STAFF REVIEW of PGA TOUR 2K21 (Xbox One)


Thursday, August 20, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

PGA TOUR 2K21 Box art Shortly ago we got a chance to preview the latest golf game, PGA Tour 2K21, and came away quite impressed. HB Studios, the developers behind the popular 'The Golf Club' series, having seemingly impressed the right people, as their latest game is now partnered with 2K and has directly licensed with the PGA as well, bringing us authentic and recreated courses, golfers, brands and tournaments. While the last few years have had the odd golf game release here and there, none has really stood out to the point where I even took notice. Taking two years to work on PGA Tour 2K21, HB Studios has done a great job at not only creating a great golf game for fans, but has made it accessible for nearly any skill level to play and enjoy.

MyPlayer:

Like most sports games, your career will have you starting out as an unknown, aiming to work your way into the PGA and eventually win the FedEx Cup Tournament. Before your journey to becoming a pro begins, you’ll have to create your MyPlayer golfer. While not the most robust character creator out there, it gives you just enough options to make them look almost exactly how you want. Start out with male or female (which is interesting since there’s no LPGA pros included) and then completely customize their appearance with sliders that can change facial features, weight, height, hair and more.

Pro golfers also need to look the part, so you’ll also choose their attire as well. Do you choose something more traditional with some slacks and a fitted polo shirt, or do you go old school with the poofy golf knicker bottoms and knee high socks? Better yet, you’ll get to choose from a handful of actual real world brands like Taylor Made, Under Armour, Sketchers, Ben Hogan, Bridgestone Golf, Puma, Ralph Lauren, Wilson, Callaway Golf and more. While you won’t be able to afford any of the best looking wardrobe in the beginning of your career, as you level up and earn coins (or purchase virtual currency – VC – which you’ll recognize from other 2K games) you’ll be able to as you start winning rounds and earning that prize money. Some gear, including clubs, are also only attainable from winning versus a rival as well, so some of the gear you’ll have to earn the hard way. You can even save presets of your wardrobes if you really want to play into it, allowing for a quick swap of shorts and hat for the courses that are in the desert or any style for certain courses.

Now that you’ve recreated your likeness, or any variant thereof, you’ll need to choose what clubs you’ll be bringing with you onto the course. An interesting development choice is that your golfer themselves don’t actually have any stats, but instead, the clubs you choose will have varying stats based on different attributes. For example, I choose a driver with the furthest power and distance stats for obvious reasons, but if you’re struggling to keep the ball straight without any slices or fades, then maybe you’ll forgo a club like that, sacrificing some distance for more control instead. There is no “best” set of clubs with all stats maxed out either, so there’s no need to worry about needing end-game clubs to win or stay competitive. It’s all about choosing clubs that either boosts your strengths or help make up for your weaknesses. The only club that has no stats at all are the putters, as the short game comes down to your pure skill instead.


Career:

Now that you’re ready to hit the links and work your way into the FedEx Cup playoffs, let’s quickly go over what’s been included from the sport’s real world counterparts, as the PGA license is a big deal when it comes golf. For the courses you’ll be playing, there are 15 licensed TPC courses which include:

Atlantic Beach Country Club;
Copperhead Course;
East Lake Golf Club;
Quail Hollow Club;
Riviera Country Club;
TPC Boston;
TPC Deere Run;
TPC Louisiana;
TPC River Highlands;
TPC San Antonio;
TPC Sawgrass;
TPC Scottsdale;
TPC Southwind;
TPC Summerlin;
TPC Twin Cities.

If by some miracle you’ve actually been fortunate enough to have played on these iconic courses, you’ll no doubt be impressed by the realistic recreation of each to provide an authentic experience. HB Studios actually used drones and laser scanning technology to capture every aspect of each course, to the point that the topography of each course is down to one centimeter of accuracy.

