PGA Tour 2K21 Review – In The Rough, But Near The Green
2K has added golf to its list of 2K Sports title with PGA Tour 2K21. But it’s not out of nowhere. The folks at HB Studios has been making The Golf Club for two years, with last year seeing them acquiring the PGA Tour license.
PGA Tour 2K21 is a continuation of what The Golf Club was. And in some regards, it excels with its portrayal of the action out on the tee. But everything else around the game really, really needs another pass to make it more of inviting video game rather than just be a sim for golfers and golf fans.
For context, I do have some affinity with golf. My dad still plays it and growing up, he used to buy the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games. I played those games, and genuinely enjoyed those. So a lot of the comparisons will be based on the PS2 titles from 20 years ago.
PGA Tour 2K21 looks okay. In some angles. The golf courses look remarkably detailed and well-realised when you compare them to the actual counterparts. But there’s something about the graphics that is off. No, it’s not fair to just say “it’s running on Unity Engine”.
There’s too much aliasing going on- so many jagged edges. And there’s plenty of trees that suffer from that. The lighting is a bit off too. Golfers look flat when not in direct light, and textures can shimmer and flicker slightly. You can easily see trees with low-res 2D textures. Fly-by shots have trees and bushes aggressively switch level-of-detail in-and-out for some reason. Shadows don’t look good, especially ones under the cap a golfer is wearing.
In screenshots, the game looks fine, beautiful even. It’s just not as pleasing as you would expect when in motion.
What is utterly disappointing is how barebones the UI, or rather the UX, is in general. Navigating through menus feel awful and cumbersome, a slog that takes too long.. The sound effects that it makes as you scroll through options feel tepid. The delay where the screen is just empty as it loads the next menus are not good.
The worst offender is the course select option for local play. PGA Tour 2K21 features 15 official courses recreating using aerial drone mapping, as well as a few fantasy courses from previous The Golf Club games. I didn’t expect that this course select menu requires an internet connection so it can load each of the header image, each time.
And it loads. So. Slow. You need to go through a few pages and each time you’ll have to wait it slowly populates. Backing out also doesn’t inspire confidence, with the screen going blank for more than 10 seconds sometimes.
If you disconnect from the internet, this particular menu actually loads faster. It still has that long pause before it loads the next page, but definitely much faster and responsive.
However, the presentation is not all bad. I appreciate the commentary box very much. Their deliveries are witty, insightful and it’s not as dry as you would expect from it being about golf.
I love how the commentary can be a bit off with their predictions. There was one time where play-by-play commentator Luke Elvy expects the ball to hit the rough, only for it to bounce off it and land comfortably in the center of the fairway. And his counterpart, Rich Beem, slags him off for the error.
They don’t beat around the bush either. I got slagged off for having abysmal green-in-regulation stat once, and was surprised that they even recorded lines for scores up to at least 12 over. In golf terms, that’s… a really, really bad score.
Rich also called me “Dr. Chipinski” once for my short game performance. That was unexpected.
The commentary box comes alive during the PGA Tour season, giving you a good backdrop about the each of the official course and tournament. Expect a lengthy rambling from the duo about charity and gambling when you reach TPC Summerlin for the first time for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. There’s less to say when you reach The Golf Club fantasy courses, but the two tries to give some banter about the locations in earnest, which I appreciate.
It’s also the only time you’ll see some of the official pro golfers featured in the game. And if you’re unfamiliar with the sport, the commentary duo will fill you in on the detail on what makes each of them a fantastic player.
Where PGA Tour 2K21 shines is when you hit the front and back 9’s. The game still carries over the features that make The Golf Club great. And I’m happy to say that playing golf here is fun. And satisfying.
You use the analog stick (either the right or left, up to your preference) to mimic the swinging motion by flicking the stick down then up. The trick, is that you need to hit them perfectly straight if you want a straight shot. Otherwise, it will veer off to the right or left more than you’d expect.
