Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is, for all intents and purposes, a golfing reboot, an acknowledgement that this 25-year old series is ready for something new.
"We've started from scratch," said producer Ryan Ferwerda at a recent press event. "There's nothing left in here from the older games in the series."
It's the first time EA Tiburon has brought its golfing game to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and so, as you would hope, there are technological and visual improvements. Primary among these is that, when a player selects a course to play, the entire course loads, not just a single hole. This significantly reduces wait time between holes.
Players are offered three different ways to control their swing. The first is an arcade mode in which you flick the left stick back and forth to vaguely simulate swing. The ball goes pretty much where you would hope it to go. During a recent demonstration of the game, I played with this and found it a tad dull.
There is also a Pro version of the same mechanism, which relies on significant skill. I found this challenging, but likely rewarding after extensive playtime, particularly with regards to applying advanced pressure on the ball like draw and fade.
Finally, there's the one in the middle which is the old-fashioned three button hit. I mostly played with this system, as I have for most of my video gaming golf life. It felt nice and comfortable. But the main point is that EA is offering different systems to suit different tastes and ability levels. You get to choose your own.
The usual courses have been included although, curiously, not Augusta and The Masters. This seems like a bad omission and may be due to the game coming out in July, rather than March like the last three games in the series. The Masters is held in the first week of April. Let's hope it's offered later as free DLC. But you do get TPC Sawgrass, TPC Boston, St Andrews, Royal Troon, Chambers Bay, Bay Hill and Wolf Creek.
I played a round at St. Andrews and found it very satisfying, although I thought that Rory McIlroy's facial modelling needed some work. His avatar looked about 10 years older than he does in real life, in my view.
EA's big marketing push for this newly revamped franchise is about choice, and there are no shortage of playing options, with a lot of fantasy courses. One of these is set on a Battlefield-style course, complete with ships and explosions and all manner of silliness. There is a "nightclub" course with 170 challenges and minigames including a fantasy Grand Canyon course. This is the sort of thing of thing that can fill a 20 minute gaming session when you just don't feel like tackling an entire round.
A career mode is also included in which players level up abilities and gain XP through experience and specific challenges. We're at the point in sports game design evolution where some kind of RPG-like progression system is all but inevitable.
EA Tiburon has also opened up the environment of golf. Now that courses are entirely loaded, there are no restrictions on boundaries, so a wayward shot can end up on an entirely different hole. Weather systems are also a big focus so that courses can take on a very different aspect, and challenge, as the clouds roll in.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is out July 14 on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.