The PGA Tour wouldn’t be the same without the pro’s to play against as well. Most notably, the cover athlete for PGA Tour 2K21 is the surging Justin Thomas, but there’s a handful of others that you may recognize. Winning the FedEx Cup is no easy feat, and you’re going to have some stiff competition against the pro’s. While it’s only their likeness that was scanned into the game, and not their swings, movements and mannerisms, it’s a great start to have some recognizable names. The pro roster is as such:

Justin Thomas;
Cameron Champ;
Bryson DeChambeau aka “The Scientist”;
Matt Kuchar aka “Kuch”;
Kevin Kisner aka “Kiz”;
Gary Woodland aka “G-Dub”;
Billy Horschel aka “Billy Ho”;
Ian Poulter aka “The Postman”;
Tony Finau aka “Big Tone”;
Jim Furyk aka “Mr. 58”;
Sergio Garcia;
Patrick Cantlay.

Accessibility:

Do you choose to begin in the Korn Ferry Tour and earn your way up the ranks, earning that coveted PGA Tour card, or do you simply dive head first against the pros? More impressively, there’s a ton of work that’s gone into the accessibility so that nearly anyone can play while enjoying themselves and even be competitive. With six different difficulties to choose from, you’ll easily be able to birdie every shot on the easiest settings, but will probably struggle for double bogey’s on Legendary. The more assists you turn off, like putt preview, the more your earnings multiplier will go up, allowing you to net more based on your difficulty choices. Completely casual players can find enjoyment with little to no penalties and a ton of assists like not hooking or slicing your shots, whereas more skilled players can challenge themselves for higher risk versus reward.


While golf can be a solitary experience, you need great commentary for fans to follow along and call all the nuances and information that we amateurs might miss. To bring more authenticity to PGA Tour 2K21, Luke Elvy and Rich Beem were brought onboard for the play by play and witty banter. Having recorded thousands of lines, the duo performs amazingly, sounding completely authentic and reacts based on how your gameplay is unfolding. It’s clear that they have amazing insight into the sport with their in-depth knowledge, but even better, their chemistry works so well together that you’d swear at times their in the booth somewhere calling out your play in real time. Not once did it ever sound as if recorded lines were simply spliced together, but instead appeared to be an authentic commentary based on your gameplay in real time.

Sponsors and Rivals:

Pro athletes get paid and endorsed by sponsors, that’s no secret. It’s no different here either. Once you’ve earned your PGA Tour card you’ll be able to choose which sponsors you want to work with, giving you the chance to unlock exclusive clothing or clubs from many different brands. Some brands, like Adidas, will have special shirts, hats, shoes and more you can unlock if you fulfill certain objectives, whereas others offer unique and special clubs, which I always opted to work towards. You’ll get to choose if your objective are Easy, Medium or Hard, with each having varying different prerequisites before you earn the unlocks. Some challenges have you hitting a certain amount of birdies in a round, driving from the tee a certain distance, scoring no bogeys and many more trials. Each sponsor level you raise will unlock new items, though I didn’t find a way to tell what item of the bunch I was currently working towards unlocking.

Another way to earn special gear, usually clothing, is to beat your current pro rival. You’ll be given a pro that is your rival, and as you finish courses, you’ll earn rivalry points based on how well you performed on the course compared to them. Manage to best them on all of the set guidelines and you’ll ‘beat’ them in two or three courses, unlocking certain gear only obtainable by doing so. Eventually you’ll challenge all the way up to the big dog himself, Justin Thomas, though I do wish the unlocks were something more special other than some clothing that didn't really suit my style.

Course Builder:

While having official PGA courses is all well and good, what’s even better is an endless amount of player built courses with the Course Builder. If you’ve played any of their previous 'The Golf Club' titles before, you’ll have an idea what to expect, but now you’re able to do even more. If you’re like me and want to see what kind of crazy creations and holes you can come up with, you’re certainly able to do so. Start by choosing your theme, like Swiss, Desert, etc then dive straight into designing your course however you wish. You’re able to terraform as well, so you can really come up with almost anything you can think of.

