When it comes to sports video games, I think of golf in a similar vein to that of simulation racing titles. Not that the two have much in common in reality, but because both are sports that can be rather accurately and well simulated, to the point where you really do feel like you're in charge and either behind the wheel or on the putting green. Simulation racing does have an immersive and realism edge here of course as you never actually do the club swinging action in golf games, but otherwise, the strategy, planning a shot, and understanding a course is all there. To add to this, like racing, golf is a fundamentally straightforward sport to understand. In motorsport the idea is to get from one point to another/around a track as fast as possible, whereas golf is just about getting a ball in a hole in as few shots as possible. For this reason, both sports are brilliant as video games, and these are areas that the FIFAs, Maddens, NHLs, and so on have never quite managed to tap into.
So, when I heard that EA was taking another crack at the PGA licence and using the impressive Frostbite Engine to power such a project, I was intrigued. And now, after seeing the game first hand at a digital press event, I'm even more excited to see how it shapes up in practice.
As EA puts it, this is the "most technologically advanced golf game ever," and you can see this in both the title's appearance and all the titbits and doodads that EA has baked in to make the golfing experience feel as authentic as possible. Frostbite allows the development team to use the latest data mapping technology to create courses as accurately as possible. Photogrammetry and GPS mapping, all on top of on-site photography all mean that when you whack a ball down the fairway of the 9th hole at St. Andrews, you will notice how the ball bounces in weird ways to match the bumpy terrain. And to add to this, as each golf course around the world is constructed on different geological make-ups, the way the ball effortlessly bounces along will be different at Pebble Beach in California to the way that it acts at the Scottish home of golf. It's these tiny details that make PGA Tour such an exciting premise, and they go way further than just the physics.
The Frostbite engine allows the team to accurately create digital representations of each course, down to the exact placement of each tree and how the flowers bloom at a course at different times of the year. Crowds can also be customised to the point where you could have a full PGA Tour level attendance, or absolutely no one watching your clumsy attempt to master the course at hand. And all of this is at 30 of the most exciting and beloved golf courses around the world, as EA has exclusive rights to the Majors and the courses they are based at.
As for the actual gameplay, this has been expanded to evolve the sorts of golf mechanics that have coined games for well... essentially forever. The typical concept of setting angles and then swinging at the right moment for the perfect amount of power to play golf remains the same - with some old school mechanics such as Big Hit Moments making a comeback - but now you can use 20 different styles of shot, which are unique depending on the club you are using and the shot types, making for over 1300 shot combinations to master. And these are all accurately simulated as well, as EA has teamed up with the golf simulation experts over at Trackman and ShotLink to ensure that each shot does what it is supposed to do and the ball also follows suit with correct rotations, bounces and so on. EA even mentioned that it believes its system is so accurate that pros may even use the game for putting practice on the lead up to an actual event, as this way they can get a feel for the green without needing to jet off around the globe to get boots on the ground.
This is all part of the Pure Strike system, which also allows for difficulty options if you want to take away some of the complexity. Not that you will likely need to as the HUD and UI seem to be very clear and straightforward to understand. But if you are finding things a bit much, EA has created a Professional Coaching set of in-game playable challenges, which will be continually updated, to help newcomers master the art of golf and crack how to conquer the game.
As for the other modes, the Career Mode will allow you to play at various levels, from amateur to the PGA, and you can choose where to start. There is an RPG system here that allows you to level up your player by competing in events, with skill points awarded upon reaching a new rank, which can then be spent to improve attributes such as swing power, all so that you can match-up and tackle the most demanding of courses around the world, for example the stunning Augusta National.
Those looking for multiplayer options will be able to dive into local and online multiplayer in Social, or Competitive to start climbing the ranked ladder, and all of the online modes will allow for 16 players to all compete in real-time, with you able to keep tabs on opponents, who essentially appear as ghosts: visible but with no impact on your actual game. Every form of gameplay will be bolstered by a commentary team made up of professionals and icons who highlight even the most bizarre moments, and you'll be able to play the game either as your own character (who can customised thanks to the overhauled create-a-player suite with an array of unlockable gear) or a collection of actual pros, including that of Rory McIlroy.
I will say though that while the game itself is quite pretty, especially when teeing off, the character models fall into that typical EA style, where they do come across as a tad ugly and off-putting.
The catch of course with a game like this will be how EA decides to monetise it, something the developers were pretty quiet about during the preview. We were told that there will be post-launch additions, including new courses, clothing, and so on, all tied to current and historic golf moments. But as for the finest details relating to this, we'll likely know more soon, as EA has announced that PGA Tour will be coming to PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series on March 24, 2023, with preorders opening later today. Still, assuming EA's usual monetisation methods don't get in the way of things, I can't wait to take to the green for another round of gold in a couple of months.