Released on Wednesday, September 29, 2021: We’re bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of the PlayStation Plus franchise in October. The original text follows.
If you are the type of person who prefers their 18-hole landscaped parks then you will no doubt know the Golf Club series. It’s fascinating to watch from afar the efforts of Canadian developer HB Studios over the course of this generation. The first game in his simulation series was released shortly after the PlayStation 4 and was very much referred to as an indie project. Since then, it has developed a vastly improved sequel, gaining rights to the PGA Tour from EA Sports, signing a release deal with 2K Sports, and now – shortly before the PlayStation 5 – renamed the franchise PGA Tour 2K21.
In many ways, this is an amalgamation of The Golf Club and NBA 2K’s signature MyCareer mode. The focus is on the individual character structure and the equipment with licensed brands, be it baseball caps from Under Armor or colorful pants from Tattoo Golf. Many of the clothes and clubs you can find to personalize your player are based on real items, and it’s undeniably fun unlocking rare little things through goal-based contracts as you get to the top of the global golf leaderboards.
But this is primarily a game of golf, and luckily, the iteration of HB Studios over the past seven years is now really starting to pay off. As with the previous parts, you swing one of the analog sticks and the title determines your accuracy based on the precision of your movement. On the higher levels of difficulty, you need to move smoothly and move the stick neatly with the right timing. Follow too slowly and your shot will fade, potentially adding unnecessary challenge to your next shot.
It’s a simple setup, but the gameplay offers depth if you want to extract it. The shot shaper system returns, allowing you to soften the trajectory of your shot to defeat high winds or add traction to avoid danger. Of course, the more complicated your shot, the better your accuracy needs to be, and it is this risk / reward system that really improves the gameplay. After playing dozens of rounds, we never really feel like the title cheated on us; all bad lies stem directly from our own mistakes, and that makes the title even more beautiful as you try to fix your own mistakes.
If you don’t have a great handicap, don’t worry because the level of difficulty is highly adjustable. You can adjust how demanding the conditions should be and how good your opponents are so that all skill levels can find a setting they like. In addition, you can play against friends or strangers from all over the world, and since the title records every shot you take, you can test yourself against others even when they are offline.
While the excellent golf course maker is making a comeback from previous versions, there are more licensed courses out there than ever before. TPC Sawgrass, TPC Boston and TPC Deere Run are accompanied by Quail Hollow, TPC Louisiana and TPC San Antonio. Although these are accurately represented in terms of their layouts and functions, we criticize that the official courses still lack the character of their real-world counterparts, as they are still largely made up of stocks available on the golf course in Creator mode.
The game looks sharp and colorful, however, and the presentation has been completely redesigned for this version. Broadcast highlights around the course as well as bespoke commentary bring the action closer to NBA 2K, and it is clear that the benefits of 2K Sports’ increased budget have been well taken advantage of. While you’ll likely skip some of the reps after a couple of hours, the whole package feels a lot higher quality in this edition – it’s still a notch lower than the juggernauts of the sports genre, but it’s getting closer now.
Even so, the publication is still a bit too static for our taste. Since golf is a sport that is heavily influenced by the weather, we would like to see more movement in the scene to reflect what is happening in the game. Currently, trees and grass remain completely still even if you play the ball in a brisk wind. While the physics system ensures that the flight of the ball is accurately affected by the breeze, we believe that a little more visual feedback could really improve the look of the game.
As you play through your career and work your way through the ranks, you will encounter real-life opponents like cover star Justin Thomas and build rivalries with them. Unfortunately, these are little more than a better score, but you will unlock gear and in-game currency when you complete them. Contracts with sponsors like Adidas are similarly reflected in the release, and while there is very little spectacle to get into, it’s always nice when you open up that rare belt buckle you crave.
Outside of career, there is both local and online multiplayer in a variety of different modes, from traditional golf to team-based challenges where pairs of players compete for the lowest score. You can also create societies that act as in-game hubs for communities and groups of friends. This is where you can schedule events and even set entrance fees, although the whole system feels undercooked compared to previous rates.
PGA Tour 2K21 is the best simulation golf game on the PS4 and is a real evolution of the entire The Golf Club franchise. While it retains many of the features from previous parts, it is much better presented than ever and finally includes a career mode, worth your time and attention. Improvements still need to be made here – the licensed courses lack character and the look is static – but if this were a long par 5 tee it would easily find the fairway.