What this means is that you have to get good with your swing inputs. I had to put in the time in the driving range just to get a good idea how to swing the club straight, which cost me a lot when I just started. Swings keep veering off into the rough, or worse into hazards, and I had to spend time scrambling to just save par. Hence the 12 over scores I managed to get.
However, you can definitely play around this. Your swings keep going to the right too much? Aim more to the left to compensate for your inaccuracy. It’s great that you can do this. And something you should consider when there are high winds, which greatly affect where the ball will lie.
But it only gets you so far. If you want to sink long putts, you better start swinging those clubs straight.
On The Dance Floor
Speaking of which, putting is amazingly satisfying once you get the grips of what the games asks you. There’s no caddy tip here that have you guesstimate how much is a few feet in any direction to get the right line.
You’ll have to read the green. A grid will appear when a green is in range- even if you’re pitching from the fairway still. This grid shows you where the breaks- slopes or inclines- are. It also tells you where it’s angled and how steep it is which determines how far the ball will roll.
Using the grid, you have to estimate where the right line is to get that ball to the hole. It’s hard, but more importantly, it’s not random and definitely something you can get a feel off and get better at the more you play.
There is, however, a handy mechanic to help you out. You can use the Putt Preview to have the game trace a line where the ball goes based on where you are aiming right now, assuming you swing the putter dead accurately straight. It’s pretty overpowered, so you can only use it once per putt.
It’s handy for new players. Make your first guess of aiming the putt, use the Putt Preview to trace a line and see if you get right or not. If not, adjust a bit more of your line and make that putter swing. The longer you play, the more you can just get the feel of where to aim. Maybe this much to the right here, or hit the ball with less power there.
There’s no tap-ins, and you don’t want to concede a bogey after a less than 5ft putt went too fast it bounced off the flag pole, should you forgot to remove it first.
I absolutely love how snappy it is when you’re playing the course. You just move from hole to hole seamlessly. The commentary also can keep up when you play as fast as the game allows you to, they won’t’ stop mid-sentence or cut away as you move faster than they can say what’s going on. So when you’re in the zone, it’s really easy to keep that momentum of continuous birdies going.
The Career Mode offers an option to start at the Junior categories before jumping into the PGA Tour proper. You’ll get to compete at the Korn Ferry Tour Q-School Finals, and then earn the rights to compete at the Korn Ferry Tour. Perform well enough there and you’ll then get to play with the big boys.
The thing is, I see no reason you shouldn’t skip this. I opted for it solely because I needed a reason to play more rounds to get used to the game mechanics, but if you’re a seasoned player, nothing actually happens here. Features like sponsors and rivals are locked until you reached PGA Tour, and there’s nothing outside of the flavour commentary that makes you compelled to spend time in the junior categories. All of the golfers you compete with are generic names too.
Once you reached the PGA Tour, it sounds better on paper than it is. You get to sign sponsorships which gives you extra objectives to hit, with the chance to unlock extra cosmetics or golf clubs if you stay loyal to a brand long enough.
There’s a rivalry system, but it’s just comparing your stats against the few pro golfers included in the game. Beat them in a head-to-head stat comparison and you switch to another, pre-determined rival. The replays will show more of your rival’s shots, but that’s about it with interacting with the pros.
The career mode is a bit too dry, and it could use some extra things on top. Why not let us challenge the pros to a match play, like the old Tiger Woods games? Just some extra, optional side activities outside of the usual tournaments in the calendar can go a long way.
PGA Tour 2K21’s main feature is the new Career Mode discussed earlier.
Outside of that, it’s the same features you’d expect from The Golf Club. You can play online matches or a local match featuring a few different modes. Like skins, stableford and yes, match play. These should be fun when you have a party full of four players. But there’s little incentive to try them out if you’re a solo player.
What surprised me the most is that customisation options are lacking. The character creator is basic at best. The cosmetics, despite having a healthy number of brands signed up, are lacking in quantity and variety. Even the ones locked under sponsorship deals are underwhelming.
