Like the professional golf landscape before it, PGA Tour games are seeing a second option for the game’s top players. After 2K entered the officially licensed PGA Tour game market in 2019, EA Sports has finally returned from its prolonged golf hiatus to go toe to toe with the 2K series and return to the glory days of the Tiger Woods games that ended nearly a decade ago. And just as the professional golf players have diverged to the PGA Tour and the LIV Tour, the two major golf games on the market have more similarities than they do differences. Aside from a few glaring player and course omissions that are likely attributable to rights issues, EA Sports PGA Tour is everything you would really want in a golf game. It’s polished, smooth, pretty, and probably the only way you’re ever going to play at Augusta National. With that said, it’s also not particularly different from 2K’s PGA Tour franchise, as we seem to have homed in on all that golf games can offer. For all that it does well, EA Sports PGA Tour feels like a slight increase over golf games before it, but those that have played the other games beside it on the market likely won’t see a huge increase in value here.
The basic idea with golf games – and sports games in general – is that they enable you to play the sport we love at the highest level and at the most famous places in the world. EA Sports PGA Tour fulfills that promise about as well as you could hope for in the world of golf. One of its main selling points is that it’s the home for all of golf’s major tournaments, most notably The Masters. And it’s true; the course selection here is great, with the aforementioned major courses like Augusta or St. Andrews, all the way to Whistling Straits or Quail Hollow. Every hole is instantly recognizable in the same way that they would be if you were watching on TV, especially thanks to how pretty the visuals are when you hit the links. For each of the 30-plus courses, lighting is beautiful, and they all bring out the same feeling as you’d get in the real thing. Obviously there are always going to be courses that haven’t made the cut, but in reality the course selection ticks off virtually every major box you’d hope, at least at launch.
The player selection is a little less robust, with only 22 real-life golfers included. Scottie Sheffler is an obvious inclusion as last year’s Masters champion, though it’s a difficult miss to not have Jon Rahm, the newest Masters winner, or past namesakes Tiger Woods or Rory McIlroy on the list. Other key players included are those like Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau, and some of the best women’s players like Lexi Thompson. Of course, a PGA Tour branded game is unlikely to have any LIV players, either, so the likes of Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, or Brooks Koepka, among others, are also nowhere to be found.
Of course, the fix to lacking key players is to allow you to make a superstar your own, and EA Sports PGA Tour has a great career mode. By and large it’s a pretty straightforward and familiar setup as career modes go. You can choose to start down at the Amateur level, or you can immediately jump up to the PGA Tour and compete against the best. Regardless, you make your way up the ranks of the Tour and work to qualify for the game’s biggest tournaments. I appreciate the flexibility of the career mode to let you play as much or as little of any tournament as you’d like. While you can play all 18 holes 4 times a tournament if you’d like, you can also play a handful of holes and use your performance as a proxy for simulating the remainder of the round. It means that you can play through an entire season of the Tour in a more manageable timeframe, which is appreciated given how many tournaments there are.
The gameplay of EA Sports PGA Tour has been completely redone, and as expected, you’re not going to be able to hit par on every hole from the start. Depending on where you are on the course, you can choose from a number of varied and nuanced shot types. Driving from the tee is an obvious choice, but on your approach, do you choose to punch a low and fast shot or hit a sky-high flop shot and try to avoid any movement on the green? As you progress and complete more tournaments in the career mode, you gain points and can unlock new shot types that go along with the increased control you have on each shot.
Overall, I really like the gameplay here. The act of swinging is more integrated into the visuals than other golf games have done in the past, as your power meter is aligned with your swing path. The control piece is similar to other games, as you pull down the analog stick to begin your swing and push up at the end of your backswing to determine control, ideally flicking the stick straight from bottom to top. Driving is easily the most satisfying shot on any hole, especially when you pull off the perfect power and control combo for a middle-of-the-fairway shot and the mini-cutscene that comes with it. The short game is somewhat less consistent. I found myself confused once every hole or two as to how a shot ricocheted the way it did or why it didn’t roll the way I expected. If you’re playing with top-level players like Sheffler, they have more control and more of an ability to place a ball exactly where you want, but at the lower levels it can be frustrating to be relatively unsure of what your pre-shot choices will really affect and ultimately play more like I do than a PGA Tour golfer would.
"With the exception of a few important players and courses, this return to golf for EA provides virtually everything you would want in a golf sports game in 2023, including some of the greatest courses and best players in the world, as well as a chance to play alongside them in a career."
The other major unique game mode here is the Challenges mode, which lets you play out a number of famous moments or streaks from included players’ careers or at the included courses’ tournaments. I like these Challenges in theory, and a lot of the ones included are great bite-sized gameplay experiences that give you the chance to play in high-leverage situations. However, there’s also a natural limitation with the players included, as you won’t see some of the most important shots or streaks here, like Tiger Woods’ chip-in at the 2005 Masters. With that said, there’s a huge amount of potential with this mode, and I really like what’s there now.
EA Sports PGA Tour is probably the best golf game on the market right now, though that might not be as bold of a statement as it sounds. With the exception of a few important players and courses, this return to golf for EA provides virtually everything you would want in a golf sports game in 2023, including some of the greatest courses and best players in the world, as well as a chance to play alongside them in a career. The updated gameplay system works great the majority of the time, and it feels like a step forward in golf gameplay, especially compared to EA’s past golf games. Knowing that there are now two PGA Tour licensed games on the market, you’re not going to see enormous differences between the two, but if you’re looking for a golf game to play and haven’t picked one up in a while, EA Sports PGA Tour will do just fine.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Beautiful visuals; Great course list; Smooth and satisfying updated gameplay.
Unpredictability of some shots; Missing some key players.
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