PGA TOUR 2K21
PGA Tour 2K21 Review: Challenging the Legacy of EA's Tiger Woods Series
Sometimes it feels like a video game arrives at the right time. With interest in golf on the rise of late — what with Tiger doing Tiger things again and no shortage of young talent poised to follow in his footsteps — the gaming world naturally wonders when will we see the release of another great golf video game? That’s where this PGA Tour 2K21 review comes into things. PGA Tour 2K21 will be available on August 21 for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
This beginning of a new series also marks the end of another one as PGA Tour 2K21 is in a way the culmination of The Golf Club. The brainchild of HB Studios — a small Nova Scotia company that cut their teeth working with EA on rugby and cricket games — the trio of Golf Club games had their first release in 2014 and grew from a niche audience to a partnership with 2K and the PGA Tour just prior to the release of The Golf Club 2019 Featuring PGA Tour a couple of years ago. That game was good, emphasizing realism above all else by eschewing any sort of power-ups or microtransactions that could substitute for skill, but it lacked a certain polish and some of the controls were finicky enough to drive people away.
PGA Tour 2K21 succeeds by having the entire partnership bring out the best of everyone involved. 2K has obviously lent their substantial marketing clout to the endeavor, but their presence is also felt in the game’s improved broadcast presentation style and the added air of excitement in career events. With the continued involvement of the PGA Tour comes the meticulous re-creation of more of their gorgeous official courses and basic scans of players like cover star Justin Thomas. While out on those wonderfully rendered courses, HB Studios has further refined the gameplay to be more accessible and fun via a dynamic level of difficulty while staying true to their roots in making the game all about your own abilities.
Let’s have a closer look at what areas of PGA Tour 2K21 work especially well and any others that might be lacking at the moment.
PGA Tour 2K21 Review: What I Like
Even if you’ve never played a Golf Club game before and have no idea at all how to swing a club, the tutorials in PGA Tour 2K21 do a nice job of walking you through all of the different types of shots and how they work. Aside from showing you how to perform the required actions, each lesson also makes sure that you’re able to do it yourself before moving on to the next one.
It’s good to see that you’re now able to calibrate your swing within training so that the game can adapt to how you prefer to move your control stick. The training grounds also include a driving range, putting green and chipping practice, and these will put you through the paces to help you work on these aspects of your game. It would be nice if they had also included a way to practice longer approach shots, as this would appear to be one part of your repertoire neglected within these practice modes.
The basics of hitting a ball in PGA Tour 2K21 aren’t all that different from The Golf Club 2019, but the small changes and the additions of some interesting nuances make the game quite a bit more intuitive and enjoyable.
At its core, it’s still all about keeping your shot straight by bringing your control stick straight down and up while also maintaining a good tempo during your shot. The tempo component of your backswing has been eliminated though and replaced with a power bar. So your biggest concerns are transitioning to your downswing at the proper time to get the amount of desired strength behind your shot and then making sure that you’re pushing the control stick at a rate that’s not too fast or too slow on the downswing. If you flick too quickly, expect your shot to be yanked long one way, but do it too slowly and you’ll push it short the other way to a degree in accordance with just how off you were with that tempo.
The use of partial shots in PGA Tour 2K21 isn’t exactly new but it’s now a lot easier to use them because they require significantly less guesswork than the old system. To hit shots that were between clubs in The Golf Club 2019, you were forced to try and estimate the power of your swing based solely on the backswing animation of your golfer. This was imprecise and challenging at its best and frustrating beyond belief at its worst. Now, it’s a lot easier to gauge your partial shots thanks to a power bar that allows you to set a target distance and percentage along with it. All you’ll need to do is start your downswing at the exact moment the indicator on your power bar passes through your target, but this can be easier said than done. With certain clubs, you can either leave a shot well short or fly way over your target even by being just a hair off on the meter.
On the greens, putting has benefited greatly from this partial shot mechanic as it now gives you far more control over the power behind your putt than in TGC 2019. By setting a target distance of your putt, you have a much better and more accurate visual now built into your power bar than the rough math and gauging of animations you had to do in the past. It’s a simpler approach to putting and one that makes for fewer situations where you end up needing three or sometimes even four putts to get through holes.
Hitting a fade or a draw to get around obstacles, or adding and subtracting loft to better navigate distance or wind all work similarly to how they did in TGC 2019. However, now there’s an added element to shaping your shot. By selecting your angle of attack on the ball, you’re now able to have more control over putting spin on your ball. This creates approach shots where you can put the right kind of spin on it to get it to roll backwards for you in situations when you really need to stick a tricky green.
