“Blue skies, fresh cut grass, birds chirpin” spoken by Chubbs Peterson from arguably one of the greatest golf films of all time, Happy Gilmore. These three things in essence are what brings a golfer excitement, because it signifies tee time. Sadly, I have not been able to get out to my local course and play a regular round of golf as much as I would like, so PGA Tour 2K21 is the newest title to help me get back on the green. Developer HB Studios Multimedia Ltd under 2K has made a game that caters to the serious golfer, the leisurely golfer and simply put, gamers. They have taken it back to EA’s Tiger Woods days, focusing on making the gameplay more about enjoyment than the grind for a lower score.
Since its release back in August of 2020, PGA Tour 2k21 has received a lot of new content, mainly in the way of player created courses which seem to be the highlight of gameplay. There is a new multiplayer experience, Divot Derby, that sends players on a race to get to each hole within the quickest time, only allowing a limited number of players to progress to the next hole. The Baller Edition of PGA Tour 2K21 introduces a number of new apparel that players can flaunt on the course, as well as several new and whacky putters like the flamingo putter or hockey stick.
Player creation is quite customisable and in-depth. There is an option for almost all aspects of the facial layout and while there is an option to create a female character, there is actually no female competition and female created players will have to play alongside the men. There is a large variety of apparel that can be unlocked through player progression on tour, as well as various clubs that can be unlocked for the golf bag, with both official and in-game branding. Depending on how pedantic the player chooses to be, a lot or little time can be spent here. Player creation is compulsory as the pros are not actually playable in this title. This is disappointing as it would be enjoyable to take control of the pros like cover athlete Justin Thomas, bombing some drives, but competing against him is the next best thing.
When starting it is quite important for the player to pick a difficulty that suits them. It is highly customisable with the ability to make almost every aspect of the game to be as forgiving or punishing as the player wishes. I initially chose to play on the “pro-am” setting but ended up toying with the settings and earning myself a higher XP-multiplier for my trouble. Unfortunately there is no three-click option, so it is extremely important to enter the training mode and complete a swing calibration. To calibrate the player takes ten swings of the driver with as much consistency as possible, so that when taking it back to the course the game has learnt the speed in which the player takes a shot. The required score to make a cut can be adjusted by choosing a suitable difficulty for the players skill level, and I originally made the mistake of jumping straight in to the PGA Tour without calibration and missing out on making the cut by shooting a ridiculous high score that even I would struggle to make in real life.
Once calibration, player creation and difficulties have been toyed with it is time to dig in to the main course. This being the all-new PGA Tour Career Mode where the player competes against real pros throughout various real and fictional courses and events. The end goal is to complete the season as the highest earner of FedExCup points and become the PGA Champion. Every type of shot will have to be mastered along the way, as every aspect of a balls lie changes the way a shot should be approached, whether the ball be above the players feet or in the deep rough. Knowing how to adjust accordingly and pulling off a shot that leaves a four-foot putt for birdie is extremely gratifying and while these skills of the game can be learnt through the in-game training, I truly feel the best way to learn is through experience.
XP is earned throughout the tour and goes towards a player’s level that is really nothing more than a number. XP and levels are not used towards any skills or attributes, rather each level-up rewards players with some in-game currency and either a cosmetic item or club for the bag. It would have been nice to see XP being used towards a player’s stats for total control over the characteristics of your player and is much more rewarding than just switching golf clubs. The currency is used to buy cosmetic items and clubs, which means micro transactions are present; and while different golf clubs bring different stats to the table, it does not have enough of a sway on the game for it to feel like a problem. I found that changing my clubs at any point had much of an impact on my performance.
There are twelve pro golfers on tour the player can have a rivalry with. After each event, stats are compared between the player and their rival and points are earned for each stat where the player has outperformed. Upon defeating a rival the player is rewarded with an item and some currency, then a new challenger arrives and the process is repeated. However it is strange to have a rivalry with a player far lower in the FedExCup standings than yourself. During the tour the player can also take on contracts from companies that range in difficulty and these contracts come with three goals ranging from finishing top five in an event, to averaging over 260m per drive. When completing these goals, the player receives XP that goes towards levelling up with that company, and with each level comes a reward, for example a new driver or putter. These goals are always changing so there is always a new challenge to overcome.
This is definitely a game to play with friends and family, whether locally or online. It is very easy to set up a private lobby and play against one another, and online matchmaking is also quick and easy. Matchmaking is by default cranked up to the pro difficulty setting, which keeps an even playing field. I stuck to match play when matchmaking, which is the standard shot-for-shot, lowest score takes the hole and the player with the most holes won at the end of a round takes it out, though there is also the option of 2v2 alternative shots and skins/wagers. There is a shot timer for each player, so it is a time-wasting no-go zone. There is also the inclusion of Online Societies, where people can create their own society, in which they can set up their own leagues with their own rules, host tournaments and events or even full golf seasons.
Courses for the most part look great. For a game that is predominantly green in colour, HB Studios have done a respectable job in contrasting different terrains that make the game easy to look at. There are a lot of “how’s the serenity” moments, that is for certain. Character model, on the other hand, look and move poorly. If was not for the name of a licensed pro-golfer at the top of the screen in a replay, I would not have known who I was looking at. I also noticed that during some replays a character would have some strange robotic pause mid-swing, only to somehow maintain momentum and whack the ball a country mile. Strangely, hooking a ball in to the gallery, the crowd remains still and as if undeterred by a small white bullet heading right towards them. It would be nice to see a bit of life in the crowd for a change, considering the generation of gaming we are in. The ball, its movements and its contact with different terrain looks very good, for example; hitting a high ball with force onto the green will leave a small divot or a trail if rolled into a bunker.
Commentary throughout the tour can be a little eye roll inducing, even for me, a true advocate for dad-jokes. The same joke or comment will be heard multiple times just in a single event, let alone a single season and I understand that only so much audio can be recorded but in a game where the commentary is in the foreground of gameplay a bit more effort would not have gone astray. I do like when entering an event at a new course there will be a small rundown of a little bit of history for that particular course, which gives a bit of a surreal feeling as people seldom get the opportunity to see a lot of these courses up close.
I spent some time in course creator, it is very in depth and there are a number of tutorials online that show how to master this part of the game. I am not very good at it as my creative juices are somewhat lacking, but I have seen plenty of player made courses that prove that this can be used to make something unique. I spent some time on just one hole, perfecting my bunker placement and green, then I played my “magnus opus”, I use that term very lightly. This will keep the game fun, as I dare say it will not be long until there are some seriously creative courses out there that will prove a challenge to even the best players.