Review: PGA Tour 2K21

There has always been a big following for PGA Tour games and even golf games in general. The last major published PGA Tour game was basically left in limbo in a barebones effort as fans were left reeling for a bit. Developer HB Studios came along and introduced a community-driven golf simulation with The Golf Club. The team built on that with The Golf Club 2019 by introducing a tie-in with the PGA Tour and a Career Mode. Now 2K has joined up with HB Studios and rebranded the franchise to PGA Tour 2K21. In what is seemingly the fourth offering of The Golf Club, a bit has been implemented here. Either way, I can’t seem to put the game down.

PGA Tour 2K21 does feature 12 of the top PGA Tour professionals and this lineup is headlined by current FedEx Cup leader Justin Thomas, who is also the cover athlete. You will also see other well-known names such as Matt Kuchar, Ian Poulter and Jim Furyk. As for courses, there are fifteen officially-licensed courses that included TPC Sawgrass, Quail Hollow and TPC Scottsdale. These are recognizable courses by pure golf fans, but lacks the big name attention. The implementation of the PGA Tour remains about the same as The Golf Club 2, as it feels minimal and disconnected.

Names that you won’t see in this game included Rory McIllroy, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. What’s even more strange is when you play a tournament and look at the standings, you’ll see names like Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. These are all big name guys. These golfers aren’t featured in the listing for the top professionals because those twelve actually have player models in the game. One of the best things any sports game has done in recent times is incorporate real-time highlights from the match. PGA Tour 2K21 will interrupt play to show a full highlight of some of these players on other holes making great shots. This actually brings a sense of relation as to what’s going on in the match rather than just showing a score card. Imagine if other sports games had this to help tie in the season? The replays are simply wonderful.

As for the courses, again, none of these will blow your mind. Not that the course designs aren’t great, but you don’t have the attention grabbers. There is no Augusta, Kiawah Island Ocean Course, Pine Valley or Pinehurst. Both of these issues could be solved over time, though, considering this is 2K’s first year of publishing the title and it’s also the last year of the current generation. The game does carry over the Golf Course Designer that made The Golf Club so popular to begin with. All previously-created courses from the previous two games will carry over allowing for an infinite amount of playability. Creating courses is easy as it’s automated. Players will choose their scenic backdrops and use slide meters to adjust the amount of obstacles, terrains and all the various aspects that are accounted for. It still takes away from the overall PGA vibe of the game, but will have players golfing forever.

What does carry over in PGA Tour 2K21 is the Career Mode. 2K has officially instilled its culture by renaming the mode MyPLAYER as the focus is solely on your player and what attire they have. This is a strange way to design a Career Mode as you will play matches and earn XP and money that will be used to unlock more clothes and more clubs. 2K made sure to have the top brand names signed for some official merchandise, but there isn’t an abundant amount here. Players will find clothes and clubs from the likes of Taylormade, Bridgestone and Adidas amungst others. The created player will not get any stats boost and some of the clubs that can be unlocked or purchased later may not be better then what you already used. The individualistic play and look of your player will determine the style of golf you play. Also most of the courses on the schedule are fantasy courses from HB Studios as they’re mixed in with the fifteen PGA courses.

Players have the option of four different tours: Q-School, Korn Ferry Tour, Korn Ferry Tour Championship and the PGA Tour. There will be no player highlights on the other tours where there aren’t any PGA Pros, so jumping straight into the PGA is the best experience. Players will accrue FedEx Points in the PGA Championship with the FedEx Playoffs closing out the season. MyPLAYER also introduces Rivals as you will strive to beat rivals throughout the season for more XP. There are also various sponsorships to sign up for that will reward money. This is all a solid introduction with MyPLAYER, but leaves a lot to be desired going forward.

With what was also an issue in the previous title, the ability to play as the PGA Tour Pros is non-existent, further taking away from the PGA experience. In playing offline with friends, there will need to be guest MyPLAYER’s. Due to the lack of leveling up players, at least your friends won’t be at a disadvantage outside of the golf clubs. The good news is that there is a plethora of match types to play on. Stroke, Stableford, Match Play, Skins, Four Ball, Alternate Shot and Scramble will all allow to shake things up for up to four players. Strangely, the online portion feels left out. Via matchmaking, players have a choice of Head-to-Head, Teams (2v2) and Wagers (Up to 4). The option to create a private lobby exists if you have friends, but the game has no lobby system online. To make matters worse, the Pro difficulty is the default difficulty required for online matchmaking. I will touch on the difficulties in a moment, but do know if you’re not sufficient with Pro difficulty, you’re liable to not have a good time.

For online matches, you’ll be viewing each person’s shot. There’s a timer to complete the hole and if time runs out, you move on. Games in the past would have multiple users join and everyone would shoot simultaneously. I feel the option should be there to do both. You can view what club your opposing players selected as well. You will not be able to setup matches and after finishing a match, if the opposing players choose to stick around, the game will throw you back onto the same course. The online experience is limited for real-time playing. I also encountered overlay bugs online such as the scoreboard not providing an actual score. PGA Tour 2K21 did include Online Societies, which is basically a league-type setup that allows an administrator to create a season and players play at their own pace. Wagering in-game money is also an option.

