With Tiger Woods having made more tabloid headlines than pars in recent years, EA's golfing franchise makes its new-gen debut with a new face gracing the cover, the current world number one Rory McIlroy. As a player, McIlroy is a worthy successor for the franchise, but the game behind his image is anything but, continuing the trend of sports games making disappointing debuts on new consoles. With just eight real-world courses (plus four fantasy rounds), 12 named golf pros and a dearth of features, EA's return to the PGA Tour is a real letdown.
It's a shame, because EA has made solid strides with some new ideas that push the series forward. The controls, for instance, offer deep customisation for every type of player. While we still have the classic three-click swing system and analogue offerings (in both Tour and Arcade variants), the control settings now offer an array of tweaks to cater your swing. Tour analogue controls are incredibly punishing unless you perform a clean hit, and many assistive settings are turned off, but if you find the Arcade mechanics too shallow you can make numerous tweaks to find a balance between the two. Spin manipulation, green grid and aiming arc are just a few of the assists you can choose to turn on or off, bringing the series in line with the kind of options usually found in racing sims.
Quick Rounds make career mode a speedier affair, too. Rather than play nine or 18 holes each day, players will be given a selection of six (Thursday's being different from Friday's, and so on), meaning tournaments can be completed much quicker, especially with the vastly-improved load times between holes. The only problem is if you start off with a couple of bogeys, it's much more difficult to make the cut, so you'll likely want to play at least a full nine to begin with with to improve your character, learn the courses and give yourself some leeway.
The final, and perhaps best new feature comes in the form of Night Club Challenges. This arcade-mode equivalent is reminiscent of the very entertaining Stickman Golf mobile game, with boosts that can be applied to the ball to help it through myriad obstacles. The satisfying golf-swing mechanics, coupled with the interesting new toys and unique look makes this a solid inclusion. Trying to steer a golf ball through croquet arches towards a target is surprisingly fun, and there's over 170 challenges to play. Sadly, Night Club seems to be the only fleshed out mode in the entire game.
Everywhere else you look PGA Tour is threadbare at best, laughable at worst. The character customisation is the biggest offender: its obvious limitations affect every aspect of creation. Within seconds of booting up the game, my thoughts immediately turned to faithfully recreating Tiger Woods. After completing the name, handedness, nationality and background (the choice of 'Prodigy', 'Collegiate' and 'Instructor' is available, though this only affects commentary, not ability) sections, I then had to craft the look. There are 12 skin tones to select from, eight of which are various shades of 'white', only one of which is black. The incredibly limited options also extend to eye colour - where purple and white are available but green is absent - and hairstyles: unless you're bald or love the 1970s, you're unlikely to find a look which matches your own.
Once you've created a golfer and headed onto the course, within a few rounds you'll question the perennial sunshine: there's no weather effects aside from wind. In a game running on the Frostbite 3 engine, one which prides itself on being able to replicate dynamic weather conditions. The courses also fail to 'wow' as much as one might expect. They can look nice at times, but pop-in and stuttering can often disrupt the view, and they're distractingly overlit. If that wasn't enough to take you out of the action, your golfer will likely produce Caddyshack-esque, over-the-top celebrations for insignificant shots and three-foot putts that are embarrassing. I did 'the sprinkler' after landing a three-foot par putt... at two over for the round. This would not be acceptable at Augusta. Luckily, that classic course is also missing, sparing you the shame.
PGA Tour only ships with eight courses, making the career mode a tedious, repetitious drag. Coupled with the few notable clubs available (although EA actually has a surprising stock of other sticks), and with the game automatically assigning attributes based on performance, there's very little autonomy between tournaments. Even clubs are unlocked as you level up, rather than purchased through tournament earnings, making the whole thing feel very passive. Plus you'll have two of the most obnoxious commentators ever seen in a sports game. Why one of them feels the need to compare missing a putt to "kissing his mother-in-law" I still don't quite understand.
Not only are there not many courses, there's also not a lot to do with them, especially with friends. Stroke Play and Match Play, that's your lot. No best ball, bingo, bango, bongo or any of that good stuff. You simply play your round, and the fun doesn't last long. Online, you can choose to play head-to-head or take part in tournaments, a nice feature being that you don't have to wait for others to take their shots before you can finish a hole. As you play, you'll see others doing so in real time. However, the benefit of speed comes at the expense of a detachment from the other players. I found myself only checking their score at the conclusion of each hole, rather than where their ball landed after each shot, dulling what could be exciting moments.
Overall, while there have been some improvements to the series, and the load times mean that you can get through rounds much quicker, the shocking lack of content across the board means that Rory McIlroy's PGA Tour is a disappointment. Much like EA Sports UFC, PES 2014 and F1 2015 before it, this debut falls far short of fan expectation. Though EA promises to deliver free content for six months following launch, it'll have to deliver an absolute shedload to make up for what's missing. The mechanics are solid, yes, but with insufficient courses and golfers, this game struggles to offer an experience worth paying for.
Version tested: PS4