Needs to repair some divots

Surprisingly, I have found an appreciation for golf as I’ve gotten older. Sure, I’m more likely to channel Jack Nicholson and swing a golf club at someone than to take it to the links. Now and again, though, I’ll tune into a major championship and see who is making a run. So, I was curious when Rory McIlroy PGA Tour arrived, the return of EA Sports’ long-running golf franchise, which skipped releasing an edition in 2014.

PGA Tour takes no time at all throwing you into a high-stakes, high-pressure situation with its new Prologue. Following cover boy Rory McIlroy down the stretch of his run for the 2014 Open championship, the game introduces you to its three control schemes as McIlroy himself explains how he handles golf’s biggest stages. Whether you choose the simulation-heavy method with no assists, the arcade style in which you can adjust your ball in mid-air, or the old-school three-click system to minimize the human element, each mode seemed as though it could cater to golf gamers of all experience levels.

The most impressive part of the control schemes probably comes from the customizable aspects, though. Since I preferred a hybrid arcade/three-click system, I crafted and saved a custom control set so I regularly landed on the greens. I loved that PGA Tour allowed me to contort its deep selection of controls to make even my ham-handed efforts more enjoyable.

Except for when it came to the short game.

Putting remains, even after all these years, my great nemesis, and additional assists would’ve been nice. While the current system remains similar to those from years past—showing the slope of the green, and the path one should hit the ball on—there’s no clear formula to figure out how to navigate each unique green and how much power to put behind a shot.

Nothing is more frustrating than sending the ball on a proper trajectory, only to have it to skip over the cup because you put too much oomph behind it, or for it to rim out because you shot it a hair to the left or right. If we can have sight lines when driving towards the green, I don’t see why we can’t have them on the greens themselves so we’re not making educated guesses all the time as to where our ball will go.

Putting woes aside, playing the optional Prologue was a great warm-up to re-introduce myself to the franchise. It also illustrated the power of Frostbite 3, since PGA Tour looks better than any golf game has a right to, with even the tiniest of details popping off the screen. The game’s improved ball physics offer more realistic bounces and ricochets, as well. Lastly, load times between holes are a thing of the past, coming now only between rounds of a tournament.

Sadly, players will find few modes after the Prologue. Most online modes have been trimmed to the bare minimum, reminding me of the difficult time the NHL series had coming to new-gen systems last year. The Country Club mode of years past, in which you could start your own online community, has been nixed and even rule modes such as Skins or Battle Golf have been scrapped. Even many of the courses and golfers of years past, including legendary golfers and those that appear on the LPGA, have been entirely removed from the game for unknown reasons. Only stroke and match play remain, online or locally. At the very least, the servers seemed quick and steady when I played.

The newly added Golf Club mode lessens the blow of these losses, but not enough to save the game as a whole. With zany golf balls that can stick to a surface or be remotely controlled through obstacles, Golf Club provides a nice change of pace from your prototypical golf experience. Its 170 or so challenges make you think outside the tee box. Each challenge offers some replayability with three high scores to aim for, and takes place on crazy courses such as the Battlefield 4-inspired Paracel Storm course, which is chock full of par-3s. But this collection of mini-games can’t hide the fact that so many other features have been sacrificed in this year’s game.

In this version, designers have even cut too much from the Career Mode. I don’t mind that the amateur tournaments were removed in favor of putting you right on the tour, but players are at a distinct disadvantage when your created golfer starts at 60 overall but must compete against 80 and 90 overall golfers such as Rory McIlroy. The tournaments’ absence means you don’t have time to build up your golfer’s XP. If you’re cutting the pre-tournaments, at least start me at a 75 or so.

Beyond this, the mode has no substance. You have to play every tournament, unlike the pros who sometimes skip an event to rest before a major championship. The game doesn’t give you a calendar, so you can’t look ahead to figure out where you can make up points, if need be, in the FedEx Cup standings. All you get is some lifeless text-filled screens congratulating you before you’re off to the next tournament. Even the Create-a-Pro feature when you start your career has been scaled back, using template golfer bodies and faces in lieu of the body and face sculpting features of years past.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a step forward for the franchise in some ways, but in many others it’s also a step back. EA Sports has had a difficult time transitioning so many annual franchises to new-gen hardware, but cutting out modes and features is never the way to go. No matter how good your game looks, appearances will never make up for a lack of content.

However, this year’s PGA Tour probably plays better in most areas than it did when Tiger Woods graced the cover. If you want a golf sim that plays solidly and shuffles you from hole-to-hole, PGA Tour will suffice. But if you’re looking for a golf game with substance, you’re better off grabbing a set of clubs and heading to your own local links.

Developer: EA Tiburon • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 07.14.15
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour plays better in many ways than when Tiger Woods graced the cover, but the removal of so many modes and continuous shortcomings with the short game make this a disappointing debut on new-gen hardware.
The Good Looks better than any golf game needs to. Multiple control schemes and great physics.
The Bad Short game comes up, well, short. Less content than when Tiger Woods was on the cover.
The Ugly The controller I broke after just missing so many par putts.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.