Catering to people of all different skill levels and experiences, the difficulty settings in PGA Tour 2K21 come in six different pre-made varieties (Beginner, Amateur, Pro Am, Pro, Master and Legend) or you can even create your own custom difficulty. The higher difficulties become more challenging by slowly removing the aids that help you determine what you need to do for each shot. On the beginner difficulty, for instance, the timing of your swing doesn’t even matter and the game will factor in pretty much all of the variables for you. But once you get to pro difficulty, you’ll have to judge the distance penalty of your given lie on your own. On master difficulty, you won’t be given the exact wind speed. On legend, all bets are off and you’ll have to read greens and lies with no assistance at all.
Pro is the default online difficulty and, all in all, that seems like the most balanced choice and will likely become the most popular difficulty among players. But many will likely graduate to master difficulty over time, which reduces the margin for error on all of your shots without the tall order of playing with pretty much all the assists turned off that accompanies legend difficulty.
It’s worth mentioning that putting is the most forgiving aspect across all of the difficulties right up to and including master, especially when compared with how tricky it could be on certain greens in TGC 2019. On all but legend difficulty, the game will provide you a suggested distance to hit each putt that is usually a fairly accurate target. Of course, you still need to account for the breaks of the green and make the correct read, but it’s now much easier to at least consistently get the ball close to the hole. Is it now too easy? It’s hard to say. There remain times where you’ll miss your intended power target and leave a putt well short — or slide past the hole and even end up off the green — but these don’t happen nearly as much as they did in TGC 2019 when deciphering the exact power of each putt was more of an art than a science.
Graphics & Presentation
Considering it’s been two years since the release of TGC2019, one of the areas you’d expect to see some significant upgrades is in the graphics department. PGA Tour 2K21 doesn’t disappoint in this regard. From a visuals and presentation standpoint, there’s clearly been a concerted effort to make each round of golf feel like more of a television broadcast.
That starts with your golfer as he or she now looks more defined and lifelike, which the game manages to showcase well with regular close-ups of them lining up a shot with a few practice swings. They will also react to a good or wayward shot with an appropriate nod of the head or pumping of the fist for the ones that go well and a sometimes hilarious stone-faced stare of dismay for those that have gone poorly.
The environments surrounding your golfer have also taken a leap forward as well with 15 licensed TPC courses that have been lovingly captured to include all of their lush detail. From the trimmed comforts of the fairways and greens to the small imprints in the sands your ball makes when it lands in the bunker, there’s a lot of artistry at work in crafting everything around you. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to actually end up in some trees or in a thicket of weeds to fully appreciate it all.
While there aren’t many user-created courses added in the game just yet, it’s likely that hundreds if not thousands will be imported by creators in the coming months. This will be in addition to all of the new courses people will undoubtedly create, surely aided by all of the new objects they will have at their disposal and the ability to now use these objects across all of the different course themes. These additions should only add to the creativity and ingenuity from a community of creators who were already pretty amazing at putting together both re-creations of real courses from across the world and dreaming up new courses, whether those were realistic or wildly fantastical ones.
What’s a round of golf though without someone there to witness it? This is where it really helps that PGA Tour 2K21 has now added crowds of people who gather around the fairways and greens to get a better look at you in action. It may not be the biggest feature to some, but it does make it feel more like you’re participating in an important event, especially when you see people filling the grandstands in PGA Tour events. The sounds of their swelling murmurs as a putt approaches the hole is invigorating. The only thing really missing is someone screaming “Bababooey!” after a drive.
The commentary team of Luke Elvy and Rich Beem lend some legitimacy to your events, but it’s man on the ground John McCarthy who remains the most underrated color guy in sports with his brand of dry snark and occasionally incorrect premature assessments of your shots.
MyPlayer Progression & Customization
The progression system for your created golfer in PGA Tour 2K21 will look pretty familiar to anyone who played TGC 2019. You earn XP and in-game currency by playing rounds. The XP that accumulates will keep your golfer leveling up, and this will unlock clothing items and clubs at regular intervals that you can wear and use. Or you can use the coins you earn to purchase clothing and clubs instead. The most important thing with this progression system is that you can’t unlock or purchase better attributes in any way, so buying coins will only really help you in a purely cosmetic sense and not at all with your skills.
There are definitely more brands at your disposal when trying to decide on a wardrobe for your golfer, with companies like Under Armour, Puma and Ralph Lauren offering to outfit you in everything from tops, pants, shoes, belts, hats and wristwatches. Along with being able to sculpt your face and body pretty much any way you want (still not sure why I can’t create a bigger John Daly type of golfer though), there are more than enough items of clothing and accessories here to ensure that your golfer can be truly unique. It’s also likely that even more items will be added after the game’s release to keep things fresh.
