It's Masters weekend, but why watch the action when you can play it yourself.
The sun is shining, the flowers are starting to bloom, and it's a long bank holiday weekend. You literally couldn't ask for a better way to experience the annual Masters golf tournament... indoors and playing EA Sports PGA Tour. Yes, while the actual event is taking place this weekend, golf gamers are probably more interested in EA's return to the world of golf video games, with the simply named EA Sports PGA Tour. While I have been quite actively following this title (because I strongly believe that golf is one of the best sports to adapt into a video game and that it works very well in a digital format), I've also been hitting the links over the course of this week, to see if EA's return to digital golf is something to celebrate or pass on.
And simply put, it is worth getting excited for if you are a golf fan. Now don't get me wrong, EA Sports PGA Tour isn't perfect and has its demons (I'll get to them in a moment), but generally speaking this is a very competent golf video game that is bolstered by featuring arguably the best course list that you could ask for.
EA has been shouting from the rooftops that this game is the "home of the Majors" and there's a very good reason for this. The Majors make up the most demanding and desirable golf tournaments around the entire world, and take competition to the iconic and exclusive Augusta National, historic St. Andrews, the sunny Southern Hills, and a collection of 30 other non-exclusive courses that make up the wider PGA Tour, such as the scenic Pebble Beach, the rowdy TPC Scottsdale, the challenging Riviera Country Club, and so forth. Every time you take to the tee in one of these locations, you can't help but feel the sense of history for being present - something the commentators help to elevate thanks to tons of informative titbits that delve into golf history and help you with your game - and as the courses are all very finely crafted, the game also really excels with delivering on the challenge of mastering a PGA Tour-level course.
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As every course has been crafted using photogrammetry and other fancy techniques to extremely accurately digitally recreate them, each course feels truly real. The delicate unevenness of every green on every hole is a challenge to overcome, the individual branches on trees provide a further obstacle to face, the angling of the fairway and the placement of bunkers all make blasting a ball with a driver an opportunity for disaster. The ambience of each course is also excellent, with vibrant and intricately placed flora, water features or ocean bodies, and a massive crowd following you around every tournament screaming and shouting as they cheer you on. You can see why EA chose to leave behind last-generation consoles for this game, as the finer details are what allow EA Sports PGA Tour to stand out, even if EA's sports developers still can't figure out how to animate a human's face to save a life. Without exaggerating, the people are horrifying, although, FIFA, Madden, and F1 fans are all very familiar with this.
Adding to this is the actual gameplay, which has a pleasant variety of depth and simplicity. If you just want to play some golf, then you can ignore all of the really complex shot types and RPG systems and just play nine holes to see how far under par you can go. Alternatively, if that depth excites you, you can look to explore the different ways to hit a ball down the fairway, or to drop it onto the green from the first cut.
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The pure gameplay side of things can be very difficult to unpack and master (I won't deny that the clunky analog stick golf swinging mechanic has frustrated me on countless occasions, especially for short chip shots where it is frankly way too easy to smack the ball into the stratosphere), and will require a fair bit of failing before you start to understand how it really operates. You can make the argument that the tutorial system doesn't really help with teaching players much, although that is why EA has baked in different coaching and sponsor challenges to help master new shot types and the finer mechanics of being a PGA Tour golfer, each of which will reward experience that contributes to levelling up, and thus acquiring more attribute points to improve your golfer.
On the RPG side of things, the Career mode, where this is most prevalent, is excellent. It's simply about doing the best you can at each of the tournaments through a PGA Tour season, all to improve your global ranking and to level up so that you can spend attribute points to improve your own golfer's power, putting skill, short game, and various smaller areas that tie into these wider categories, for example accuracy or control when using wedges and other short game clubs. It's a system that really allows you to see improvement tournament after tournament, as at the start of your career you'll be struggling to crack the top 250 in the rankings and to putt a ball accurately beyond seven feet, but by the time you reach Augusta a few months into the season, a 10 foot putt is easily doable and the top 150 or better will already be where you find yourself on the global rankings.
I will say that I'm less impressed by the customisation suite as this is mostly tied to microtransactions. While you can't improve your golfer by, for example, purchasing a better club with real money, you can buy Specs to improve certain attributes of a club or a shot type, alongside Tickets to enter into tournaments. The fact that getting a new kit bag cosmetic seems to be tied mainly to real money leaves me disappointed and lacking ways to update and change my golfer's appearance. Not that I'm a huge stickler for cosmetics and appearance, but more options that aren't tied to premium currency and even occasionally (and unbelievably) loot boxes, would be a massive improvement.
Likewise, the game seemingly requires you to log into EA's servers to be able to access the majority of the game modes, including the Career. I loathe this frankly, and do not understand why I needed to connect a PlayStation Network account with EA's account systems to simply be able to play 75% of EA Sports PGA Tour.
Oh, and while I'm ranting, let me take aim at the menus and the in-game user interfaces, which are quite frankly sluggish, needlessly complex, and frustrating to use. The actual menus require far too many buttons to get anywhere of importance, and then attempting to get a better angle on a shot by moving the camera when on the course requires such a fine degree of focus and skill that ultimately I prefer just 'eyeballing' it using just the information from where my golfer is standing to go off, despite the fact that this is a game and not the real world and that shouldn't be a requirement.
Yet with this being the case, EA Sports PGA Tour's game mode variety is really impressive. Aside from the Career mode that is all about becoming the ultimate golfer, and Quick Play where you can jump into a collection of slightly different match styles (for example Best Ball that pits two teams of two against one another, or Skins which sees golfers competing for in-game money on a hole-by-hole basis), there is also the unranked multiplayer of Social, the simultaneous online action of Competitive where you can see how your rivals are doing in real-time as ghosts on the course, the ranked Tournaments mode for the most challenging online play, and if this isn't enough, Private Matches and Challenges look to bring ways to create your own tournaments and improve your skills, respectively.
While there are a few weird and unusual bugs that plague the game as well, for example certain lighting instances actually changing the colour of your golfer's hair, generally speaking, EA Sports PGA Tour is a fun and entertaining golf game that excels in the places that matter the most; the gameplay, the courses, and the experience. If you're looking for a way to double-down on golf this Masters weekend, then EA Sports PGA Tour is a good title to take a look at, just save yourself some disappointment and keep clear of the Store tab.
7 / 10
Great feeling gameplay. Brilliant course list. Courses feel truly real and accurately represented. Solid graphics and performance. The RPG system works well.
Requires connection to EA's servers to play the majority of the title. Customisation locked behind tons of different microtransactions, with some of these even affecting gameplay. Awful menus and user interface.