Putting the clubs to the ball is a much more detailed experience in HB Studios games and that’s no different here. PGA Tour 2K21 does incorporate different difficulty levels. You will have the most fun playing on the easiest difficulty as you focus on swinging the club straight and judging your approach. As you begin to up the difficulty, other factors come into play such as swing speed and swing plane along with attempting to judge a ball roll on the hole. If you try to start on Pro, however, this mode will punish you entirely too much. Even when you feel your swing is consistent, the ball will somehow find a bunker or the rough. The wind will knock it way off course. The tiniest of details can ruin your experience. The higher difficulties might be perfect for those that love going onto an actual golf course and tossing their clubs out of frustration, because that’s what the higher difficulties feel like. I say this because, as mentioned above, the Pro difficulty is needed for online matchmaking.

Once you find that sweet spot and start having consistent games, the game becomes addicting. Judging your approach perfectly and landing a chip from twenty feet out or nailing that long putt because you were able to read the green properly will have you sailing. The game immediately throws you into a tutorial upon first boot. There are different shot types and adjustments, but I didn’t find myself using the adjustments such as flop or splash that often because the result was nothing near what I needed it to be. You also have the option to put a fade or draw into a shot, but the physics once the ball lands didn’t seem correct. This was good to get around obstacles, but for obstacles such as trees or brush, the game mostly lets you shoot through them. Bunker shots don’t feel any different than just hitting out of the rough and those should be the toughest to make. Lastly, the ball roll mechanic is either inconsistent or not enough information was provided on the tutorial. The way it works seems to change depending on the club. It isn’t as simple as EA’s games were and I feel there needs to be a better way to implement this. Overall, as you build confidence, the game of golf is great.

The visuals did receive a significant improvement, but some aspects are hidden. The lighting is much improved as it helps to bring the courses to life, but the lack of HDR is surprising. The game is bright to begin with, but HDR could possibly make things even better. Player models look fantastic, especially the PGA Tour pros. The facial animations along with the details are all accounted for and look realistic. The team added 3D grass this year and the overall look meshes well together up close. Objects at a distance aren’t nearly as polished and that includes the crowds. If you own a higher-tier console, there are actual graphical options that make a huge difference and didn’t affect performance. PGA Tour 2K21 includes depth-of-field, SSAO and Bloom options for lighting but also anti-aliasing. If you have a PS4 Pro and leave all of this on default, the exterior objects look horrific and pixelated. I enabled temporal AA and it smoothed all of this out without a real noticeable drop in frame rate. It’s strange why all the options cranked weren’t set as default. You will still get the highest resolution with the best quality.

While the game feels like watching a golf match on television, it still lacks that PGA connection. The presentation, even without the replays, perfectly mimics a television broadcast. From the camera angles and cutaways to The Golf Club animations, it really is the complete package. The problem is that the game just doesn’t incorporate the PGA Tour or a FedEx graphic outside of the initial opening of the match. Some courses have their own presentations and logos, and they’re absent too. What helps to complete that golf match feel are the commentators. Rich Beem and Luke Elvy are the two main guys calling the match with John McCarthy doing the sideline reporting. They bring the proper sound to complete those special moments. It was mentioned that some dialogue would only be heard once, and while this might be true, a ton of dialogue is recycled. If I hear one more time that my drive off the tee is just like smooth jazz, I’m going to make sure that genre of music is off my playlist. You can tune out the actual dialogue as the voice levels all blend together to help create the perfect golf atmosphere, but some of the cringier stuff will stick out. The soundtrack, on the other hand, might be the best that accommodates a golf game. It perfectly captures the feel of golf while it feels a bit more modernized and upbeat.

Closing Comments:

Despite its downfalls and legacy design issues, I simply cannot put down PGA Tour 2K21. Much like the previous Golf Club title, this is a golf game with smidgen of the PGA Tour tacked on it. MyPLAYER is designed to be a individualistic experience, but a lack of depth on the branded items and the fact that there’s no leveling up the player leaves the long-term aspect in question. Couple that with a season that is mostly full of fantasy courses with some mid-tier PGA Tour courses thrown in and those expecting a full on PGA experience will be disappointed. What matters the most here, however, is the golf and the proper representation of a golf broadcast. The addiction of building confidence until you find that sweet spot and the ability to nail shots that you crafted in your mind makes it worth it. Just avoid higher difficulties until you get comfortable, but I also feel getting too serious about your play style may ruin the experience that’s otherwise extremely fun. In the end PGA Tour 2K21 is a great game of golf and a promising start to the new franchise, and with 2K onboard, we should continue to see more of the PGA positively implemented in the future.