Review – PGA Tour 2K21
HB Studios has had a pretty successful rise to the top of the golf genre: a genre that hasn’t seen much love once Tiger went through his scandal, and EA dropped him from their PGA Tour games back in 2013. There have been some arcade golf games like Golf Story, a pretty good title, but that was more of an RPG than a simulation. Hell, EA even tried to bring back PGA Tour with Rory McIlroy in 2015, but wasn’t met with much love.
Then comes HB Studios, as an independent studio, launching The Golf Club, which was a heavy sim and didn’t feature licensed gear or players. It was a bit rough, but the IP had some promise. After some updates, and a couple sequels, The Golf Club was picked up by 2K Games and now rebranded as PGA Tour 2K21. Has HB Studios finally brought the golf sport back to its prime? Or are we still waiting for our birdie?
PGA Tour 2K21 is starting to feel like a full fledged PGA game from HB Studios. They have acquired licensing from multiple brands, tours, and even got announcers Luke Elvy and Rich Beem onboard. It also features twelve pro golfers like Justin Thomas and Jim Furyk. During your PGA Tour, you’ll be able to take part in thirty events from custom ones from HB Studios, as well as real ones like Genesis Open, Phoenix Open, 3M Open, and of course, the PGA Championship.
When you first start up PGA Tour 2K21 it will be the most important part on determining your skill level. You’ll be forced into a tutorial that will show you the basics, as well as some advance techniques. It shows you how to apply fade, pitch your club face, and where to strike the ball to give it additional loft. You can also change your swing style to a chip or a splash shot depending on what you need. HB Studios has done a lot of good work with the gameplay to let the player decide how easy or brutal the gameplay should be.
You can custom set your difficulty and various options to your play skill as well. Presets range from Very Easy to Legendary, and they turn off various options or assists within. Do you want to worry about your swing tempo, swing path, and wind strength, but not worry about setting your own back spin or adjusting your shot depending on hill slopes? Go for it. They have even updated the player UI to be much more friendly with reading your swing and putting strength. However, you can of course remove all of those for the ultimate sim experience.
Start off your career by creating your custom character with a pretty impressive suite of customization options that will get you lost for a while tweaking everything. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to play as the twelve pro golfers and take them to the championship if you want to, they’re unplayable. Once you settle on your character, you can start your career with a couple different options. You get the choice of playing through the amateur leagues and hope you place high enough to join the pro tour. Or you have the option to just jump right into pro if you don’t want to waste your time.
Once you’re in the PGA Tour is when the career mode starts getting better, with a variety of side objectives. Within each round you will be able to grab a sponsor from a large list of known brands. Each sponsor will provide you with different unlockables such as various clothes and golf clubs. You’ll be able to pick from an easy, medium, or hard goal, with additional XP awarded on higher difficulties. Along with the sponsors, you will also start rivalries with other players on the Tour. At the end of the match you’ll compare your stats to theirs, and if you out play them, you’ll gain random unlocks and then move to another rival.
During the rounds, there will be random objectives for specific holes that will encourage outstanding plays. Hole 3 may require you to drive the ball over 290 yards, while hole 5 may require you to get on the green in regulation. Completing these adds more depth to the rounds, as well as additional XP. However, I do wish there was more variety in these types of bonus challenges. Perhaps adding specific club challenges or chipping challenges depending on your situation.
XP level ups, sponsor challenges, and rivalries provide virtual currency that you can use to deck out your player with new clothes and clubs. There will be clubs you unlock for free as you level up, as well as rank up with a sponsor, but you’ll need to buy most of them. Clothing is strictly cosmetic and does not alter your skills, but buying clubs will. None of the clubs are overpowered, all of them will have their strengths and weaknesses, so you can customize your play. Would you rather have more accuracy forgiveness or are you a master with the swing and want as much power and control? It’s up to you.
