Golf is difficult. It’s built on subtle margins of error and details that can lead to club break-up mistakes but also some of the greatest rewards in the sport when done right. Shot-to-shot, the PGA Tour 2K21 packs it brilliantly and delivers a really fun golf simulator that scratches the iron itch, regardless of your previous experience or loyalty.
Fast facts: PGA Tour 2K21
(Image credit: 2K)
Release date: 21 August 2020
Platform (s): PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: 2K games
The main strengths of PGA Tour 2K21 lie in its solid and very fun fundamentals, which nail the knife-edge feel of the game into real life. It is both indulgent and challenging, offering accessible gameplay that is simple to learn, yet detailed and rich enough to satisfy those who seek more.
You quickly discover that there is a strong emphasis on shooting ability and swing management. Draw, fade, topspin, backspin and loft; they are all present to get you closer to every situation, but they also increase the difficulty of your shot. What results is the right balance of skill and risk, frustration and satisfaction, with each swing. You also need to take into account the tempo and pace of the swing. Perfect hits are possible but elusive, which means that when you execute one, it’s exactly the kind of feeling that keeps you playing. Get it wrong and get tough, but fair results.
Thankfully, you’re not left on your own to master all these shades. Shot feedback shows your tempo and swing lines are important aids and benchmarks, allowing you to improve shot after shot. On the green, alongside the familiar gradient colors and grid lines, a preview line of the put is welcome and limiting its use to, at most, one look per hole means you are still addicted to your technique (and eyeballs) . You can play all of your rounds neatly this way by disabling the HUD, relying solely on your skills, your interpretation of conditions and the Yardage Book to encourage immersion and realism.
Fairway to heaven
The character customization process is another great success. It is multifaceted and offers a plethora of options to make your golfer look the way you want, down to height and weight, and there are plenty of brands available to dress your golfer too. All of this is contained in the My Player section, a familiar element of 2K sports games and the hub from which you manage all facets of your on-screen alter ego.
Your golfer’s career is the one where you have the most fun. From the start, you can jump straight to the PGA Tour or start with an amateur tournament where the top finishers get their tour cards and move on to the main tour. The latter provides a worthwhile journey that allows you to hone your skills; while the actual PGA Tour includes around 30 events. It’s straightforward but a lot of fun throughout its 25 hours, particularly due to the harshness of each shot, and offers a good mix of reward and challenge.
Throughout your career, you earn experience points, but this is a largely disappointing mechanic, with the points you get from tournaments only unlocking new outfits and clubs. Other career progression features are clear on paper but completely undercooked. Sponsorship deals are career challenges that unlock clubs and clothing; well-rounded goals add a few more challenges; and the rivalries between the players are challenge-based competitions, which are also quite staggering – why exactly do I have a rivalry with Jim Furyk? Given the lack of advancement in golfing skills, more purpose for my player’s leveling would be welcome, along with more reasons to improve my clubs as well. You can easily do the whole season, successfully, with the default.
Rough with smooth
Wherever you go, you are accompanied by disappointingly familiar golf game isms: embarrassing comments that have been exhausted by your fourth round; boring crowds; silly player animations; and ignorable shots with an empty camera between holes and frames. Where PGA 2K21 deviates from previous golf games, however, is in the difficulty settings, through which you can make your career fresher by tweaking your opponent’s skill and course conditions to find a pleasantly challenging balance.
While the career is a lot of fun, it’s too lean and simple to be a premise to go back to month after month. Seemingly positioned as a course for you to play a season quickly and easily, there’s no way you can build a golfer from hacker to pro, investing XP in skill and skill, and gaining a repertoire of shots. This RPG element of career modes is a successful staple of the genre, so given PGA 2K21’s heavy emphasis on realism elsewhere, it feels like a missed opportunity.
However, this level playing field approach has its positives: as the player base grows, playing online should be a lot of fun as no one can beat other players simply by beating them up. This means that network-based options – 1v1 matchplay matches, 2v2 alternate stroke matches, betting matches and online society (where you can play custom seasons with your team) will be competitive, if the game attracts a large audience in the coming months.
Long live your noble green
Unfortunately, there are notable career absences when it comes to famous backgrounds and faces. Courses are limited to a few handfuls of PGA Tour locations and the famous players featured are not playable, which is a big mistake. The Tiger Woods series would have been garbage without the ability to be, you know, Tiger Woods.
Where 2K19 makes up for this a bit is with the robust Course Creator. It’s intuitive, has useful presets and easy options for manipulating the terrain, and the option to test each hole. The creator also allows you to download and play courses posted by other players. Since the community is likely to create popular courses not available in the game, this is a great way to keep things fresh.
PGA 2K21 manages to be a strong and less flashy successor to The Golf Club’s games, while also channeling some of what made EA’s classics great and continuing to establish the series as the go-to golf game. The heist craft rarely fails to satisfy, but is less successful as a career simulator. Further refinements and refinements in that field, as well as more official courses and playable stars, would be welcome if the PGA brand were here to stay. For now, as one of Bryson DeChambeau’s post-lockdown units, he’s on the right track.
Reviewed on PS4. Code provided by the publisher.