While arcade-style golf games continue to be released, a true PGA simulator is something fans haven’t experienced since the Tiger Woods games. 2K and HB Studios have come together to fill that gap, and while PGA TOUR 2K21 isn’t a perfect game, it’s a great start to a new golfing simulation series.
PGA 2K21 is a great game because HB Studios brings its golfing simulator experience and 2K brings the ability to button up a game with features and expertise that not all publishers can allow. HB Studios cut its teeth with The Golf Club and 2K decided to bring the team on board for an official 2K series. The result is all the best features from HB Studios games with the power of 2K.
There are several key elements in PGA 2K21’s design that the team has clearly emphasized. MyPlayer is an important part of this game, as the feature comes with 2K. The creator of the course is back from The Golf Club and it’s bigger than ever. Career mode allows players to work their way up the PGA Tour playing tons of amazing events on real courses. And multiplayer is set up for awesome silly fun, and serious competition thanks to Societies.
As soon as a player jumps into PGA 2K21, the first thing he probably wants to do is create a golfer. Using the MyPlayer feature from many of the 2K sports games, players can create a golfer to use in every mode in the game. The options are amazing when creating a player, and the result can be a very close copy of the person who created MyPlayer. It can be a little work perfecting the player, but nailing a poor eagle with a MyPlayer that looks almost exactly like the person holding the controller is pretty cool.
As far as development is concerned with MyPlayer, the golfer’s statistics themselves will not change. Skill increases naturally, with practice and time, just like real golf. Someone who has played 100 hours won’t have a stronger MyPlayer than someone just starting out, but they may have some new clubs that offer more variety.
By playing, completing goals, and leveling up, new clubs can be unlocked from various licenses including Adidas and TaylorMade. Clubs are designed so that no unlock will be the most powerful and unfair tool. A new and exciting driver can provide an extra 10 yards per swing, but it comes with the penalty of less forgiveness, which can mean more slices and hooks. Balanced clubs mean players can mix and match their golf bags with options that suit their playing style, which is a great way to handle progression and fairness.
A career in golf is a natural place to start with a MyPlayer. Whenever Career Mode is booted, players can choose to start on the PGA Tour, or perhaps start on the Korn Ferry Tour. Korn Ferry is at the bottom of the PGA Tour, so it’s a fun and interesting affair to start at a lower level and work your way up the ranks. The playable courses consist of 15 real-life locations, with possibly more to come, and other unreal but equally beautiful courses.
Career Mode also includes some additional challenges, beyond simply playing in championships and attempting to win the FedEx Cup. Rivals are real PGA Tour players who can be matched against the player for specific challenges, such as who took the best game. Defeating a rival will grant the player experience and new gear, such as hats, shirts, gloves, watches, and more. There are also sponsorship challenges that will be rewarded with gear from a brand like TaylorMade.
Career Mode can be as relaxing or as challenging as the player wants. On the easiest difficulty, it is possible to have incredible rounds like -17. On the hardest levels, however, the game can be brutal. The game allows for many different advanced options in terms of difficulty, but one option seems to rule them all.
Swing difficulty consists of three components: timing, plane, and power. To swing the golf club players pull back on the analog (or pull back on the mouse) and then swing forward with the correct timing. Power is affected when the player pushes the stick forward, but the speed at which the stick is pushed forward affects timing, and this element is everything. If a swing is too fast, it will launch to the left. If the swing slows down, it will fly to the right. On the easiest swing difficulty setting, it’s simple enough to push the stick forward at the right speed, but becomes more challenging as the difficulty level increases
As in real golf, having a consistent flow with the swing is important, and it is possible to get many “perfectly” timed swings in a row. But it’s also likely that one swing will be too fast, the next will be too slow, and the player will have no idea what’s going on. The swing timing mechanic is the single most frustrating aspect of the game. It seems fair that the stick needs to be straight when advancing through a swing, for example, but the timing element is felt.
As far as the other difficulty settings, most have to do with Pro Vision. Pro Vision is a light blue line and aiming indicator. At the easiest setting, Pro Vision is nearly accurate, but it’s possible to turn off wind assistance, penalty lie, lie angle, and more. When doing this, Pro Vision only shows where the ball would land in an ideal scenario, so now it’s up to the player to “do the math” on how high the pin is, how badly the ball lays in the rough. , or how much wind will impact the golf ball.
Like a lot of PGA TOUR 2K21, the multiplayer options are deep. Quick local matches can be played with friends or ghosts. Matchmaking is available for online play, and it’s possible to set up private matches with specific rules. Matchmaking includes fun “Skins” and “Scramble,” which is a cool game that allows a team of two to match against another team of two, and which shot is the best is which team is will take their next attempt.
Societies are probably where the bread and butter of multiplayer action can be had. Societies can be created and or joined, and players can join multiple Societies at once. Each Society can be built with its own rule set, difficulty level, and courses. These Societies are like clubs, with house rules and fun challenges for the group to enjoy. There is a lot of potential in this area, and the player base can easily form creative Societies.
Course Designer is back from The Golf Club, and it’s one of the more in-depth creation tools available in any video game. Players can start with a theme, such as a dessert or a mountainous area, and then they can set the course to have pre-populated elements such as water and trees. Once the course is established, the real creativity begins.
The course designer has seemingly endless options. Land may rise or fall. Aquifers can be made to flow through valleys and around holes. Animals and plants enliven the path. It is entirely possible to make a gorgeous course that matches the beauty of something like TPC Sawgrass.
Along with amazing courses that look like the real-deal, the tools also allow for off the wall and incredible creations. In previous games of The Golf Club, the holes with giant pirate ships were formed somehow with tools, so HB Studios expected more amazing designs that it did not even think possible.
Course Designer also allows items to be added to any theme, which has not been the case in the past. But with so many possibilities, the Course Designer unfortunately doesn’t always run smoothly. An attempt to create a detailed course resulted in a crash during our review process, and none of the progress was saved. And even though it didn’t crash, Course Designer performance on Xbox One suffered.
PGA TOUR 2K21 is not the best game. Perhaps thanks to the Course Designer and all its options, the substance is put into place with brilliance. That’s certainly okay, the game doesn’t have to make jaws drop, but there are times when the game’s graphics hold back the overall experience. HB Studios set out to create a simple yet beautiful game with The Golf Club, from a visual perspective, it’s good to see PGA TOUR 2K21 really stand out from previous HB Studios games.
Playing the real life courses in PGA TOUR 2K21, scoring a perfect hole in one, and hearing the crowd explode is special. The career mode was a blast, and beating Justin Thomas (cover athlete and number one player in the world) in the FedEx Cup was great. The game’s difficulty level can be brutal, with swing timing a legitimate pain. But the options available allow players to progress at their own pace, which is nice. With this, a deep multiplayer experience, and endless course options from the Course Designer, PGA TOUR 2K21 is about as replayable as a golf game can get. PGA TOUR 2K21 is a very fun game, and with it, the golfing simulator is officially back.
PGA Tour 2K21 releases on August 21 for PC, PS4, Stadia, Switch, and Xbox One. Today Technology was given an Xbox One code for this review.