There is nothing like the feeling of pulling off a well-planned shot in golf when the margins for error are so fine, and each strike balances risk and reward. Good news, then: PGA 2K23 nails these swing-happy fundamentals. Building on 2K21, HB Studios' latest greatly improves the career mode, adds a bunch of playable stars, and refines the series' great golf swing mechanics.
Release date: 14 October 2022
Platform(s): PS5, Xbox Series X, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: 2K Games
That golf swing and shot-making excellence is still the shining star – though with alterations to what came before. The swing meter now arcs around your player, mirroring their swing path. This cleverly enables you to focus on both golfer and swing as one entity, rather than focus on a linear power bar. The shot feedback graphic remains, showing your swing path and tempo after each shot, while the shot-making button allows you to fade, draw, loft, deloft, and control the amount of spin. A new added extra to the system is the introduction of a three-click swing which offers an extra way to play the game.
With all these shot-crafting tools acquired, you'll have the most enjoyment by putting them to practice in the MyCareer mode – and it is here that the biggest improvements are found. After creating your player, you can assign an archetype that determines your overall 'style', and also begin plotting routes up a skill tree. Instead of learning a new shot or club use, these are actually shot bonuses that get passively activated during rounds when you play sub-optimally. Skills are bought with XP received from competing in tournaments – about 30 per season – which also earns you in-game money for upgrades, balls, or licensed clothing. (Or so that you can try and recreate your entire real-life bag. Like I did.) While the tournaments feature some well-known courses, there are still notable absences, such as the majors.
The game's focus on realism not only sees you master the craft of shotmaking but also teaches you that you don't have to perfect every swing. You can successfully navigate holes if you slice a shot, or undercook one, and whole tournaments if you're not playing that well. 'It's fine, you got away with it', the swing feedback tells me, 'you still have a shot from there'. I've heard world-famous golf tutor Pete Cowan tell his students to just "go up and hit it like you're messing about" – i.e. don't try to perfect absolutely everything. After a while, 2K23's shot-making tools and swing feedback system told me a similar thing; learn, but then relax.
While you can perform the basics with the set you start with, you gradually pick up gear that enhances your clubs: fittings. These are attachments with loot-like tiers that can be added to your clubs as new heads, shafts, and grips. This is a robust new layer of player building and gear management, but there is a frustration: it costs you in-game currency to actually apply these, and as you won't earn lots of this it's likely that you'll be priced out of great upgrades.
Sponsors regularly offer to cover your apparel, clubs, or ball, and provide bonuses and rewards for completing rounds and winning tournaments. There’s also a more tangible point to player rivalries now, such as extra XP or unlocking clubs. Beyond this I'm still yet to work out why these are a core part of a golfer's season, especially as they repeat identically across subsequent campaigns.
Away from MyCareer, the Top Golf mode is an excellent one and successfully recreates the golf-meets-night-out feel, enabling you to have mad fun against friends hitting targets at an illuminated driving range. It’s perfect for couch co-op. You can also take your efforts online in the form of Online Societies to test your skills against other players and also compete in custom tournaments. The strong course designer returns too and will keep the community busy and occupied with recreating world-famous courses and crafting their own hard-as-nails ones. And fixing a flaw from last time out: it's a joy to be finally able to play as a pro, and as none other than Tiger Woods himself – though you can only play as him, or the other pros or celebs, in the casual modes.
Overall, there's way more game here than in PGA 2K21. MyCareer is the main attraction and is hugely improved offering a deep player-building experience (though not without its own foibles), and the other modes provide plenty to get your teeth into after you've finished a season or are after something different.
Yet for all its aces and hole-outs, PGA 2K23 lacks the finesse and slickness of EA's best outings. First, there's the visual aspect: it basically looks the same as 2K21 and sometimes appears off. The crowds, courses, and landscape features feel identical, and golfer's wrists look particularly strange at address, almost dislocated. Animations are lackluster, repeated frequently, and often don't even relate to the shot (my player regularly pumps his fists and goes wild after holing a double bogey putt). Replays are slow to appear and annoying, sometimes even failing to track the ball or have a player totally block the view. As for the sound… I heard bad commentary repeated within 20 minutes of starting up the game. "Wow! That almost went in the hole!" cries the commentator as my chip rolls literal yards wide – and the contact noises between club and ball are weak and strange too.
There's a lot here that gives off the 'EA Golf Game' feels, and the shot craft is still excellent and moreish. Yet the lack of real generation-embracing features – no DualSense witchcraft on PS5, no spectacular visuals – hold PGA 2K23 back from that fifth star. When I reviewed 2K21, I said that the series was on the right trajectory. That remains that case, and while this doesn’t have everything that the best EA golf games had, it's improved greatly from its own predecessor. Whether you own '21 or not, 2K23 is well worth an extended swing.
Reviewed on PS5 with code provided by the publisher.