Friday, April 14, 2023.
by Brent Roberts

EA SPORTS PGA TOUR Box art Golf has been deemed one of, if not the most, challenging game on earth. Unlike other sports, Golf tests the individual unlike any athletic trial you can think of. Taking a stick with a weighted end on it and hitting a ball across 300, 400, 500+ yards and more and try to knock it into a cup that is tucked into a green that is firm and feels like concrete can be next to impossible. Like most sports, in Golf you will fail and fail and fail again. There will be times when you think the sport just hates you and you feel the frustration pulsing through your veins, until... you hit that 'one shot'. The excitement and exhilaration felt when you get it close or even knock one in ignites your enjoyment on levels not felt in any other sport. Now personally speaking, I'm so terrible at Golf in reality that I can hit a drive and have the ball travel behind me off the tee. This doesn't stop me from loving the sport. Thursday and Friday rounds that lead to incredible moments in sports on the weekends are what will create memories and moments that will last forever. This is the essence of the sport, and it has been presented in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR in a game that, I'll come out now and say it, IS the new standard for excellence in a Golf game. Time to take a swing at EA SPORTS PGA TOUR and find out what makes it the elite golf game out there.

One of any Golf game highlights is when you get to create your own golfer, and in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR, you do get an average amount of customization from hair, eye, face shape, body, etc, but you also set up your primary game mechanics at the same time. This is where you're first introduced to how deep this game actually is. Configuring options such as lie effect, shot shaping, auto tap-in (I set this to 3 feet and LOVE IT) and even mulligans are some of the choices you'll have during the initial setup. Currently though, there is no 3 button push input and it relies entirely on your controller sticks, however 3 button push input will be coming soon at a date "TBD". Now one of the interesting things I found was that you can set your golfer to have a certain approach to playing games while you're offline. This was a thought I had years ago when Forza came out with the Drivatar; why couldn't you store your shot inputs and the results based off the conditions and make your own "Golfatar" (bad name but whatever), and now apparently you can! You can have a balanced, conservative or aggressive styles when it comes to playing in simulations.

This is thanks to the immense amount of research that has gone into developing EA SPORTS PGA TOUR. Millions of recorded shot data from all golfers from all the included courses makes you actually feel like you're playing against them. This also means that when you play like them, you also get to experience how their gameplay is set up, along with their strengths and weaknesses as well. No other golf game has done that, and the sheer amount of data is mind blowing. While the Golfers are critical to get right, the courses that you play on must also be of the same quality of standards, and I'll say it, they're better. These Golf courses are done in jaw droppingly beautiful detail thanks to the use of the Frostbite engine. I was wondering just how detailed this game was going to be, and when I saw the foliage of Augusta in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR match what is in reality, my mind was blown. Every single course is mapped, scanned and recreated in pixel perfect detail. Even attention to the right kind of grass for the fairways, greens, and even rough/deep rough have been painstakingly duplicated to a borderline perfection level.

There are though, a couple of issues with the graphical presentation of the game itself. Issues such as the lack of quality of the crowd and/or main golfer. While the main golf character does look decent, the background crowd looks laughably bleak and is almost like an afterthought. Maybe it was to preserve resources within the game, who knows, but if you're going to create the best Golf game out there, then this can't be an overlooked aspect. Another issue comes with the cut scenes. As you play on through facets of the game, you'll be bombarded with so many splash screens it's almost feels like the hole itself is its own break from the seemingly constant bombardment. A good improvement here would be to just consolidate the hole flyby from the beginning and use that as the transition to help keep the pace of the game. All of this, however, culminates into the creation of an absolutely incredible Golf game.

After you've created your character and set up the game how you like it, you'll be greeted with tons of options and menus right from the beginning. From the main screen you'll have the following game types: Quick Play, Career, Competitive, Challenges, Social, Tournaments and Private Match. Without question a lot of these are self-explanatory, however, here are some slight differences. Social, for example, allows you to play all par 3's or 5's at a random course with up to 16 other people. Competitive though offers either the front or back 9 of a random course with up to 16 other people, and they also provide feature competitions such as the current Masters 3-hole stretch at Amen Corner. While these modes are separate, the content inside them feels unsubstantial to the point where maybe consolidation would be better and the theory of "less is more" being practiced? Before we dive into career I've got to touch on Tournaments. This is where the majority of people will be spending their time outside of Career mode.

