After years with EA, rival publisher 2K gets the PGA Tour licence and drafts in the creators of The Golf Club to make the first game.
With its conventions, distinctive attire, and air of gentility there’s something very old-fashioned about golf – which contrasts markedly with 2K’s other officially licensed sports games. That old school air pervades PGA Tour 2K21, which inevitably eschews even the merest hint of raucousness. But it’s also a very modern video game, in the sense that it makes great use of available technology.
As should be the case for a golf game, that technology is employed as a means of providing the most realistic facsimile of playing golf in real life. In all departments, PGA Tour 2K21 delivers the goods impressively. Visually, it isn’t quite photorealistic but it comes close, with laser-scanned representations of 15 of America’s most famous courses, along with impeccably animated golfers clad in virtual clothing made by real brands.
Then there’s the underlying physics governing your golfer’s swing and how the ball flies and bounces when it hits the terrain. That side of PGA Tour 2K21 is also utterly convincing – as you will discover the first time you hit a drive just a few feet too long, so that it deviates off a bank and trickles into a fairway bunker. Always a great test of a golf game is whether it throws up the frustrating bad breaks that occur in real-life golf, and PGA Tour 2K21 passes that test easily.
PGA Tour 2K21’s primary concern is to provide anyone, regardless of actual golfing talent, with the chance to live out their dreams of becoming a professional on the PGA Tour. To that end, it has various elements beyond the actual playing of golf, including a player-creator that you could lose yourself in for hours and even a course designer. It lets you create your own online virtual golfing societies, and to mess with the rules of golf in your own private matches – it also makes it commendably easy for you to set up matches with your mates online or locally.
But the absolute acid test of any golf game is how it uses the controller to emulate the act of swinging a golf club and, again, PGA Tour Golf 2K21 delivers in that respect. You can opt to use either of the joysticks to make your swing – which will please left-handed players – and to hit the ball, you must pull the stick down, emulating your backswing, before pushing it upwards to trigger your downswing, according to a timing bar at the bottom of the screen.
Just from the act of swinging your club, you can exercise fine control over your shot – introducing cut or fade by deviating from the vertical with your downswing. The speed of your downswing also has an effect, as if it’s too slow you will underhit; get your timing wrong and a hook or slice will result.
In addition, you can exert an extraordinary amount of control over how you shape your shot. Fading or slicing around trees, adjusting loft to keep shots low beneath the wind or addressing the ball in order to get as much backspin as possible via a clever shot-setup system. All the fancy shots possessed by the pros – like flops, pitches or splashes out of the sand – are also available to you.
The overall effect is that PGA Tour 2K21’s control system feels impeccable, it really does provide the illusion of swinging a real-life golf club. The putting system is also spot-on. A grid is superimposed on the putting green when you address your ball, giving a good sense of its contours; you can test your aim with a virtual putting line, but only get one chance to do so.
At the start of your career mode journey, you can jump straight into a PGA Tour season or work your way up via the lesser Q-School or Korn Ferry Tour – winning three events in the latter grants you automatic access to the full PGA Tour. Finishing high on a leaderboard brings points towards qualifying for the PGA Tour and the end-of-season FedEx Cup; success also attracts sponsors, adding another touch of realism. Plus, as you progress, you level up, earning new clothing and equipment; individual XP-earning challenges also pop up on specific holes.
PGA Tour 2K21 even manages to address a common bugbear of sports games in general by being one of the few sports titles whose commentary actually pertains to what you do in the game, even if it still makes the odd mistake.
In all the key areas, PGA Tour 2K21 keeps its eye firmly on the ball, but it isn’t quite perfect. Surprisingly, it only includes 11 officially licensed pro golfers (including Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia) and some of America’s finest courses, such as Augusta, are notably absent. Which suggests that 2K is going to look to extract extra money from you to purchase downloadable content – something for which it is notorious. Plus, it’s very American in its tone, although it’s hard to see how it could be otherwise, given that it is a PGA Tour game.
But overall, there is no doubt that, right now, it’s the best golf game that money can buy. It looks and feels absolutely spot-on, and really does provide a vicarious feel of climbing golf’s greasy professional pole. Golf nuts will love it.
PGA Tour 2K21 review summary
In Short: Technically impeccable and fantastic to behold, 2K’s first PGA Tour game is already the best golf sim currently available.
Pros: Looks great and control system combines loads of feel with fine control. Easy to set up multiplayer games and clever emulation of real-life pro golf career.
Cons: Lacks a large roster of real-life golfers, some iconic courses conspicuously absent.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Stadia
Developer: HB Studios
Release Date: 21st August 2020
Age Rating: 3
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