EA returns to the PGA with an inconsistent and frustrating simulation, struggling with its identity. While beautiful, with the best interactive presentation in professional golf, the action on the course yields inconsistent results.
In licensing, EA wins, scoring Masters and key courses like Pebble Beach. The presentation counts, as the first day of the Masters showing tee shots from Jack Nicklaus and others. Silent commentary meaningfully discusses each hole during flyovers. Magnificent vistas line the courses and each individually rendered blade of grass is visible, even on the fairway. Each hole is lined with realistic spectators, but their lack of reaction when hit with a ball removes the immersion.
Prestige comes at a cost – it’s an intimidating golf sim. Fairways and greens seem stuck on their hardest/fastest setting. The analog stick swing works logically, but results vary, with little feedback on what sent a tee shot towards the trees. Each stroke takes into account speed, length, loft, and upwind and downwind. That’s true for sports, as each of those can cause a missed shot, but EA’s PGA Tour doesn’t know what’s wrong at this time.
With the ball in the air, a small window shows the movement of the analog stick, and any left/right deviation (no matter how small) means a drastic blunder. It becomes more forgiving when leveling, even if the gain is marginal. The greens present a useless guide showing the best ball trail but no indication of what that line represents to aid aiming. Even on easy, if the swing lacks a bit of power or straightness, he misses, short putt or not.
Elements of EA’s retired Tiger Woods series remain. The return is notably the ability to block a button for power during the backswing and to add spin when the ball goes skyward, a totally unrealistic option. This is the crisis facing EA Sports PGA Tour, trapped by the studio’s arcade heritage while competing with golf simulation rival 2K Sports.
Setting up a career (the only long-running single-player mode), the underwhelming character builder limits your options. Only generic heads and an extremely small clothing line fill the menus, with the latter expanding via the in-game store.
From there, it’s all about entering tournaments, playing majors, and leveling up. Earning XP is quick at first, but the final stages of each stat take far too long, and currency accumulates just as slowly. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour is asking players to spend between $5 and $50 in in-game money on new jerseys or a +3 club power boost to speed up this process. Combined with the slow progress, the pressure to spend seems evident.
Training challenges offer referrals and XP, but it’s clunky and tedious. Each usually lasts for a few swings – say, a driving accuracy test – then returns to a loading screen, then the menu.
Graphic beauty can sometimes create problems. Before a crucial Masters tee shot, a fan’s body jammed the swing counter. Tall grass does the same thing, even if it is translucent. Power becomes a guess because the meter doesn’t display, making the already brutal difficulty unfair.
Leveling allows additional swing types, like electric motors, to make the challenge easier. These are EA’s trademark, similar to Madden’s X-Factors, but like backswing button mash, they seem like misfits in true golf gameplay. While some blueprint types make sense, it makes little sense that many of them need to be unlocked in the first place; imagine going to the PGA with no basic skills.
EA Sports PGA Tour captures the complex nuances of golf. However, the systems struggle with what a user can reasonably decipher from a simple analog stick, leading to a frustrating experience. EA Sports PGA Tour is a game at odds with whether it wants to rival the realism of its 2K rival or get closer to its own more arcade roots, and in the process lands its first record on this raw new ride. .
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