Rory McIlroy PGA Tour review: short game

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform PS4, Xbox One
Publisher EA Sports
Developer EA Tiburon
Release Date Jul 14, 2015

The list of can'ts in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is as long as the par-5 14th hole at Pebble Beach, which, to get things started, you can't play — and Pebble had been on the disc of every game in this series going back to 1997.

If possible, the absence of famed Augusta National, which grabbed a lot of attention when EA Sports admitted that licensing agreement was over, is the least disappointing thing about this series' debut on the current console generation. But we can start with the pitifully small list of real-life courses that are available — eight, compared to 20 in its predecessor, and even more as downloadable content. (There are four fantasy courses ranging from realistic to bizarre.)

the list of real-life courses that are available is pitifully small
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You can't select individual holes, all par-3s or all-par 5s on these courses to work on a specific section giving you trouble. It's either front nine, back nine or the whole round. You can't play in any weather other than clear skies. You can't play popular variants like skins, Stableford scoring or best ball. It's just stroke or match play.

You can't play the LPGA Tour and you can't even play as any real-life LPGA pro. Five were in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14. You can create a golfer of either gender, but you can't give him or her anything other than one of 11 pre-set heads or three body types. Of all the sports video games, golf is the one where everyone creates and plays as themselves, and this is an embarrassingly decade-old toolkit serving such a baseline expectation.

You can't play any amateur career (three were in Tiger Woods 14). You get one event on the minor-league Tour in which it is nearly impossible not to earn your PGA Tour card. You can't even — and for me, this was the most cynical omission — see the schedule in your player's career, probably because it would be an admission of how few events are on it. There are two major tournaments, the U.S. Open and the British Open, but you only get that presentation in your career. Can't select it in a round with friends.

In a career event, you can't simulate rounds to play only the final round, as many did in the past. You are given something called quick rounds, which offer five or six key holes and simulate the rest, but you must play some holes in all four rounds. If a course doesn't appeal to you, the only option is to withdraw.

You can't even see the schedule in your player's career
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Rory McIlroy PGA Tour seems to want to justify the absence of so many things longtime players have come to expect by virtue of its presentation and an evolution in its basic mechanics. The career mode does have a new progression system that deepens your player's package of abilities instead of forcing him or her to be pure power, pure accuracy or down the middle.

Analog swing controls are improved by a shot-strength indicator that lets you watch your golfer in action, instead of a meter, and introduces some needed variability and difficulty in placing a shot. The game is still very forgiving, even for advanced users who turn off most of the package of swing assists and targeting help.

The gameplay's real strength is in putting, which now presents a reasonable and understandable challenge without babying the player with artificial preview paths, or abandoning him or her to long stretches of trial and error. A dashed line now represents the ideal putt path, which you then try to match using your aim and your own feeling of how fast and steep the green and its break are. There is a very nice feeling of accomplishment on 12-foot putts, and longer distances make it more sensible to just lag it close and two-putt, which in turn makes an accurate approach shot even more important.

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Rory McIlroy PGA Tour also uses the new hardware to render the entire course instead of individual holes, which eliminates both the between-hole loads and the awkward broadcast graphics you saw while waiting. Shots that clip trees can now plow through the branches if they're going hard enough, where in the past they would fall straight down. The more powerful rendering does offer courses that play truer by keeping bad but not out-of-bounds shots still in play, and playing your ball where it lies, even if it's a real humdinger, rather than repositioning it automatically.

The crowds and their chatter are a lot more lifelike and the broadcast commentary of Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo, of the Golf Channel, is much more conversational than the wooden and overacted delivery of Jim Nantz. However, it is given to repetition, even as the two helpfully chime in with anecdotes while you're taking time to line up your shot. The golfers have more detailed reactions and facial expressions, but they veer to the extreme. Why is my golfer doing the running-man dance after hitting his tee shot 276 yards on the first hole of the second round?

Online play is well-supported, with daily and weekly tournaments always available in addition to head-to-head matches against live opponents. There's an arcade suite called the Night Club Challenge in which players test their accuracy or driving distance on one of three neon-trimmed courses, equipping boosts to pull off stunt shots. It isn't as intriguing or deep as the historical or biographical modes its two predecessors offered, but it does offer more than 100 tricks to pull off, many tickling the common obsession with hitting a perfect shot.

Wrap Up:

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour falls far short of its predecessors

This is Rory McIlroy PGA Tour's overarching problem. It is a smooth-playing game of golf, which makes the inability to use its new gameplay on the old features fans loved even more regrettable.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is the last sports video game to make the console generation transition. It's painful to see another game — particularly this series — so gutted of features. After hitting its drive very thin, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is facing a long second, even third shot before it gets back to the kind of variety and value its three predecessors offered.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour was reviewed using a final Xbox One retail copy provided by Electronic Arts. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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