I started by making a course where the hole was on top a crazy steep hill that you had to use a wedge from the tee to try and land it on the green. I’m sure people will create realistic and gorgeous courses, but I’m curious to see what more ‘unique’ holes are created, like the one I made where the pin was in the middle of a sand bunker and no green. Course builders will also be pleased to know that you’re no longer restricted to assets tied to a certain theme, so if you want to put an obstacle course of alligators on your Swiss course, you’re welcome to now. The best part about Course Builder is that once you create and publish your course, it will be available to everyone across all platforms (even though there’s no crossplay).


Gameplay:

While gameplay is familiar, it also feels more refined from what I’ve played previously. You’re able to choose your shots and change clubs obviously, but you can change the type of shot like chips and flops, also able to adjust the angle of the club face, allowing for more control of every shot. Doing so is quite easy, and once you get the hang of adapting your shots, you’ll be able to start sinking those birdies in no time. With the easier difficulties you won’t have to worry so much about the wind and other factors, but for the pro’s, you’re going to have to account for every possible factor that goes into each shot and adjust accordingly. I’ll tell you though, it’s an amazing feeling once you land that first hole in one or sink it in from the fairway from 200+ yards out.

Societies:

While golf can be solitary at times, it’s also social as well. There’s nothing quite like hitting the links with a few friends, and it’s no different in PGA Tour 2K21. This is where Societies come into play. Think of these like groups for friends and competition. You can create your own or join multiple different ones if you’re looking for more people to play with, even creating events that players can compete on. While I’d like to see more features built into the Societies, it’s a great starting point and should at least be able to find you like minded golfers that would like to compete in friendly or competitive matches.

Multiplayer:

And thus, here we are, talking about PGA Tour 2K21’s multiplayer offering, which is quite robust. Obviously you’ll be able to play Match Play versus another golf title, but there’s a handful of other modes that are worth noting, such as Alt-Shot, Stroke Play, Skins and 4-Player Scramble. Stroke Play counts the amount of strokes each player takes to finish the round, with the winner being the one who had the least amount. Stableford is where you score points based on the number of strokes taken per hole with the winner being the player with the most points at the end of the round. Four Ball is a 2v2 team format where the teammate with the lowest score on a hole earns their team a point and the winning team is the one with the most points. Alternate Shot is interesting, as it is also 2v2 teams based, but you take turns playing a shared ball with your partner until you sink the hole. Lastly, Scramble is also a 2v2 mode, but here each team decides which of their shots was better and then play from that location, for every shot. I’m glad there’s been some thought into adding more unique modes, which I can forsee being a blast with a group of friends, or rivals.

Final Thoughts:

Once you finally compete, and hopefully win, in the FedEx Cup, the season will end and you’ll simply start anew on your way to another hopeful win. Once you finally compete in every course and tournament, and beat every rival, it does lose a little of its appeal unless you’re working towards more course wins or saving up for more gear. It does take a while to ‘grind’ enough courses to earn some decent currency for the more expensive gear, but nothing obscene or that compelled me to spend actual money on VC instead, though the option is there for those that wish. Courses are impressive visually, as is the faux television broadcast style of replays and menus, though the crowd surrounding the greens are generally bland if you take the time to notice. Commentary is flawless from the great duo of Luke Elvy and Rich Beem and power hits from the tee sound like there's some real impact to the swings.

While it doesn’t have every official golfer, course and tournament, PGA Tour 2K21 a great start to the series that should no doubt keep your interest until the next iteration. The Golf Club series was a decent golf game in its own rights, but HB Studios and 2K’s new partnership seems to be off to a great start, laying solid groundwork for the series and creating an addictive and entertaining golf experience that anyone of any skill level can enjoy. It’s time to hit the links once again and win that FedEx Cup. Fore!



Suggestions:
Thanks to 2K for providing early access. This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game and was reviewed using an Xbox One X.


Overall: 8.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.8 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10

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