Review: EA SPORTS Rory McIlroy PGA Tour (PS4)

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Title: EA SPORTS Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (29.4 GB)
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: EA SPORTS
Developer: EA Tiburon
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
EA SPORTS Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is also available on Xbox One.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 431 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
When the latest generation of consoles came along, the EA SPORTS NHL franchise skipped the PS4 and Xbox One for the first year while still releasing a PS3 and Xbox 360 version. The PGA Tour franchise took a slightly different path taking the full year off on all consoles, old and new, to focus on new tech and to create an entirely new game from the ground up for the current generation.

Unfortunately, much like the NHL franchise, the first PGA Tour game in two years has come back a bit thin in terms of features that series fans have come to expect. It isn’t quite the dire situation that NHL 15 was but you should still be expecting a smaller feature set than before, at least this first time out on the PS4.

What is available however is a great first step and in some areas a huge leap forward, one of the biggest being what EA is tagging as “Golf Without Limits”. Two big things make this possible: they’re using the Frostbite 3 Engine and this game doesn’t need to be gimped in any way to include the same feature set in last generation versions (since there are none). Because of this, the entire course can be loaded at once. Let me repeat that because it’s important: the entire course can be loaded at once. Why is this important you ask? Because you can hit the ball literally anywhere at any time, even through the trees and into the next fairway. As long as it isn’t considered out of bounds by each course’s rules, you play the ball where it lies, wherever that may be.

That alone is a massive improvement over every previous version of the game. Instead of the game deciding you’re out of bounds because you left the hole that was loaded, you can fight your way through it and try to save par no matter where you land.

The other great leap is a side effect of the entire course being loaded, and that’s no load times between holes. How much time did we virtual golfers waste tapping the Cross button with mad impatience waiting for the next hole to load? Well, according to EA SPORTS about fifteen minutes per round. I can’t overstate what a big change this is and how much better it makes the entire experience.

… twelve real life golfers is next to nothing …
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room though shall we? Rumors have been flying around the internet that there are only twelve golfers and eight courses included on the disc and that’s partly true. Those numbers account for real world courses and golfers. Adding in fantasy brings the number to seventeen golfers and twelve courses on disc, with a thirteenth (TPC Scottsdale) available as a pre-order bonus course which will be available to all users sixty days after launch.

While that sounds a little better when you add them all together, that’s still not a lot of content. It sounds even worse when you consider that the original PGA Tour Golf on the SEGA Genesis in 1991 had sixty real life PGA Tour pros. Granted, that game only had four courses and one of those was a fantasy course, but still, with two years to make this game, twelve real life golfers is next to nothing.

What really becomes important then is how the game plays and what options are actually available to you as a player. Most important is control, and in this you’ll be given plenty of options. Arcade style is likely the one most players are used to and familiar with as it’s been the staple of the PGA Tour series for years now. The Classic style brings back the old three-click mechanic of early golf games but with a semi-circle to simulate the arc of the swing. This style also removes the ability to add boost or spin to the ball, but that can be remedied as you’ll see in a moment.

… unlock commentary specific to that character type …
The next option is the Tour style which is as real as it gets. Just about every assist is turned off and you’re pretty much on your own. Your swing is determined by the speed and accuracy of your left stick movements. No zoom, no aiming arc, no putt reads, etc. This one is for anyone looking for a ‘true’ golf simulation.

If none of these fit your style, or you just want to tweak something in any of the modes a Custom style is now available and you can save several different styles if you’d like. For example, if the Arcade style suits you but has become a bit too easy, you can turn off the ball arc or the putting grid. It’s a nice way to tweak the game to suit your own playstyle.



The menu choices for gameplay include the Prologue which is a walkthrough of the gameplay options using highlights from Rory McIlroy’s career and the first thing you’ll actually play when starting up the game for the first time. You can also choose the Play Now option which lets you select a golfer, a course, and some options to just jump into a quick round or two.

The Pro Career is back as expected and has some interesting options. You start by choosing a backstory for your custom character, either Prodigy, Collegiate, or Instructor. The choices you make unlock commentary specific to that character type that you’ll hear when on the course.

One very important note with the Pro Career is that the new ‘quick rounds’ feature is on by default. This takes a page out of the Be A Pro-type modes in sports games and it will simulate a number of holes each round based on your ratings and attributes bonuses. You’ll end up playing a handful of holes each round allowing you to breeze through a career quicker.

The downside is that you’re not actually playing so it’s harder to make up ground when you’re trying to climb the leaderboards in a tournament. To change this to allow you to play every hole, you need to go into the Career History menu and select the Round Type option.

Creating your golfer is (much like the rest of the game) pretty thin. It feels like the very first ‘create a golfer’ introduced in the series. Your choices are exceedingly basic: eight hair styles with a handful of standard colors, three choices each for body type and height, twelve skin tones and eleven (mostly ugly) generic heads with a few eye color choices. That’s really it. Don’t expect your golfer to look anything like you, but at least you can choose a male or female golfer so that’s something I guess.

… a lot of pop in of textures and landscape …
Fortunately all of your attributes, clothes, clubs, and everything else simply unlock as you level up your golfer. Speaking of clothing, one nice touch is the ability to select different outfits for Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday reflecting real life a bit more. Now your golfer will be wearing something different for each day of the tournament. It’s nothing major but it does add a bit to the realism.

