I’ve never been the biggest fan of playing golf…..or watching golf. Talking about golf isn’t much fun. Even thinking about it gives me a bit of a headache. You know what, I don’t think I like golf very much at all, which is strange given how much I tend to enjoy playing golf video games. Remove the need for all that walking, the terrible Scottish weather and my own brutally inadequate swing and heck, it appears that I’m totally on board. Like an array of kids from the early 90s who had no interest in American sport but were hooked on Madden and NHL for the Mega Drive, I found myself quietly dragged into the world of golfing video games by a combination of the goofy fun of Sony’s, Hot Shots franchise, the nostalgia fuelled brilliance of Nintendo’s, Mario Golf and ultimately, the fantastic swing mechanics of EA’s, Tiger Woods series. Well, Tiger Woods is no more (in virtual terms anyway), but EA have returned to the PGA Tour after a two year hiatus with an all-new game and an all-new cover star.
The fact that Rory McIlroy is fronting up the series in place of the struggling Mr Woods might mean something to some fans of the sport, but to me, it’s about as interesting as Jordan Henderson making the FIFA 16 cover – it simply doesn’t matter. What does matter however is that the game has been built from the ground up using Battlefield’s, Frostbite 3 Engine. It’s not the prettiest sport game on the market and the gameplay actually feels very similar to what has come before, but make no mistake, on a fundamental level, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is about as good as virtual golf has ever been. With three different control schemes to choose from and an array of options to tweak each one by adding and removing any number of assists, this latest PGA Tour goes out of its way to make the game play and feel exactly how you want it to. Long drives are extremely satisfying (even if the aftertouch is still a tad OTT), chips require a sense of delicate accuracy and putting is reliable, fun and fair.
The courses here are great too – again, they’re not rewriting the rulebook on visual fidelity, but those that are here look great and are all essentially open world in so much that shots can go absolutely anywhere. There are no boundaries anymore, so things certainly feel a tad more realistic in that regard. Realism naturally goes out of the window for the extremely enjoyable Battlefield course, but again, for those not entrenched in the finer details of the sport, it’s good to see the series have a bit of fun while making the most out of the Frostbite 3 engine. Is a Battlefield course a necessary addition? No. Is it fun? Yes it is. Loads of fun in fact. The problem is, while it’s great to see the series let loose and little, it’s not so great when it’s at the cost of core content that really should come as standard. It like a really fancy stereo has been added to the latest Ford but then they decided to not bother with doors. It’s all very odd.
I’m all for fun mini-games and wacky fantasy courses, but when you’re missing half the real world courses that were available in the last release, the roster has been decimated and the career mode is a shadow of its former self, it does feel like the team might have been better off committing to the core experience before getting carried away with crazy courses and strange mini-games. Don’t get me wrong, the strange mini-games in question were a lot of fun and I actually rather enjoyed my time chasing stars in the new, Night Club Challenge mode, but again, despite the addition of power-ups and the delivery of something genuinely different from the standard golfing experience, it’s all much harder to justify when the career mode is little more than a collection of basic events tied together by a selection of stats and text. It really is painfully basic. Online has taken a pretty big hit too with only stroke and match play making the cut. Like F1 2015 before it, this really is a brutally trimmed down package, one that will ultimately prove disappointing for those expecting a better looking version of what they got back in 2013.
On a purely technical level, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a fantastic video game. It looks great, it plays great, and as ever, is a huge amount of fun when played with friends. Basically, everything that is here is good (well, except for career mode perhaps), but sadly, while the content is mostly sound, there is no getting around the fact that this feels like a half-finished video game. Fewer courses, fewer game modes, a gimped online component, it’s all been stripped down to the bare essentials with a few extra Battlefield related bells and whistles added in a vain attempt to make us forget about the fact that this is, for all intents and purposes, half the game it was two years ago. Yes, it looks a lot nicer and the open world golf courses are a step in the right direction, but come on EA, you’re asking us to pay a premium price for the product – we fully expect to receive a premium product in return.
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