by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
"Golf, the adult version of an Easter egg hunt"
I don’t get to play as much golf as I used to, and even if I wanted to, I am currently prohibited from doing so due to COVID restrictions. In real life, I’m a weekend hacker, criss-crossing the fairways until I reach the green. My years of mini golf do seem to have helped me once I get there though. But in video game form, I could always compete with the best golfers in the world, matching it with Greg Norman, John Daly and even Tiger Woods in his heyday. And as such, I have been eagerly awaiting the release of PGA Tour 2K21 so that I can get a regular golfing fix and match it with the likes of cover athlete Justin Thomas.
PGA Tour 2K21 comes with a range of game modes, but the meat of the game comes in the form of the career mode (or myCareer as it is known). After customising your avatar’s looks, nationality and handedness (or choosing from one of the pre-set characters), golfers will head off to the Korn Ferry Q-school Tour, where they will compete with other hopefuls looking for a place on the lucrative PGA Tour. Once accepted into the PGA, it will then be time to compete against some of the world’s best golfers.
After winning or finishing inside the top ten in several tournaments, players will then be tasked with cultivating relationships with sponsors. Sponsors will ask players to complete various objectives such as scoring a certain amount or birdies in a round, or finish within the top ten of a certain tournament. Completing these tasks will reward the golfer with items of clothing and equipment made by the sponsor. There are three levels of sponsorship deals with each of the famous sporting brands available in the game, with the top-tier deals having tougher goals to meet, but offering up greater rewards.
The clothing that can be won (or even purchased) does not affect how you play, but does allow you to style your character however you choose. From shoes to hats, and everything in between gamers can kit themselves out like the pros. The equipment that can purchased or received as part of sponsorship deals however, can impact your play. Clubs each have an array of stats that will differentiate it from others. Some will enable players to hit further, but this will often come at the expense of accuracy on the fairway.
The rounds are presented in a television style broadcast, which, for the most part follow your player (or players in multiplayer matches) around the course. Commentators Rich Beam and Luke Levy do a wonderful job of setting the scene as you tee up for each hole. Their commentary matches the play superbly, telling you when you have hit a great shot, but also letting everyone know when you have fallen short of expectation. Play will intermittently shift between your avatar and other stars on the course, providing highlights from those players. This switching back and forth can halt your momentum slightly but it does liven up the presentation. Their commentary can start being repetitive after a few rounds though, and I was reasonably disappointed that they kept referring to my character as ‘they’, rather than he or she. I understand that doing so would have reduced the number of lines they would have had to record, but it does take away from some of the atmosphere.
The developers at HB Studios have done a great job of making the game accessible to gamers of all levels though. The basics are simple to learn, and players are walked through a series of tutorials that enable them to learn the finer details of golf. It is these extra skills that will help build your golf game, particularly on the higher difficulty settings.
“It takes a lot of balls to golf the way I do”
PGA Tour 2K21 also lets gamers select one of six difficulty settings, allowing them to play at their own ability, before moving up to a higher difficulty once they have mastered all the skills. Players can also customise various aspects of difficulty, so they can tailor the difficulty to their needs. The Beginner difficulty is a great way for rookies of the game to get started, with a wide swing bar (meaning that your shot will rarely stray from your hit target), light winds and a putting preview for each putt if they so choose. But as you move your avatar up the difficulty levels, the assistance starts to diminish. After starting on beginner, I was carving up the courses, picking up Birdies and even Eagles at will. But upon switching to Pro Am (two difficulty settings higher), I was beginning to play like I do in real life: hitting the rough more often, occasionally slicing a ball into the next fairway, and missing relatively simple putts that I could have completed with my eyes closed on Beginner. With a bit of practise and the use of the real-time hints and tips, I was able to again be competitive with the likes of Sergio Garcia and Patrick Cantlay.
Apart from the myCareer mode, PGA Tour 2K21 has a host of other game styles. Gamers can play single courses on their own or locally with friends, but can also compete online with other golfers. But it's not just the usual stroke play that can be played. Golfers get to choose between stableford, match play, skins or even scramble (also known as Ambrose). These additional modes certainly add a touch of novelty from the standard fair.
The game upon release comes with 15 licensed courses. Each have their own style. Some of them have wide open fairways such as the TPC Summerlin course in Las Vegas, whilst others have a tight feel with tree-lined fairways impeding your route to the green. Then there are the courses such as TPC Sawgrass in Florida with its famous green on the 17th hole almost completely surrounded by water. Each of the courses provide their own challenges for the players.
But PGA Tour 2K21 also lets you become a course designer, although, I found that this was probably the weakest part of the game. Rather than designing a course from scratch, PGA Tour 2K21 provides a series of pre-selected options including the terrain theme (desert, tropical, grassland), and the number of holes. Once the basic course is set, sliders will determine further options such as the number of trees, the size of the green, length of the grass and width of the fairway. This can be done for each individual hole, so there can be quite a variation across your course. Weather effects can also be selected. The interface on this isn’t all that user friendly, but with a little bit of tinkering, gamers will be able to produce a course that could match the quality of the PGA courses that ship with the game. And it is quite enjoyable to play on a course you have designed yourself and then share it with others.
“Get in the Hole”
As golf games go, PGA Tour 2K21 matches any other that I have played recently. And although Wii Sports Golf will still get a run with the younger members of my family, the ease of which rookies can get into PGA Tour 2K21 makes it a game for everyone. Whether you want to play on Beginner and have all the visual aids, or you want to play on Legend where you’ll have to do everything for yourself, PGA Tour 2K21 provides you with that option. With some lovely courses, simple controls, a range of game styles and a slick TV broadcast style presentation, PGA Tour 2K21 will enable golfers the chance to keep hitting the links, even when they’re stuck at home in lockdown or due to bad weather.
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Wonderful presentation, allows for golfers of all skills
Course designer isn’t overly intuitive. Some repetitive commentary