PGA 2K21 offers a solid experience on the green, but the production values feel dated compared to other games in the sports genre.
Golf is a game of patience and skill. It’s about taking your time, choosing the right tools for the job, and lining up that perfect shot. It can be slow to watch, sure. But it can also be exhilarating to play. PGA Tour 2K21 seeks to step onto the green with a game that delivers on that experience. And while it succeeds, some technical issues and low production values hold the game back.
PGA 2K21 is the first game in this series to bear the 2K moniker. Originally self-published by developer HB Studios under the title The Golf Club, the series was acquired by 2K a couple of years ago. One might thing this would be a boon for the franchise. After all, 2K isn’t exactly a small publisher. They should be able to provide the resources necessary to make a truly state of the art golfing simulator.
"Unlike other sports games nowadays, which implement things like social media, training, and skill points to keep things interesting off the field, PGA Tour 2K21 simply moves you along from one game to the next, with little in between to keep you engaged."
Unfortunately though, despite 2K’s involvement, PGA Tour still feels distinctly low budget at times. Visually, the game is all over the place. The environments look decent enough. There’s some nice water and lighting effects, and the graphics are distinct enough to tell the fairway from the rough. Character models are well-animated, but the models themselves don’t hold up well, especially the faces. The eyes open too wide for too long, and the mouths are a frightening sight. This wouldn’t be a problem if the game didn’t do frequent close-ups after most holes. PGA Tour 2K21 also suffers from a serious antialiasing problem. Sometimes it gets so bad that objects actually appear to shimmer as a result of the artifacting.
In the audio department too, the game is a mixed bag. The music is pleasant enough, but short and repetitive. There’s only so many times I can hear the same soft, pseudo-jazz piano riffs before I start to get tired of them. The announcers, meanwhile, have good delivery, but their commentary can sometimes feel out of place. It seems like not enough lines were recorded to cover all the circumstances on the green. There were more than a few times where I would start a course with a poor performance, coming in at one or two over par. But I would manage to pull it together in the end, coming in well under par on the final holes.
At the end of the game, the commentators would talk as though I had been solidly under par for the entire course, making no mention of my rough start or of my comeback in the final few holes. Compared to other games I’ve reviewed this year, like MLB The Show and UFC 4, the commentary feels lacking. It repeats too often, and oftentimes doesn’t quite match up with the onscreen action.
"PGA Tour 2K21 seeks to step onto the green with a game that delivers on that experience. And while it succeeds, some technical issues and low production values hold the game back."
The game also suffers from some slow load times between matches. Their duration was pretty inconsistent. Sometimes a course would load fairly quickly. But after matches, it often took a very long time to return to the menu. I’m not quite sure why, but after the very opening match of the career mode, the game took over five full minutes to load the career mode menu after the match. The inconsistent load times are frustrating, and it’s actually made worse by the fact that you can’t count on them to at least always take a long time. Sometimes courses load quickly. Other times the game seems to slow to a snail’s pace.
It’s a shame that PGA Tour 2K21 still suffers so much on the technical side of things, despite 2K’s financial backing. It’s unfortunate because despite these issues, the game is actually a lot of fun to play. The experience out on the green is an absolute joy, and really nails the high-skill feeling of professional golf. The controls are smooth, fluid, and responsive. The game gives you plenty of options to help you fine-tune your approach, including a bird’s eye view that helps you to more precisely aim your shots. The swinging and putting mechanics are simple to grasp, and PGA Tour 2K21 does a great job of easing beginners into the experience without sacrificing the depth that more experienced players desire. There are also plenty of assists, including a one-time use aim assist during putts.
The game will also help you pick the clubs and stroke every time, meaning those with a more casual understanding of the sport can rely on the game’s assistance to help them get a decent performance. But those who want to can ignore or even disable these assists altogether. And if you do so, PGA Tour 2K21 has a well-made golf simulation. The physics are realistic, clear, and consistent. The ball always interacts with hills, wind, and other hazards exactly as you’d expect it to, and the game does a great job of simulating the differences between the fairway, rough, and bunker. Swinging in different situations actually feels different.
Unfortunately, while the experience out on the golf course is excellent across the board, even the rest of the career mode suffers from the same lack of polish as the rest of the game. There simply isn’t much here to keep you going if you aren’t totally invested in the actual experience of playing golf. The career mode is fairly barebones.
You start off in an amateur match, which serves as your proving grounds for entering the professional circuits. From there, you enter the PGA Tour, vying for the top spot on the leaderboards. Unfortunately, that’s really all there is too it. Unlike other sports games nowadays, which implement things like social media, training, and skill points to keep things interesting off the field, PGA Tour 2K21 simply moves you along from one game to the next, with little in between to keep you engaged.
"Unfortunately, while the experience out on the golf course is excellent across the board, even the rest of the career mode suffers from the same lack of polish as the rest of the game."
You earn cash after each game, and from optional mid-course challenges, but these rewards can only be used to purchase new clubs and outfits. The new clubs do have some mechanical differences, but not enough to really feel like they make a difference. I didn’t notice much of a difference between the default clubs and any of the unlockable ones.
The cosmetics, meanwhile, are just that- cosmetic. The quality is pretty hit or miss, and aside from changing how you look, they don’t do anything. This is a far cry from many other sports games, where your downtime can be spent training, upgrading your skills, and interacting with fans and rivals. There is a rival system, but even this feels dated. Unlike other games, where your rivalries grow organically based on your behavior on and off the field, in PGA 2K21 you simply progress through a series of predetermined rivals. You can actually look in the career mode and see your progress to unlocking the next rival. I suppose it adds a bit of a goal to strive for, but compared to the organic way rivalries operate in other sports games, this feels dated and uninteresting by comparison.
PGA Tour 2K21 offers a mechanically solid golfing experience that genuinely rewards skill and practice. The gameplay on the green is a lot of fun, and really makes you want to keep playing. Unfortunately, it’s really the only thing that drives you on, as the rest of the experience feels dated by several years. It’s a shame, because with some more polish put into the visuals and modes, PGA Tour 2K21 could have been a stand-out sports game. As it stands, it’s only a decent one.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
The golfing mechanics are fluid and fun; Environments are clear and information is easy to read.
Slight content and low production values make the game feel dated throughout the experience.
PGA Tour 2K21 feels like the best sports game released ten years ago. Unfortunately, it just feels too dated to truly compete with other, modern sports games.