You’re not playing for any sponsorships this time around, you’re simply levelling up your golfer and attempting to win tournaments. The attribute bonuses are determined by the type of golfer you want to be and they’ll bump up some attributes while knocking down others. You have four to choose from right out of the gate and others will unlock as you level up.

The other big addition is the Night Club Challenge mode. This mode gets very arcade-y with night time golf, neon lights, targets, and crazy boosts. You’ll attempt to complete challenges and earn stars while using boosts like nitro, nudge, remote control, sticky ball and more. It’s a nice diversion and some of the scenarios can help you with your game but overall it feels like a bit of an odd addition to a franchise that’s been steeped in realism over the past twenty-four years.

The golf itself plays very well with physics working beautifully, for the most part anyway. Every so often if I’d catch a branch the ball would often drop in a strange way. Maybe it was moving as expected but the camera movement and sometimes lack of sound didn’t keep up with it causing a weird disconnect. I’m not sure exactly what was going on in these instances though because the camera, sound, and trajectory never seemed to work in harmony in these instances.

… they’ll speak about how you fared the day before …
Visuals:
As mentioned before, EA SPORTS Rory McIlroy PGA Tour uses the Frostbite 3 engine and because of this, it’s easily the best looking PGA Tour game to date. However, there is a lot of pop in of textures and landscape around the courses though it’s mostly, but not entirely, relegated to intro screens and flyovers. The lighting gets a big bump obviously and the courses can look downright breathtaking at times but you’ll still see the odd shimmer here and there in places it just shouldn’t be.

The real life golfers are a bit hit or miss, but the limited animations when walking the fairway and such are present as they’ve always been. Expect to see your golfer point out the hottie to you caddie every couple of holes. You’ll know it when you see it, and then see it again, and again, and again. The crowds actually look good too and a lot less copy/paste than in the past. Wildlife, that’s actually interactive at times, is a welcome addition to the game as well, bringing courses to life like never before.

Audio:
Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo from The Golf Channel and NBC tournament coverage take on the commentary duties and do a pretty good job overall. The system put in place is smart enough that they’ll speak about how you fared the day before with the current hole you’re on.

The back and forth between the two almost always feels natural and well placed. There are times when they can’t keep up with what you’re doing, especially if you’re trying to speed through a round. But for the most part, it’s solid.

Unfortunately there will be repetition and while it’s usually kept to a minimum there are times when it becomes annoying. Particularly when you’re in a tournament and they give you the same story about a specific hole four days in a row.

Earlier in the review I mentioned that when you start a pro career and create a golfer the backstory you select will change the commentary you hear. This actually blends in nicely during tournaments as they’ll speak about your background and work in some good color commentary around it during the proceedings.

Music is much like it’s always been with generic instrumental tracks though they do try to spice things up a bit with tracks designed specifically for modes like the Night Club Challenge. The rest of the audio is you standard golf fare with the sounds of nature, crowd reactions, and drivers and golf balls all realistically represented.

Online/Multiplayer:
The online and multiplayer options are, like the rest of the game, a bit thin. Local and online head to head multiplayer is available for up to four players. When playing online everything is handled as it has been the past few years with everyone playing the hole at the same time. You see different colored arcs representing each of the players as they take their shots and you wait for the final player to sink their putt before moving on as a group to the next hole.

The Online Tournaments should actually keep people busy for a long time. They’re broken down into Daily and Weekly tournaments but whichever you choose you’ll have one round only to post your best score. The interesting thing is that each tournament is further broken down into the three different gameplay styles. So you’ll be required to play in the style chosen for that particular tournament, either Arcade, Classic, or Tour.

… the overall lack of features tends to hurt …
To further add to the challenge, random settings are turned off or changed for each of the tournaments. For example, you could play a Daily Arcade tournament with strong winds or a Weekly Classic tournament with the putting grids turned off. It’s set up as a great way to keep people engaged and have them checking back daily.

One minor issue I had with the entire online tournament system came at the completion of your round. You’ll see you score for the round, which you’ve been seeing the whole way through, and then you’ll be unceremoniously dumped back into the main menu. To see where you stand for the day or week, you need to go back into the Online Tournament menu and find the match you were just playing. This is something that definitely needs to be fixed.

Conclusion:
Much like NHL 15, the first PGA TOUR to hit the PlayStation 4 feels like a work in progress. There’s a good, solid foundation to build on but a few walls are missing and the electrical isn’t done yet. We went from sixteen courses on the disc in 2013 to twenty courses last year and now we’ve dropped back to twelve (thirteen if you include the DLC). I know there’s a ton of effort put into making the courses but I’d hate to think that maybe we could have had some more if the Night Club Challenge had been dropped.

There’s at least enough variety in the courses and the online tournaments to keep you busy for a while but the overall lack of features tends to hurt when you consider that this game had an extra year in the oven and only one generation of consoles to focus on.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

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  • I agree with the review overall. It’s a decent game and there’s a promising base, but the lack of real life courses/golfers is unacceptable. Plus IMO the likenesses are worse than almost every sports game this gen. Admittedly, these sort of complaints won’t be a problem for many players, but for golf nuts like myself it’s disappointing. The load time elimination is a complete game-changer though, and I’ll probably sink a lot of hours into this.

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