The player settings is where I wish HB Studios got a bit more creative. As I mentioned before, they did a great job giving the players the choice for a more arcade feel or a hardcore sim. However, if you are an arcade player that enjoyed being overpowered in games like Tiger Woods, that won’t happen here. You won’t be increasing base stats with clothing upgrades and XP points. Nor will you upgrade you clubs to blast the ball 450 yds with an overpowered shot and add spin in the air. Now, I don’t think PGA 2K21 needs to go full arcade with adding spin in the air, but having the option to bring a player through the Tour and become overpowered is appealing.
When it comes to arcade gameplay, there is also a lack of general “fun” in here. I mean this in the sense of various styles of replays, crowds, and even mini-games. There just isn’t much flair to the presentation. When I smack the ball with 101% power and perfect tempo, I want to feel that. Replays can add to this with zooming in and slowing down the shot adding in some importance to great shots. Crowds are also fairly tame even with these big shots and this is evident during the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The announcer even tells a story of how crazy the crowd gets with outfits and cheering and shouting at the players, but none of this is portrayed in game. PGA 2K21 has balanced its gameplay, now it needs to figure out how to balance its style.
There may not be mini-games, chip challenges, or put challenges you can play with others, but there are a good amount of actual play styles to choose when playing multiplayer. You can play with a closed group or join online matches, as well as join clans that will have their own rounds and clan battles. While on multiplayer, you can change up the style a bit and play Best Ball, Skins, and Four Ball. These add replay value to online play. There is also a very robust Course Creator where you can auto generate custom courses within minutes. However, there is enough depth where you can create your own mini-game challenges in here.
The visuals are hit and miss. For the most part, the main courses you will play are well rendered, with good lighting and shadows. The courses based off real locations are accurately crafted to resemble the real thing. However, outside of that, there is a noticeable drop in quality. Characters, even the main pros, aren’t convincing at all, and lack facial animations. Crowds are comprised of low quality assets and animations. The courses are very static to where you’ll have 10mph winds, but the trees won’t be moving. The only cloth physics are for the pin flag.
Sound design also isn’t the best, being another area where HB Studios decided to keep a more sim feeling. The soundtrack lacks any licensed songs anything with an upbeat mood. The whole affair feels like elevator or golf club lobby music. Voice acting for the announcers is decent, and there is depth to the information they give. However, there are quite a few repeated lines and there is a weird way they address the player. Sometimes they will talk about you and refer to you as “player”. Other times they will address you directly, congratulating or wishing you luck on a shot. As for the various sound effects of the golfing itself, it’s alright. Various club surfaces will make their appropriate sound as well as hitting from the rough or sand.
PGA Tour 2K21 is a well-made golf game that features a ton of gameplay options for its audience. Being able to choose through a large list of options to fully tailor your type of gameplay is incredible. However, I feel like it can’t decide whether it wants to dip more into arcade territory or just remain as a simulator. I hope they will find a way to cater to both eventually, but this is a big step in the right direction.
For the most part, the courses are crisp and accurately rendered, however, everything looks stiff. Trees don’t move with the wind, clothes have no physics, and the crowds leave a lot to be desired.
A lot of quality of life improvements from The Golf Club 2019 with a bit more of a classic arcade feel. Introducing some more beginner UI’s to help dial in more accurate shots with your power and spin. You can easily go full sim or sit back for a more relaxing golf experience.
Nothing notable here. The soundtrack is a standard country club elevator type music, but the general sound effects of golfing are accurately done. The announcers do a decent job this time around, but there is an awkward way they go from talk to you and then talking about you.
PGA Tour 2K21 is a competent golf game that is starting to incorporate more of the arcade style golfing from the Tiger Woods era of games. It seems like it doesn’t know how to straddle being approachable and fun, as well as still retain the hardcore sim of its origins.
Final Verdict: 7.5
PGA Tour 2K21 is available now on Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Google Stadia.
Reviewed on Xbox One X.
A copy of PGA Tour 2K21 was provided by the publisher.