In Tournaments you have such categories as Daily, Weekly, Seasonal, Pending and Final. While the names themselves will tell you about the details for the tournament, some of the more prestigious tournaments require "tickets" to enter and yes, these tournaments often provide some of the best gear in the game. There are other tournaments though that are free to enter and some that cost Reward Points (RP), but keep in mind that these points require you to grind like crazy so, as normal, EA offers you the ability to do microtransactions to buy more tickets through a currency called "Golf Points". If you are looking to spend more money, the three tiers you have are 500 points ($4.99/$4.49 with EA Play), 2750 ($24.99/$22.49 with EA Play), and 5750 ($49.99/$44.99 with EA Play). If you went for it all and got 5750 points, you could cash in 2,000 of those points for 30 tickets. The other tiers are 1 ticket (100 points), 5 tickets (450 points), and 10 tickets (750 points). So, at 5750 you could get (2x 30 tickets = 4,000 points) + (1x 10 tickets = 750 points) + (2x 5 tickets = 900 points) + (1x 1 ticket = 100 points), for a grand total of 81 tickets. That may seem like a little amount when you get 81 tickets for basically $50, and you would be right, especially when you have some tournaments that cost 10 tickets per entry. This is a crafty way of getting people such as myself to invest heavily in these tickets because to get the best gear you'll have to give your best performances.

While we're on the topic of purchases, it should be noted that the only other tabs to be focused on in the store are the Featured and Specs tabs. Featured offers some limited timed gear for purchase by either golf points or Reward points and is the only place where you can find both ball and club effects. These are cosmetic treats that add a type of graphic effect to your ball and/or clubs. You can use either point methods for purchase, but before you go buying things in Featured, you may want to save for the Specs tab. This is where you can go to buy some specs for your clubs that can increase their performance based off the "type" of spec it is. Specs themselves come in the typical variety of tiers such as grey, green, blue, purple and gold, and can be applied to drivers, woods, irons, wedges, hybrids and even the ball itself. Now throughout the game you'll earn more naturally as you complete challenges (more on that in a moment), so these are ones though that you can purchase right off the bat. I should point out that there is no way of combining or upgrading them, so as of now it's either equipped or unequipped. There's no limit thankfully to how many items your character can hold but without the ability to even delete them from your character, meaning that you'll have a bunch of useless specs once you start leveling up your character.

This is where the main development of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR comes to life. The primary place of focus is going to be the Skills section of your Golfer, this is where you will learn various shot types and can work on improving them, for a cost. Yes, it's time to include the last piece of currency within the game, and that is Skill points that you gain 2 for each level you climb. You can spend these points on leveling up your character, but you can also retrain 1 or all of a category of your skills for a set amount of RP. Your current breakdown of skill categories and their sub-categories are Power (Power), Driving (Accuracy, Control), Approach (Accuracy, Control, Recovery), Short Game (Accuracy, Control, Recovery) and Putting (Putting). Power is by far the most expensive and will require over 70 points to max out, whereas Approach and Short Game have the most sub-classes but also the cheapest costs, so where you want to begin your focus is up to you. If, however, you make a mistake you can retrain which will refund your skill points, but the more you retrain the higher the cost, so think carefully how you want to build your character. The rest of your character development is purely cosmetic except for the ability to choose the type of club you want in your bag. This is because the various angles of the club head will produce different yardages. Thankfully when you want to make a change to your bag you can change it for all bags with the push of a button.

While I mentioned the microtransactions for the points and how each was earned, I never touched on how to earn Reward Points. To acquire these points all you have to do is fulfill various quests and challenges, and the points will come rolling in. For example, in the play mode Challenges, you have over 1,000 Golf challenges to play through. Here is where you will find the training you will need in the Coaching Academy because it will not only help you understand and grasp the fundamentals of the game, but will also allow you to have challenges with every shot type, so you get training on all the various shot types you can unlock. I cannot stress enough how important this mode is, and in fact, I spent the first two days of my gameplay in the Coaching Academy going for 3 star unlocks on the challenges. From Driving to putting and everything in between, this is your stop to learn it all before you hit the courses in Career mode. While the challenges are fairly straight forward, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR also allows you to go for various "Quests" which are broken down into 4 categories: Career, Mastery, PGA Tour, and Road To PGA.

Each one of these categories of Quests is broken down even further. In Career there's a group of Quests called Tournament Wins Pt. _, and completing each one of these three will net you 9,000 Reward Points. The Masters Quest in the Career tab will net 3,900 points for making the cut + win the masters + Score -9 or less at the Masters. Do those 3 sub-Quests of the Masters Quest and you'll get a total of 3,900 Reward points. The Mastery category of Quests are more course specific and require various feats to be performed such as the Augusta National Mastery Quest, broken into 3 chapters totaling 2,000 Reward Points. Chapter 1 requires you to complete a round at Augusta National, cover a total of 7,510 yards using Drive shots, and Eagle the 2nd hole. The PGA Tour Quests are related to the event itself, like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am or the WM Phoenix Open, and are only comprised of a single chapter that will net you at least 775 Reward Points. The Road To PGA is set up identical to PGA Tour Quests and all quests will allow you the chance to unlock new specs for your equipment.