There is one way you can maybe help your golf game with in-game currency and that’s by purchasing (or unlocking) the right clubs for your golf bag. All clubs (aside from putters) in the game now have attributes that are designed to be balanced in such a way so that none are necessarily better than others but simply offer you different strengths and weaknesses. If you’re someone who favors distance, there’s a club for you but you’ll have to be willing to sacrifice something like control or shot shaping malleability in the process. It’s an effective system that allows for some individuality without offering advantages to anyone. When you decide on clubs you like, you can then further customize them by adding some color to your grips and shafts.
PGA Tour Career
One of the biggest draws of PGA Tour 2K21 is sure to be the opportunity to compete on the PGA Tour against real pros, and the mode delivers on its promise by including scans of 12 real tour members and the names — if not the likenesses — of plenty of others. If you choose to forego Q School and the Korn Ferry Tour, where you can get your feet wet before stepping up to the big leagues, you can jump right into the PGA Tour to start your career. With a schedule of over 30 events, you’ll accrue points depending on how you fare in each event. How you finish will determine where you are on the season leaderboard for the FedEx Cup, which will have you vying for the chance to compete in the playoffs. There are a lot of good options to help customize your tour experience too, including ones to adjust the difficulty of your AI opponents and also tweak the variance in their scores from one event to the next.
As you proceed through the schedule, you’ll develop rivalries with some of your fellow tour members that will task you with trying to best them in a number of categories over the course of events. You’ll also develop relationships with sponsors, and these will allow you to choose the difficulty of their goals that you will need to complete over the next few events in order to earn a reward from that sponsor. Both of these systems work nicely in giving you tangible targets to reach alongside the main one of winning each event, though the rivalry one does seem a little one-sided in that it appears you can never really be bested by your rivals as they never earn any rivalry points themselves.
PGA Tour 2K21 Review: What I Don’t Like
Online Society Customization
There wasn’t a ton of customization already in TGC 2019 when it came to Online Societies — a mode where you can design your own seasons and compete against others online in events — but it somehow seems as if there’s almost less customization in Online Societies now in PGA Tour 2K21. The good news is you can now restrict members to all playing on a certain difficulty if you’re after a fair competition for everyone. Also, you’re still able to create your own logo for your society, though the options in the creative suite for this do appear to be a little more limited than before.
But you can no longer use your society funds to purchase a clubhouse for your society. One of the pleasures and challenges of having a society in TGC 2019 was attracting enough people to play regularly in your events so that you could re-invest all the funds made from entry and membership fees into the most expensive and lavish clubhouse available. Now where are all of my valued members supposed to hang out when they’re done playing?
No Playoffs In Events
As was the case in TGC 2019, any ties at the top of the leaderboard in your career events in PGA Tour 2K21 will be left as ties, though with your golfer being awarded the victory if you should happen to find yourself in any such situations. It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t have added some sort of playoff hole(s) to decide the ties instead, as these scenarios inherently have the kind of tension and excitement that can create memorable moments for your career highlights.
Quite frankly, the replay system in PGA Tour 2K21 feels like a relic from a different generation of game. The expectation is to be able to take control to view a shot from every angle and re-live those magical moments in slow motion when you like. But the one here doesn’t offer any such bells and whistles, instead merely presenting a handful of angles in regular time that you have limited power to manipulate.
Fortunately, the game offers built-in replays of your most spectacular shots by default, but it’d be preferable to have modern replay functionality where you can slowly break down every second of the action.
PGA Tour 2K21 Review: Bottom Line
If you enjoyed TGC 2019, chances are you’ll feel that PGA Tour 2K21 is an improvement in pretty much every respect. And if you haven’t played any of the The Golf Club games, or if you found them difficult to pick up and play, PGA Tour 2K21 does a superlative job of making an easily accessible golf game that folks can pick up and play before ratcheting up the difficulty to their liking.
It’s relieving to see HB Studios has not gone full 2K and tried to implement microtransactions into its progression system, but instead opted to stay true to a balanced game where there’s no substitute for execution. At a time where the majority of sports games have built-in player ratings and RNG baked into their gameplay, it’s downright refreshing to find one that continues to encourage people to get better only by playing the game and refining their efforts. Whenever you have a bad hole or round, you generally know what you’ve done wrong and what you need to do to correct it.
There are some areas that could use some improvement or expansion, and others that feel like they haven’t received as much attention since TGC 2019, but the fundamentals have been as finely tuned as you’d expect from a a game that’s had a few releases now.
Just as those young guns on the PGA Tour are all chasing the legacy of Tiger, every golf video game has to come to terms with the fact that they are trying to run down the legend of the Tiger Woods titles of the past. With PGA Tour 2K21, we look to finally have a real contender.
(Note: Because I was provided an early review copy of the game, there didn’t appear to really be anyone on the servers to test the online modes, though I did try out the matchmaking to no avail. We’ll have more analysis of online play in a future article.)