PGA Tour 2K21 Review
Golf, I would propose, is the real-life sport best-suited to translate into a video game. The sport’s electronic history dates back more than 40 years, and has had its share of highs and lows.
The latest simulation golf game, PGA Tour 2K21, is unequivocally one of the best representations of playing a round of golf. It’s also a game more than seven years and four games in-the-making. Developer HB Studios released its first The Golf Club game in 2014, and has worked on refining the experience in three subsequent releases.
PGA Tour 2K21 is a more refined, friendly and accessible version of HB Studios’ flagship franchise. The game is a great entry point for beginning or casual golf gamers, while providing immense challenge at the harder difficulties.
2K Sports first published the 2019 edition of The Golf Club, which was the first to integrate some official PGA licensing, and the license is paying off more in the latest release. This time, there are 15 official courses and tournaments, as well as 12 licensed golfers who lend their likeness to the game’s career mode.
While this provides much-needed structure to the single-player experience in HB Studios’ golf games, the PGA license integration ultimately falls short. The only place the pro golfers show up is in cut-in replays during your tournament, and as names on the leaderboards. Their swings aren’t motion-captured, and the experience falls a little flat — even if it is a great touch to show Jim Furyk holing a shot from the bunker or narrowly missing a key putt.
The 15 officially licensed courses look great and add authenticity to the experience, as does the official FedEx Cup branding. However, the game doesn’t include licenses for any of the Major tournaments or courses. It’s also missing some extra pop-and-sizzle when you win a tournament, sink an eagle or accomplish any other feat that should be worth celebrating.
But the key draw of the Golf Club series — which PGA Tour 2K21 is firmly a part of — has been its on-course action, connection with other gamers around the world, and playing created courses of all kinds.
On the course, the game is better than ever. You aim with the left stick and swing with the right by default, with your stick direction and speed playing a huge role in the success of your shot. It is vital that you go into practice mode to calibrate your swing. This system really can mirror the real game; when I’m in the zone, I’ll hit every fairway; but there are times where my rhythm is just a bit off and I’m hooking or slicing all over the course.
Putting has also greatly improved over the years, and the putt preview makes even the most difficult putts manageable. I do have occasional issues where I’ll smash the ball far harder than intended, but I can’t figure out if it’s user error, an issue with the game or even the controller.
Players are able to adjust their experience to make the game as hard, or easy, as they’d like. The six core difficulty levels are a great start, with granular adjustments available as well. The top-level players on the game will play on the harder modes, but I’m perfectly content duffing around on Pro-Am.
The multiplayer and society systems work well. I podcast with the crew at PSVG, which has started an in-game society. Joining was a cinch, and I was able to post my -10 opening round right away. During your round, you’ll also see scores from other players as if they’re playing along with you, even if they played earlier.
If you’re playing in a private match, you’ll see your friends’ shots go off while you’re playing along. Everyone golfs at his-or-her own pace. It’s a great multiplayer system for people who have trouble synching schedules.
This brings me to the course creator. HB Studios originally created the Golf Club series as a pitch to EA Sports for its Rory McIlroy games. The developer broke off and created its own unlicensed golf sim, centered around user-generated courses. The course creator had to be simple enough for anyone to use, while featuring a depth to allow the truly creative types to create special courses.
With PGA Tour 2K21, golf’s best digital course creators have now had six-plus years to hone their craft, and there are some truly great courses available already, thanks to the game’s easy-to-use import feature. Courses range from real-life copies of famous courses like Augusta to full-on fantasy courses.
Gamers can create their own course within minutes, by just choosing a location and adjusting sliders that change elevation, flora, fauna and more. Or you can spend hours honing your masterpiece, meticulously placing each green, bunker, stone or tree. I’ll never be a course designer, but I’ll gladly reap the benefits of playing others’ great creations.
Here’s the thing: PGA Tour 2K21 is the best simulation golf game available on modern consoles. It’s the game to play if you want this sim golf experience, and it’s friendlier than ever for more casual gamers. There is still plenty to improve — namely, to me, adding more PGA license integration — but it’s a darned good game of golf that I’ll be playing for a long time to come.
Review by GamesReviews contributor, Seth Roy. Code was provided by 2K Sports and played on an Xbox One X.
Nintendo Switch Impressions
GamesReviews.com Editor-in-Chief, Adam Roffel, has been playing PGA Tour 2K21 on Nintendo Switch for review as well, to see what quality Switch owners can expect when playing this latest golf title. Before jumping into how the Switch version differs from the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 releases, it’s important to provide kudos where it’s due, and that goes to 2K, who has been very supportive of the Nintendo Switch as of late. Most companies, when releasing multi-platform games, severely delay the Nintendo Switch version for a variety of reasons. 2K should be commended for making sure Nintendo Switch owners were able to play PGA Tour 2K21 at the same time as everyone else, even if it’s not as polished as other versions. Here are his thoughts.
Ultimately, those purchasing this golf experience on Nintendo Switch aren’t doing so because of the graphics, or perhaps even the game play quality. Either they are getting it because the Switch is the only console they own, or they are looking to have this as a portable experience, both of which are legitimate reasons to make this purchase.
And after some time with this Nintendo Switch version, we can say with confidence that it’s actually a very good release on the system, if you can get past a few hiccups. Frame rate overall is mostly very solid, with no issues during the most important part of your game, hitting the ball. Zooming in to place your shot, or watching your shot fly through the air after contact will provide some severe pop-in, including trees, bunkers, and more. Ultimately, however, this doesn’t take away from the golf experience.
To keep things playable on the system, sacrifices were made, the biggest of which is that you won’t find any live crowds in the Switch version. On the 18th hole, tied during major tournament? Don’t expect a round of applause or a cheer if you snake that 18 foot birdie putt to win the championship. It’s just not there. When playing average holes during a tournament, I didn’t think much of it. But in those intense moments, or when I did sink a super long putt, it’s a bit disappointing to be met with…well….nothing.
If you want PGA Tour and can get past some graphical issues, the Switch version is a very playable experience. Even as someone who owns all three consoles, after playing on each of them, I’d stand firmly behind the Nintendo Switch version as it gives me the portability I need that compliments my current lifestyle.
Google Stadia Impressions
When it comes to the Xbox One version and the Google Stadia version, there really isn’t much difference between the two, escept in one key area – on Google Stadia, you won’t have to worry about downloads or updates ever. Just click and play. The downside – which for most people isn’t an issue – is that you’ll need a persistent, quality Internet connection. You can read all our Google Stadia thoughts here!