This is going to benefit you in the long run as you create and develop your golfer and make your career even more dynamic, however, there are a couple issues I have with the career. While you can choose where you wish to start from and whatnot, in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR you have a choice of either playing the full round, or only certain holes. If you play the full round, you're looking at 4 rounds of 18 holes, and if you're going for quick then you may only play 5 holes. The downside for quickly moving through the course is that you only get half the XP, so if you normally gain about 19,000 XP playing a full round, you'll only net around 8-9000 depending on performance. In the future I think a great addition to this gameplay setup would be to allow for 1 full round of 18 or set how many rounds you want to play in a tournament (1-4). Despite this, however, you'll make your choice of where to begin and then it's up to you to show the world why you're the best. After my initial rounds of my first ever USGA amateur event I was granted a pass to play at Augusta, which proceeded to show me why I need a LOT more work on every facet of my game. Come the end of Friday and the cut line is +2 , here I am sitting at +9, having a humbling feeling, and I can say that I have much more respect for these professionals and the courses they play on.

As you can see, EA SPORTS PGA TOUR has come back with a passion and purpose, and to help them achieve that goal the audio of this game is unbelievable. From the menu music that varies from a breakbeat/hip hop style rhythm to rock guitars, to jazz pianos, the scope of the music for the menu is vast and eclectic, but the real detail comes from the presentation itself. Watching the opening of the Masters introduction and hearing the iconic music just made everything fit perfectly, and with each hole preview you hear the music and see the course open up to you, almost daring you to try. Combined with the equipment noises and ambience help deliver an immersive gaming experience. The best though, by a mile, has to be the crowd noise. You'll hear them talk and whatnot and then when you're ready to swing it dies down, but once you hit the ball you'll hear people say "Sit! Sit! Sit!" or "Get in the hole!", and it's a wonderful bonus to hear the people in the crowd shouting what I'm thinking.

This is because the gaming mechanics of EA SPORTS PGA TOUR allows you to customize your experience all the way up to full simulation mode. The basic mechanics of the swing are reliant on your Left Stick or Right Stick, based on your settings, and the arcade feel of adding power before the strike and developing spin on the ball while in mid-flight are back in full swing, but the biggest setting you'll want to contend with are things like your forgiveness in your swing. Trying to make sure your swing follows the line perfectly while maintaining power and measuring for our old friend the wind, and you have yourself an incredible challenge that faces you every shot. Thankfully, as stated earlier, the 3 click input method will be coming soon. There have been some comical moments throughout my career so far. For example, in my US Open performance I tied with 3 other people and we went into playoff holes. After the 3rd round of playoff holes the announcers were saying ".... and that's going to be it for all of us here at EA Sports. Thank you for playing and we'll see you next time on EA SPORTS PGA TOUR.". Here I'm sitting at the tee box thinking "Ummmm.... what?". Other shortcomings existed as well such as I'll have a severe left to right break in the green, yet I need to move my cursor to the right of the cup so that it breaks right to left? I'm hoping bugs like this can be fixed quickly and easily as they did detract from the overall experience.

The rest of the mechanics though are your standard fare and should be easy to pick up and play. The 'Y' button acts as your zoom, 'X' is your reset of your aiming, the D-Pad moves your aiming marker around, and the Right Stick determines the spin/angle of the shot. The big focus though here is the Bumpers will choose your shot type (if you've learned it), the Right Stick to dial in the spin, Triggers to select the club and 'Y' to see where you're aiming for. Once you think you got things dialed in, swing away and then join every single other Golfer alive to hold their breath while your shot is in the air and hoping for a good result.

Good things come to those who wait. We waited years for EA Sports to deliver a quality golf game, and not only have they delivered a quality golf game, but they have delivered THE golf game by which all future games will be judged. EA SPORTS PGA TOUR isn't just a new golf game, it's the standard. Deep character development, tons of different shot types to master, focus on accuracy and experience and the deepest collection of utilized data pertaining to golfers and their shots and performance are just a few innovations in EA SPORTS PGA TOUR that make it the uncontested king of Golf. The question shouldn't be are you getting this game, but when. A few slight blemishes within the game do, exist but now that the bar has been set, all of us Golfing fans are eager to see where the future goes with this sport's representation in video games. Congratulations to EA Tiburon for creating the best Golf experience any gamer could ever play.

**EA SPORTS PGA TOUR was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Fixes would be:
1. Improve the crowd graphics and character modeling.
2. Allow for the user to pick the number of rounds in a tournament in career mode.
3. Various bug glitches.
4. Give us gamers some value in these old/low quality specs for the gear by allowing us to upgrade them through combination or destroy to get resources.

Overall: 9.2 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 9.5 / 10
Sound: 9.5 / 10


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