Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Review
Tiger’s out, Rory’s in. I don’t mind the switch at all and in fact, I welcome it. It’s absurd to put the 246th-ranked player in the world on the cover of a video game, regardless of history and obvious iconic stature. Rory McIlroy is the current world #1 (even if upstart Jordan Spieth is now nipping at his heels) and he deserves to have a golf game, plain and simple. Unfortunately, McIlroy’s debut effort falls shy of expectations as we’re missing too many basic game modes and the Career Mode is sadly uninspired. The mechanics are also hit or miss; such inconsistency doesn’t have any place in a golf simulator. Of course, I’m making it sound as if this is the golfer’s fault and it isn’t. Sorry, Rory.
I have a bad feeling that the majority of this review will sound like nitpicking but in this case, I can’t help it. Let’s start with the visuals: Clearly, there’s enhanced fidelity and overall detail thanks to more powerful hardware. Course construction is excellent and I love the authentic atmosphere, bolstered by great ambient effects and solid animations. But it just doesn’t impress. I think too many of the textures are flat and unappealing and for whatever reason, this game just feels…drab and boring. When I picture pristine professional golf courses, I envision lush green grass, sparkling sunshine, and even attractive white sand in the bunkers. This game just lacks that vivacity. And there’s some pop-in here and there, too.
The audio is better due mostly to great commentary and the inclusion of McIlroy himself. The soundtrack is fine (if typically subdued) and the background effects are realistically implemented, and I appreciate the hush and roar of the crowd in the proper situations. Once again, though, with the exception of spot-on commentary that isn’t annoying or especially repetitive, the presentation just seems flat. I know golf isn’t the most emotional sport in the world but too many people at EA were drinking decaf during the creation of this game. It needs a little punch, a little added gusto, some extra element that makes it stand out in a crowd. As it stands, the game is technically accomplished but unremarkable.
The game begins with a promising prologue. You start with a brief and effective training regiment that teaches you the basics; this is also where you choose from one of three control options. There’s the arcade-style power-boosting analog option with after-touch spin control (super fun and exactly the opposite of realistic), the classic “three-click” setup (reminiscent of Hot Shots Golf), and the most authentic method that relies entirely on your skill and timing with the analog stick. All the standard assists are turned off as well and unless you’re a golf sim expert, I’d recommend leaving this one alone for a while. It’s a better idea to get a feel for the game and work your way into this ultra-realistic option.
After this tutorial, you play certain holes in the final stages of the US Open. The first few allow you to get your feet wet; they offer direction and assistance. But the last few holes are all on you, so the prologue is an appealing combination of teaching and trial by fire. Of course, you’re playing as McIlroy, so you’ll hear him talk about the pressure of playing in a Major tournament, and just how difficult it can be to come out on top. Win or lose, once this introductory segment is over, it’s time to dive into the nuts and bolts of the game. Unfortunately, veterans of the Tiger Woods games will notice the obvious lacking in regards to available pros and courses, and there aren’t as many modes, either. It’s just a little dry and disappointing in this way.
For instance, when compared to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, this new effort has only about half the number of playable courses and only a quarter of the licensed players. The Legends and LPGA golfers aren’t here at all, either. It’s great that I can customize my style of play – easily the game’s biggest highlight – but creating my own player for Career Mode is less intricate than before. The entire thing just feels like a watered down, less robust version of previous entries, which will undoubtedly frustrate the hardcore duffers out there. I mean, if a two-year-old installment has more to offer than a brand new title, then something is seriously amiss. The only good news is that EA will probably add more content in the coming weeks and months.
Now, let’s talk about the gameplay for a minute. For the most part, this is an accurate, enjoyable representation of the sport in question. As you would expect, you have to consider just about everything when lining up your shot, regardless of your chosen control system. There’s your lie to think about, wind direction and strength, and any obstacles you may face on the course. You can cycle between your clubs, adjust the height and angle of your shot, and check your distance by intended location (provided you don’t screw up the mechanics of the shot). All of this feels just about right and prompts you to think. You can’t just swing away and expect to post low scores; just like the pros, you have to take your time and carefully plan your approach.
The only slight downside is that I find the entire process to be a tad clunky and inconsistent. Zooming in and out to see where your ball will travel doesn’t feel especially smooth, and why can’t I have full control of the camera for both driving and putting? For instance, when putting, there are only set viewpoints above the green; I can toggle between them but I can’t place the camera exactly where I want it. I always could in Hot Shots, you know. Then there’s the general reliability of the mechanic, especially in regards to the short game and approach shots. It just seems like I can’t always trust the ball path. I can’t quite put my finger on it but the gameplay simply doesn’t feel intuitive.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s functional. It’s just a little…wonky. There are shots I made that I could not explain and that’s weird. However, let me add that, as is the case with any mildly eccentric gameplay mechanic, the more you play, the better you’ll get. And after experimenting for a while, you’ll feel well-equipped to tackle the Career Mode. But this just isn’t done well at all. Way too many features are gone and they haven’t been replaced with anything. I suppose the developers thought they were streamlining things but this is a Career mode in a simulator. You’re really not ever supposed to subtract (unless something simply doesn’t work); you’re only supposed to add and refine.
There’s a big problem when the default setting in Career Mode is a Quick Round setting, which reduces each round to a few holes, as opposed to playing four full rounds of 18 holes. If you’ve opted for Career, why on earth would you want to do this? And where’s the rest of it? I can’t engage in practice rounds anymore to earn additional XP? How do I even know what I win from a tournament? The game just tells you in a text box that you won but I don’t even see a trophy. Not sure how much money I won, either, and absolutely nothing happens between tournaments. The result is a stale, boring career that is unrewarding and totally uninspired. And here I thought Career Modes were old hat to EA by this time.
The online play is lacking as well but at least playing with others adds a much-needed level of dynamic action. Gone is the ability to begin your own Country Club and you only have Stroke Play and Match Play – another curious example of disappearing features – but it’s still entertaining. Provided you play with someone who knows what they’re doing, it can be infinitely more fun than dragging yourself through Career Mode. And if this doesn’t appeal to you, there’s the Night Club Challenge, which is just loads of silly fun. As the name implies, you play at night and there are about 170 challenges. It’s about as crazy and arcade-y as you can get (steer that ball at will!) but at least it’s new and infuses some necessary flavor.
I’d like to say Rory McIlroy PGA Tour picks up where Tiger Woods left off but in truth, we’ve gone back a step or two…or three. It’s not so much the mechanics and gameplay core; all this works reasonably well aside from the eccentricities I mentioned here. It’s just that the entire package feels flat and featureless. Far fewer pros, courses, and modes, a Career Mode that is ridiculously stripped down, and a general lack of intricacy might leave the die-hard golfer feeling unsatisfied. Still, it’s absolutely awesome that you can fully customize your control scheme, and I hope this feature will remain intact next year. Night Club Challenge can come back, too. But they’d better make a game that feels like an in-depth, robust, next-gen sim. This doesn’t really qualify.
The Good: Great detail on the courses and players. Good commentary. Love the fully customizable control options. Relatively solid control and mostly authentic. Night Club Challenge is goofy but super fun.
The Bad: Technical presentation seems dull for some reason. Nowhere near enough licensed golfers and courses, and not enough modes. Career Mode is a watered down disappointment. Mechanic sometimes feels erratic and unreliable.
The Ugly: “Golf lovers who select Career Mode in a simulator don’t want that.”
7/14/2015 Ben Dutka