The return of an EA golf game has its surprisingly vocal community very excited, and with good reason: EA Sports PGA Tour looks incredibly promising. Over the seven years since the last EA game, there's been a bit of a hole for golf fans. The Golf Club series and more recent 2K titles have gently scratched the itch, but for many, there's always been something missing. From what I saw at a recent preview for EA's upcoming return, that looks set to change. Proper golf games are back.
Ever since the teaser trailer for EA Sports PGA Tour, narrated by Jordan Spieth and showing Augusta National, the messaging was clear: only in EA's game can you play the major tournaments, and become a true hall of famer. "We want to put you on the first tee in the shoes of a major champion," says lead producer David Baker. "Everything we've built, more than any other game before, has been designed to make you feel like a major championship golfer." Owning this territory and being the only game to offer all four majors – the most-requested feature from fans – immediately puts it above its predecessors. The last EA installment, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, only had two of the majors, and PGA 2K23's major schedule is also light and a bit disappointing.
This approach to offering the best courses and tournaments extends to offering 30 'bucket list' courses at launch. Each one has been meticulously surveyed for their recreation. Using EA's Frostbite engine, these courses look fantastic, serving up the new-gen visuals committed swingers have waited for. The landscape designer in me loves the fact that these courses aren't just dev-made or researched. They've been made by liaising with geologists, utilizing low-flying helicopters, and the Masters' private database. Each tree is correctly placed, and each color of Azalea is right for the Augusta National course at the time of the Masters.
However pretty the settings, gameplay is paramount. Thankfully, EA appears to understand this. "While the game looks and reacts ultra realistically, at the end of the day, it's a video game," says producer Ben Ramsour. "The core mechanics have to be approachable, easy to learn, and fun." On first impressions, the golf swing mechanics, and shot-making underlying the 'Pure strike' system, look excellent. It channels authentic, smooth, and fun swing play with impressive nuances and shot craft.
Just like the courses themselves, this is all underpinned by real-world data. There are 20 shot types, unique trajectories for the ball based on clubs and shots, and redesigned ball behaviors – all contributing to a total of more than 1300 unique physics profiles. These then culminate in providing "unique golf swings that have a fluid feel, and lead to realistic outcomes on every golf shot". Given that swing mechanics are informed by ShotLink and Trackman data – genuine tools that real-world pros and players use – there could be no better virtual recreation of a golf swing, especially with the number of dedicated shot types and shaping options available to players.
"Every time you approach the ball, you don't only choose your club, but also the type of shot you want to hit," says gameplay designer Craig Penner. "These shot types add a wonderful new layer of depth to every shot, so that as your mastery and understanding of each shot type grows. You'll start to think and plan your way around the course just like a pro."
There's solid potential for the game's deep and multi-layered golf mechanics to elevate it well above that offered by the 2K games. The mix of specialist shots and shaping tactics looks greater already, and even the way it's presented appears purer and closer to real golf. For example, there's a swing arc that tracks the path of the club neatly but also shows you where you deviate from it; something that sits very nicely in terms of real-life golf simulation. Naturally, in real life, the swing arc is open to error and alteration, especially as you improve at the game, so seeing this as something that can change based on your play, and not just rely on a 'line on a ball' graphic in the HUD, is very welcome.
The same level of thought and authenticity is also present in the career mode. Often the standout of previous EA golf games, the depth and intricacies of taking your created player - male, female, or gender-neutral – from the toils of being a hack entering the amateur tour, all the way to winning majors is back with a vengeance. While 2K's series offers a simple career, and 2K23 saw some boosts to that, your player could still bomb 300-yard drives from the off. In EA Sports PGA Tour, you gradually improve and progress your player by spending earned XP, learning and adding new shot types to your arsenal, and by enhancing your skills. The choices you make can be meaningful to your game and also crucial to getting you in a position to master particular courses. 'Course Fit' is a feature that measures a course's demands against your skill level to give an indication of the level of challenge, and a blueprints system helps you tune your equipment too.
Those who prefer their pitch and putt to take place online are also well served. You can play social unranked matches with similarly skilled players, with friends to ensure level playing fields, or social modes offline for more casual play – be it match play, alternate shot, or other modes. You can play competitively too. This ranked matchmaking is designed "to test your skills in numerous game types, including nine and 18-hole parameters", Baker describes. Such online tournaments will be "limited-time events for players to go in by themselves and submit a score to a global leaderboard."
At the end of such an event, the game gives you a final rank earning you rank points based on finishing position. A particularly intriguing multiplayer mode that caught my eye was where you play holes simultaneously with other players – up to 16 of you – with all the sounds and shots flying everywhere at the same time.
Modern sports games such as FIFA 23 and NBA 2K23 are all about live content. EA is keen to keep up with the Woodses in a similar vein. It's planning more courses that mirror real-world tournaments. A three-click swing action is also in the works, and there will be other promising updates like regular challenges inspired by real-world events. "As new history is made at current tournaments, we can rapidly craft challenges to mirror what players are watching in the real world," says Baker. If there's a hole-in-one at a particular event, then players of EA Sports PGA Tour will be challenged to recreate it. Along with a ton of extra gear, attire, and clubs that are coming throughout 2023, there's going to be more 'game' coming after release to get our teeth into.
Maybe I have some rose-tinted glasses on, yearning so much for the halcyon days of Tiger Woods 2005, but the early signs of EA Sports PGA Tour are excellent. It looks like the "'proper golf RPG" and journey fans have yearned for is back for good. The handicaps of the last few years have seemingly been conquered, and EA Sports PGA Tour should please both new and long-term fans down to a tee.
EA Sports PGA Tour is one of the new games for 2023 worth watching, and it's set to release on March 24 for PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X.