Returning after a two year hiatus, EA’s PGA series finally makes the leap to the current generation, with a new namesake in the form of Rory McIlory replacing the fallen hero of Tiger Woods. With the additional power on offer, EA Tiburon opted to use the Frostbite 3 engine, allowing them to create fully realised open-world renditions of each golf course in the game, with the intention of making each round as seamless as possible. While the graphics engine may have made the generational leap, the question is whether or not the gameplay has as well.
The game offers you a choice of three playstyles and sets of controls: Arcade, Classic, and Tour. While I initially set out using the Classic mode I eventually opted for Arcade, with it offering a nice balance of added shot control and feedback from the analog stick rather button timing, but without removing all of the game assists that help you make an educated shot.
As I noted in my earlier thoughts, the create a player options are fairly dire, for when you want to tackle the career mode, and after creating a second player I was particularly struck with just how limited the tool actually was, going so far as to not even include any possibility of facial hair. Whilst I wouldn’t say that I’m some kind of rampant beard enthusiast, I am a man who sports his own beard and it’s always disappointing to not be able to create a moderately realistic representation of myself in any game, especially in this day and age. You can at least create a woman golfer, even though there aren’t any LPGA players included this time around.
Putting your created player to work, the Pro Season mode immediately drops you into the Web.com Tour Championship where you attempt to earn your pass onto the PGA Tour by placing in the top fifty. As with the rest of the season, the four day event drops you into a selection of holes to play while simulating the rest based on your modest attributes. The system works well enough, and generally I always came off better than I probably would have played at that stage had I been left to my own devices, but you may feel that the hand-holding starts to wear a bit thin, craving the amateur tournaments as in previous entries.
As you take your custom player through their first season, you earn XP which in turn boosts your player’s level and their statistics, all of which can be fashioned by your chosen attribute bonus. You start off with balanced, power, precision, and finesse, before unlocking further attributes like up and down or tap in. It’s a welcome touch that you can alter your attribute bonus at any point, while still taking advantage of your player’s increased level, meaning that if you’ve selected the wrong one for your style of play at the outset then you’re not saddled with it forever.
While the long game is robust and enjoyable, putting remains the toughest skill to master, but when it clicks it becomes incredibly rewarding to sink a long putt, or at least come agonisingly close. It’s not always incredibly clear in the information the game gives you exactly where to aim, and in some cases you just have to get the feel for it rather than look at pure statistics. As such, it is actually a surprisingly accurate representation of the real thing.
There are some nice touches to the game, whether it’s loading bars that say ‘paying golfers’ or ‘mowing 3D grass’ to Rory McIlroy facts on splash screens, though there are a few oddities as well. I thought I’d done something horrendously wrong when I ramped up the power of one particular shot and the game cut away into a weird darkly framed slow-motion viewpoint. As it turns out, I’d actually hit it incredibly well, but it doesn’t necessarily sit that well with the rest of the understandably restrained presentation.
The main additional mode for this year’s entry are the Night Club Challenges. Taking control of old-timer Pops Masterson, or an array of other fictional characters – or indeed your created player – you’re deposited on neon-lit fictional courses where your aim is to meet various scoring requirements, whether that’s done by landing the ball on brightly coloured scoring spots, or aiming through neon targets in the sky. Each level sees you attempting to earn a three star rating, with various other special abilities unlocking along the way to aid you in your task, from adding a rocket boost to your shots or even stopping your ball mid-flight.
It’s a worthy diversion, not only promoting you to practice making shots – the putting levels are somewhat helpful – but there’s enough of a hook to have you restarting levels to ensure you get a three star rating. Saying that, restarting each level insists on showing you the full introduction, which grates when you just want to get back into the action. In other circumstances I could well see it as a separate PSN or Xbox Live style release, and it stands up well enough on its own.
Graphically the game is handsome, if not spectacular at times, particularly in its use of lighting. The fantasy courses that are available, including the challenging Battlefield themed Paracel Storm, look excellent, and add some much needed levity to proceedings, with specific commentary from Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo and unique events that change the look and play of the course. The only hiccups come in the course flyovers and transitions, with some occasional graphical pop-in and stutters, but in-game it’s pretty rock solid.
Alongside the Pro Season and round of golf modes there are also online tournaments where you can take your place alongside the world’s best, with both pro and amateur competitions within daily and weekly tournaments, split across the three shot-type disciplines to ensure some level of fairness – other people being better than you sadly doesn’t count. These function as you’d expect, and I had no problem accessing them or the leaderboards, though they’re hardly likely to place the biggest demand on EA’s servers.
Many series stalwarts may find that this edition feels a touch bare-bones, with a drastic reduction in available courses over previous entries, with only eight real-world locations nestling next to four fantasy ones. The key omission for many will be Augusta and the Masters Tournament, though it hasn’t been ruled out from appearing as DLC in the future. The minimalist approach also applies to the inclusion of only twelve real world golfers, with no sign of previous ‘Legend’ entrants or any representatives from the LPGA, and there are reductions in game modes too. Again, you have to hope that EA plan to expand these options in the future, though that won’t help the sensation that some aspects of the game aren’t wholly finished or fleshed out right now.
Rory McIlory PGA Tour fundamentally plays a great round of golf, with an excellent range of playstyles to suit fans old and new. Despite the welcoming gameplay and often outstanding graphical representation of the courses though, enthusiasts and series stalwarts may soon feel that while progress has been made in some areas, this may not be the experience they expected from the first PGA Tour of a new console generation.
Version tested: PS4