans. At first, I could not believe I heard it but then it happened again and again. Throughout the game you hear a plethora of other one-liners from the gallery but “Baba Booey” had me chuckling. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour also features new commentary from Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo who provide an extensive level of content with their commentary. You do get a few repetitive comments but overall there was a decent amount of variety and I loved getting some of those history lessons from duo when it came to those classic PGA courses.
There is no question EA Sports was looking for a reboot of sorts after skipping a year with their golf franchise. The extra development time has given the series a face lift by introducing a new engine and locking in someone with a little less baggage to be the next face of the franchise. By and large, EA Tiburon have managed to release a golf experience that is a blast to play and features some brilliant looking courses. Granted, the limited PGA roster, only 13-courses out of the box, and some technical hiccups dampen the experience. That said, I remain optimistic a patch and some free DLC can rectify any of those concerns. I walked away from EA’s golf game years ago but Rory has brought me back in and there is reason to believe it only gets better from here.
***A Xbox One review copy was provided by the Publisher***