Golf is a game steeped in tradition, weighted heavily by conservative approaches to just about everything. Rory McIlroy PGA Tour exemplifies that attitude. As EA’s golf debut on new-generation consoles, it could have broken new ground, capitalizing on the inherent power of the social infrastructure and computing prowess that these machines provide. Instead, it approaches its subject in the most straightforward way imaginable. While McIlroy pays lip service to ‘outside the box’ thinking, the reality is that the core experience is extremely similar to what virtual golfers have had in the past, with one major exception – there’s less of it to enjoy.
If there’s a word to describe McIlroy on launch day, it’s ‘incomplete’. Sure, there are several ways to play the game, including a Career mode, online head-to-head play, tournaments, and some arcadey mini-games. However, none of them are fleshed out enough to compare favorably to similar modes in past EA golf titles, or current competition like The Golf Club. What’s more, each of them follows a by-the-numbers design. If you’ve played video game golf of any kind in the past, you’ll be instantly familiar with almost everything McIlroy throws at you.
McIlroy’s strength lies in the core mechanics of swinging the club and shaping the shots to your liking. The variety of options you have to attack the course with is impressive; three pre-built configurations are available to choose at the start, and after trying all of them out I picked my favorite elements from each to create a customized setup that feels great. While I started off using the three-click swing style reminiscent of the old-school PGA Tour games from decades ago, I gradually shifted to the left-analog stick swing used most recently in The Golf Club. It feels smoother and, ultimately, more rewarding thanks to a better rate of speed on the swing. I also made use of the putt-reading and pre-swing zoom options. Perhaps I’ll make things harder on myself as I improve, but I’ve got a way to go until I get that confident.
While the bulk of PGA Tour is built around a simulation-type experience, the game does offer some shorter diversions. One of them is a par 3 course built around a Battlefield map, replete with grenades for tee box markers and crashed aircraft carriers as obstacles. Another is The Night Club Challenge, a mini-game of sorts featuring various tasks to complete that get harder as you advance. These are limited in scope and, while providing a nice change of pace, aren’t particularly memorable.
The more I played Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Golf, however, the more I realized how incomplete it really is. Not only are there significantly fewer courses (eight real ones and four fictional ones) and playable real-world golfers (12) than the series has had in years, but the modes are very straightforward and lack depth. On the career path, for example, it only took a few in-game weeks before I was repeating the same course for a different tournament – something that never happens in real life during a season. While the visuals are moderately impressive, the career progression feels extremely dry; I’m no more emotionally invested in my created character than I am with my morning cup of coffee. While I’m not exactly clamoring for theatrical dramatics, it would be nice to have something to do other than simply show up to a tournament, change my outfits, pick a few new clubs, and get out on the course. Heck, I can’t even see a calendar of events coming up; next week I could be playing for a major championship or competing in a meaningless pro-am.
The lack of personality in the career mode is laid bare by the one interesting addition. Instead of a basic tutorial, you’re immersed in the final round of the U.S. Open as McIlroy himself; he describes what the game means to him and how he approaches different challenges. The commentary focuses in on very specific events, and the camera angles combine television shots and ‘you are there’-style camera views to produce a story that also teaches you the basics of playing the game. Once that’s over, though, you’re tossed into a menu-driven, threadbare experience. It’s a tease.
The career mode shines compared to online play, however. The core features work - you play in real time against other players, and each individual is able to take shots without waiting for anyone else to take theirs - but with virtually no commentary or ambient noise, it’s very difficult to remain engaged. Even worse, the golfers you’re competing against pop up on screen indiscriminately to take their shots, then they disappear afterwards. It’s distracting and unpleasant. I hope that as the game matures, the experience will improve. As of now, though, there’s no clear indication of how EA will be supporting Rory McIlroy moving forward.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is, at launch, perfectly ordinary. Its solid mechanics and adequate visuals are not supported by extensive modes or a significant amount of content, and it’s difficult to see how it will maintain much appeal over extended play time without an infusion of more courses and players. It’s entirely possible that EA will add that - and more - over time, but right now Rory McIlroy’s (golf) bag of tricks is pretty empty.