I remember the good old days of the Tiger Woods games having more customisation features. Those games even includes custom swing animations (that’s totally in the fantasy realm) and even celebration options. Yes, emotes were a thing, in a sports game, from 20 years ago. I’m surprised given the online nature of the game this isn’t being implemented in PGA Tour 2K21.
I’m not asking for an option to pull a dab after sinking a 30ft putt (though that would be stupid fun to see). Just maybe a few more varieties of a fist bump should suffice.
And you can’t say the game is trying to be as serious as possible, there are hints of wanting to be a bit hip and zany. It’s just not doing it enough.
Another thing to note that there’s no sports-RPG element here as well. Clothing option is purely cosmetic. The only real game-changing aspects is what you have in your golf bag, your loadout, in video game parlance. You can swap out the clubs, driver, pitches, wedges and putter with different brands (each with different stats).
On one hand, it means that progression relies on you as a player getting more skilled and better over time. On the other, there’s not really enough incentives to keep playing, especially if you’re not a fan of the sport. And I feel like there’s more need to be done to woo in players with little interest in golf to give the game a shot.
There is the golf course editor. This is The Golf Club’s most powerful feature, and it returns for PGA Tour 2K21. It’s finicky to use, and you’ll have to get used to seeing a lot of objects getting loaded in repeatedly.
But the editor is robust. There’s an easy way to generate the holes. Or you can get into the nitty-gritty and tweak everything. You can even add props, create golf cart paths using a pathing tool, raise and lower the terrain with multitudes of stamp shapes, put your own bunkers and more. It’s amazingly powerful.
You can also join online societies. Think of it like a guild, or a golf club. These societies can run online tournaments where you can join anytime before the deadline and put your score on the leaderboard. Like a proper golf tournament.
Society owners also can set membership fees, use the in-game currency collected from fees for prize pots in tournaments. It’s an interesting way to get people connected online without really needing to play with other players. And it fits golf so well.
Despite all my gripes about PGA Tour 2K21, I genuinely enjoyed my time with it. At its core is a fantastic portrayal of golf and it plays really well. I may not know enough to say if it’s simulating the right things you’d expect from golf. But from a game mechanics point of view, each piece of the golfing aspects work as intended, requires some amount of familiarity and skill and rewards your time and effort with satisfying results.
Going 12 over and being stuck in the Q-School finals for two seasons in a row, only to then breezing through Kern Ferry School and make it to the PGA Tour was quite the journey for me. I’m playing on default settings aside from adding two rounds for each tournament, and seeing myself progressively getting better is deeply satisfying. I’m more confident with my swings and putt reads after putting in the hours. After two back-to-back tournament wins on the tour, on pure merit, I have to bump up the AI difficulty now that I’m comfortable with the game.
However, there’s not much of a carrot on stick other than that. I have no interest in playing online, and there’s not much to unlock either. So despite all that talk about self-improvement, I don’t see myself playing the game longer other than doing a couple more seasons of the PGA Tour. Which is a shame. The golfing bits are good, but a lot of the things outside it are still lacking, or nor enticing me enough to keep playing.
PGA Tour 2K21 hits a strong swing… but it lands solidly in the rough. There are so many rough edges that stops this from being something that can be enjoyed as a proper video game rather than just a golf sim.
But at its core, the golf mechanics are well realised, rewards skill and satisfying once mastered. Everything about playing the actual game of golf is perfectly crafted. That lie in the rough is near the green, and PGA Tour 2K21 is the kind of golf that can possibly chip in straight into the hole from here.
If you’re coming from The Golf Club, or a genuine golfer who wants a video game equivalent, PGA Tour 2K21 does what you’d expect from it amazingly well. But there’s a long way to go to match the heydays of the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games.
For the first entry of this series, PGA Tour 2K21 sets its foundations well. So it’s a matter of time before it truly becomes the best golf game for everyone.
Reviewed on base PS4. Review copy provided by 2K.