Publisher: EA Sports
Review Platform: Xbox One
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Just in time for The Open Championship (starting July 16th), EA Sports has launched their perennial golf title with a new face for the franchise. Formerly known as Tiger Woods PGA Tour, EA Sports took a year off their otherwise annual release schedule in hopes that their next-gen debut would set the pace for the following years’ releases. Running on the Frostbite 3 engine, the newly dubbed Rory McIlroy PGA Tour manages to be only somewhat aesthetically pleasing and leaves even more to be desired on the gameplay front.
From the outset, the prologue of the game introduces you to some of the changes that have been implemented since EA Sports’ last installment including their new engine and the new options players have to play the game; the classic three-click swing – an analog stick based swing system with power boosts and spin control post contact – and a more realistic analog stick approach which removes all assists and heightens the sensitivity. The level of customization available in terms of gameplay is the pinnacle of what this series has seen thus far. The prologue does an adequate job of getting even the newest of players acquainted with the gameplay, and then the game sets you out to try to master the links.
The 8 real-world courses included are more photo-realistic than ever and require no loading screens after entering the game. But the presence of poorly rendered textures and object pop-ins quickly take away from the immersion of the game, reminding you that you are holding a controller and not a 9-iron. The improved lighting allows the player to appreciate the care and attention that has been given to every inch of the course, from the sun reflecting off of water hazards to the camera capturing the glimmer of light bouncing off of the back of your putter as you begin your stroke. However, once your eyes move beyond the horizon to the sky, the realism is lost. There is a portrait-like quality to the skies, with the clouds appearing as though they are painted onto the blue backdrop rather than moving realistically across the sky. The lack of attention given in this area stands in stark contrast to the evident care given to courses themselves.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour also fails to capture the difficulty of being a professional golfer. Even with the swing set to the highest difficulty and all assists turned off, the ball consistently flies straight and true to distance even if your swing is slightly off-kilter. Golf in real life is punishing towards mistakes, and while playing, I never truly felt the sense of pressure getting out of the rough or having to hit a narrow fairway. The game doesn’t force you to draw or fade your shots in sticky situations or around dog-legs, it gives no sense of reward in shaping your shot against the wind, and lag putting a 50-foot putt to within inches of the hole felt like tapping the ball in.
Much like EA’s NHL 15, the new installment is defined much more by what is missing rather than what has been added. While it is nice to not have to wait for the next hole to load while playing a round, the game lacks PGA Legends and LPGA golfers (but you can play as a Battlefield soldier!), an in-depth career mode that allows you to play practice rounds, and basic customization options in the create-a-pro. The biggest short-coming of the title is its failure to include Augusta National. Due to licensing issues, EA Sports was not able to secure the rights to the most storied golf course in history, and its absence leaves a huge hole in the final product. The Frostbite 3 engine would have allowed for the most realistic representation of the annual Masters Tournament.
In an attempt to fill the void left by Augusta’s absence, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour includes 4 fantasy courses that take you from the beauty of the Grand Canyon to the danger of EA’s Battlefield series. Paracel Storm is the Par-3 course designed around the Battlefield 4 map of the same name shown during E3 2014. With grenades marking the tee boxes, helicopters flying overhead, and teeing off from a battleship onto a beach side green makes you want to exchange your lob wedge for an AR-15.
In terms of modes both online and offline, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour again comes up short of the green. The career mode removes some of the most basic features of older installments of the game. The player no-longer has to work his way up through the ranks of the amateur golf tournaments and earn his spot in the PGA Tour, a quick qualifying tournament yields an opportunity to move to the big show, even if you miss the cut. There is no schedule that points you to upcoming tournaments and no fanfare when your pro finishes on the top of the leader board at a tournament. Players have no option to play a practice round before stepping between the ropes on Thursday to tee off. This feature is especially important for players who are using the Tour set-up that does not allow you to pull the camera forward to the landing spot. A practice round would allow the golfer to map out his shots and find objects to guide his aim, but that option has been removed. Online, there is no longer an option to create country clubs or play any mode of golf outside of match play and stroke play (all previously found in older versions of the game).
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is the first installment of what will surely be an annual series for EA Tiburon, and I’ll chalk this year’s iteration up as a learning experience. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 was a feature rich installment of the series, and hopefully with their new face of the franchise they can find their way back to what made this series fun to begin with; deep modes and great courses. Reaching a new agreement with Augusta National would be a huge step in the right direction.
It is tough to tell if this is a solid foundation for EA Sports would want to build on. At least with the aforementioned NHL 15, the gameplay was where it felt that it should be, but that isn’t the case with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. If the hope for this franchise is annualization, a 9-month development turn around doesn’t seem like nearly enough time to fix the glaring issues in this year’s title. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour was not the fairway shot it was hoping for as it stepped up to the first tee on Gen-8 consoles.