There’s an interesting, inherent beauty in golf. It’s not a sport I’ve spent much time obsessing over, but the courses themselves are always works of art, even down to the lower level local courses. Indeed, during the recent Covid lockdown our nearby course opened its doors to allow people to walk round the 18 holes during their prescribed single bit of exercise each day, so to take a break from figuring out what the hell the politicians were trying to say we had a few walks along the immaculate fairways. It made me appreciate one of the reasons why people would play golf: the quiet, the idea of being in the middle of nowhere, away from the world and engrossed in their own quiet universe for a few hours.
In PGA Tour 2K21 you can bring that feeling home. After some manic, hard fought racing or a tense few round on your battle royale game of choice, bringing the pace right down to be accompanied by the sounds of nature and occasional contributions from the chilled commentators, while taking your time to smack your balls around these varied courses… well, there’s a place in your life for this.
It feels odd playing a PGA licensed game that isn’t made by EA. After the Tiger Woods link went a bit wonky, the team behind the impressive Golf Club games picked up the official license, teamed up with 2K and up popped PGA Tour 2K21, mixing in some great elements from both side of the table. If you aren’t aware of The Golf Club, it first appeared early on in the life of the current consoles and game some great, challenging golfing action on some really nicely made real-life courses. What it was lacking, however, was a decent career mode; step up 2K Sports, who have taken the work done by HB Studios, tied it all together with their trademark career mode, and produced something very decent.
The game itself is largely based around you “swinging” an analogue stick to control your club and thumping the ball towards the hole. It’s a well crafted system which feels rewarding when it works, and agonisingly unforgiving when you take your time or rush your swing, sending your ball into a pond or nestling unhelpfully behind a tree. The more you play, the more you get a feel for the rhythm needed to nail your shots, and before long you’ll be fighting for leads and tweaking the numerous difficulty settings to give you a more realistic game. You can manually change your shot as well, giving you the options to curve it around tall obstructions, change the height or add various spin options. You can, if you prefer, just use the default shot that the game gives you and keep swinging, but the better scores will come about from experimenting, trying out some trickier shots and making the most out of the conditions. However you choose to play (and there are alternative swinging styles for those who want an easier ride) there’s a suitable challenge for most players here, and finding your level is, after a few rounds, very easy to do.
The big noticeable element to this game compared to its previous owner is the presentation. There’s often things to not like about EA Sports games, but it’s very hard to criticise the TV-style presentation of their games. This is where 2K21 dips a little below what you’d hope for; it’s not bad by any means, and in isolation would probably seem pretty decent with the various replays, convincing running commentary and heavy licensing, but something just doesn’t feel quite there. Player models are a little robotic at times with occasionally-scary faces, and we don’t get a nice commentator-voiced intro to every course. It’s like they ran out of time, because some of them are brilliant and really help understand the hole, but often you’re met with stony silence during the fly over, which is a bit of a shame really.
But to criticise that element of the game is a little harsh perhaps, and maybe shows we’ve become slightly spoilt in our expectations of sports games. The game itself is very relaxing and enjoyable, and with numerous online options as well that work nicely there’s a lot to do here. For the first venture after 2K and HB hooked up this is showing a lot of promise, and with the next game presumably aiming for the next gen consoles this could form an excellent base for things to come.
Time to forget about EA and their golf games – it’s 2K’s turn now, and they’ve really grabbed it with both hands, kept their eye on the ball and avoided slicing this title into the duck pond on hole 11. Definitely worth a punt if you’re a golf fan.
Reviewed on PS4