Golf has been one of the things keeping me sane over the past few months. The return of the PGA and European Tour to our screens and actually getting out and playing as often as possible since lockdown was eased has been a joy.
So I was hotly anticipating the release of PGA Tour 2K21 at the end of last month.
I elected for the Switch version so that I could also play in handheld mode. And, while some elements are a swing and a miss, the overall package has been enjoyable.
A brief history of the franchise
In May 2020, 2K Sports announced that HB Studios was developing PGA Tour 2K21, a continuation of the series featuring a more extensive PGA Tour license and other new features.
For those unfamiliar with the franchise, PGA Tour 2K21 is technically the fourth entry in The Golf Club series that was originally self-published by HB Studios. It's the second title to be published by 2K Games following The Golf Club 2019 Featuring PGA Tour, which 2K helped polish ahead of its release in 2018.
The transition to the 2K Sports naming convention will likely garner more eyeballs, but for dedicated fans of The Golf Club like myself, you don't have to worry about HB Studios trying to fix what ain’t broken.
Customisation is key
The game has received mixed reviews so far. And I can kind of see why. But I’m very much in the positive camp.
And here’s why. For a start, there is a great level of customisation at your fingertips as you create your golfer, ready for your first steps in the pro ranks.
There are 15 real PGA Tour courses here and that’s no mean feat. And with shiny licences comes the fact you have branded clubs, including TaylorMade and Callaway, which gives this an almost RPG element as you take complete control over your golf bag.
If the 15 courses aren’t enough, the game comes with its own course designer. I am happy to report this is easy to use too and you can even auto-generate new courses which can then be made playable online - awesome.
The pros and cons of gameplay
The key with golf - or indeed any sports - games is gameplay, though. And that’s where PGA Tour 2K21 really excels.
The swing mechanics have been tweaked and are so much better. There are varying difficulty levels too which you can alter depending on where you are at. Think of it as your golfing handicap, if you like.
I went straight in on the hardest difficulty setting remembering my days of -30s over four rounds on EA’s Tiger Woods. But I got a rude awakening and quickly reverted to Pro Am setting to get a feel for things.
As I touched on before, there is a lite RPG element here and that is evident in the new sponsorship and rivalry systems which make career mode all the more intriguing and interesting.
I do have a few peeves, though. Firstly, I’m not sold on the graphics. Handheld mode is absolutely fine and looks great. But in terms of playing on the big screen, PGA Tour 2K21 undoubtedly holds up better on the Switch’s more powerful rival consoles.
Justin Thomas is the cover star. But you soon realise (if you didn’t know already) that you can’t play as him - or any of the other 11 pros in the game - in any of the modes.
It is a real kick in the teeth and feels cheap as a result. I had been looking forward to playing as the different golfers and utilising their differing skill sets. Alas, you can’t, and it is to the detriment of the overall experience. The only time you see them is coming up against them in competition.
Going around the course the ball physics and playability is the best we’ve seen since the Tiger Woods games were at their peak. But, all too often, hitting from the rough just jarrs in terms of realism. Putting can be excruciatingly frustrating, with short putts made way too difficult by the power/distance bar. And if I lip another birdie putt...
Overall, though, we must celebrate a return to form for golf games. PGA Tour 2K21 is comfortably the best out there and a genuine step in the right direction to emulate the peak of the EA franchise.
There is plenty to build on for next year and with the increased power available to developers for the next generation of consoles, it is exciting times. I would recommend the Switch version for handheld mode alone.
Out: NowRating: 8/10 (just)