PGA Tour 2K21 Is Ready To Bring Back Major Golf Games

Highlighted by a revamped career mode, HB Studios’ once small indie golf sim is now on the doorstep of becoming the PGA Tour’s officially licensed game.

August 6, 2020

Golf games have been in a lull this generation, and the creative leads at HB Studios made no bones about it during a media presentation for PGA Tour 2K21 held earlier this week.

After releasing Rory McIlroy’s PGA Tour in the summer of 2014, in an effort to rework and put a new face to what used to be the long-running Tiger Woods franchise, EA called it quits on creating pro golf titles.

But opposite of that was HB Studios, which independently put out its own unlicensed sim, The Golf Club, that same year. From there, the series steadily grew. The Golf Club franchise gained a dedicated community of fans, and the Nova Scotia-based studio’s work eventually attracted a publishing deal with 2K and a new partnership with the PGA that allowed for a handful of real-world courses to be included, all culminating in the release of The Golf Club 2019 two years ago.

Now, after a name change and a bevy of new resources that have opened up, that once small indie sim is on the cusp of bringing a major golf game back to the market when PGA Tour 2K21 launches in a few weeks on August 21.

PGA Tour 2K21 is built on two core concepts.

The first, which the game’s creative director Josh Muise emphasised at the start of this week’s presentation, is the idea that golf can be for everyone. HB Studios wants to create a game that offers enough depth and customization that can reach anyone regardless of their experience with the sport. And the second concept focuses on capturing the adrenaline rush and drama of live PGA Tour events, working to recreate all the sights and sounds that go into those moments.

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These ideals are behind the game’s entire feature set, all of which are returning from The Golf Club 2019 along with some new additions and improvements. But they’re most prominent throughout PGA Tour 2K21’s revamped career mode.

It all starts with your MyPlayer, who, like in The Golf Club 2019, can be customized from head to toe or built off a wide list of presets. And now he/she can outfitted with apparel from a number of major brands among the likes of Adidas, Callaway, and Bridgestone.

The high level of customization also extends to your golf bag. Again, like with The Golf Club 2019, PGA Tour 2K21’s attributes aren’t tied to the golfers, but instead their equipment. You fill out a bag of 14 clubs, selecting from licensed brands and models that, save for putters, each carry varying levels of distance, forgiveness, and control.

Senior producer Shaun West said the clubs have been balanced so that for every positive there’s an equal negative, with skill level, play style, and the given course also factoring into how players will want to construct their bags.

“So if you want to hit the longest club in the shop, you’re gonna sacrifice forgiveness and accuracy,” West said. “It’s gonna be harder to hit that club.”

Once you’re ready to hit the links, you’ll compete through more than 30 events across 15 licensed courses, including the six returning TPC courses from The Golf Club 2019. These courses have all been recreated 1:1 thanks to the gathering of 4K photography, video and 3D mapping of every hole of every course from Terra Imaging, and the work from HB Studios’ artists to transfer and apply it all into the game.

You’ll start in qualifying school, then make your way through the Korn Ferry Tour in the hopes of earning your pro card to bring you up to the PGA Tour. Once there, another one of the game’s major additions will show up.

You’ll play through the PGA Tour schedule, competing for the FedEx Cup against a roster of 12 pros highlighted by cover star Justin Thomas, who coincidentally just became the No. 1 golfer in the world after winning the St. Jude Invitational last weekend. Every completed match will earn you experience points that can be put toward new gear and apparel, but you can also develop rivalries against the game’s featured pros, where outperforming them in events can earn you more experience and even special gear rewards.

Unfortunately, it looks like you won’t be able to play as anyone from the pro roster this go around. Muise said the focus for this iteration was to bring the pros in as rivals to compete against. HB Studios went to the Players Championship last March and set up full head scans for each pro, but Muise said they haven’t done motion capture to implement pro specific nuances like their unique swings.

Likewise, sponsorship opportunities can provide their own shots at more experience and gear. As your reputation grows, you’ll unlock contract offers from licensed brands that will provide unique sets of challenges. Completing these challenges levels up your relationship with your sponsor, which in turn also rewards more experience points and brand specific rewards (just note that you can only be signed to one sponsor at a time).

Your performance, the rivalries you build, and the sponsorships you choose and develop all go into shaping your career, and it’s all complimented by a broadcast presentation that will build your story. Veteran play-by-play man Luke Elvy will call the action from the game’s virtual booth, and 2002 PGA Champion Rich Beem will provide color commentary. And for returning fans, John McCarthy, HB Studios’ senior audio designer who provided commentary for the previous games, will be returning as PGA Tour 2K21’s “third man on the ground,” Muise said.

“We will never not have John,” he happily emphasised.

Elsewhere in the game, the fan-favorite and extremely robust course designer is returning with more than 1,000 streamable assets that are no longer tied to a specific theme.

“This means if you decide to start with a Swiss theme, you still have access to anything you would have had for a tropical or desert theme,” West said.

The goal, both Muise and West made a point of, was to open everything up and let players run wild with their creativity, with Muise recalling that in the previous games he saw someone use the course designer create a Star Destroyer (just so you can get an idea of how flexible the editor is). In addition, published courses, once uploaded, will be available to players across all platforms.

The staggering level of customization also extends to gameplay and difficulty. PGA Tour 2K21 has six levels of difficulty that go from beginner up to legendary, and a number of audio and visual aids have been added to provide extensive feedback on your shots. Pro Vision, for example, will give you the projected flight of the ball before you swing, and shot suggestion will always give you the safest route to the green (it’s on you and your skill in how much you want to risk and deviate from that path).

The HUD has been tweaked to better communicate the results of your swing, adding displays such as a power meter to let you get an exact gauge on how much you’re putting into your swings when you pull back the stick. You can, however, turn it off if you want to rely solely on haptic feedback. There’s also a new training system that can provide reactive tips as you play, which can range from reminders on how to read a green or a quick refresher on the game’s shot shaping mechanics.

With all that said, PGA Tour 2K21 will let you create your own custom difficulty, allowing you to mix and match all of its settings to provide a challenge that best suits you.

One more thing to note: PGA Tour 2K21 will have Virtual Currency, a 2K Sports staple that has been a touchy subject for anyone that’s played an NBA 2K game in the past several years.

The option to purchase VC for use toward in-game apparel and clubs will be there. However, West stressed that the outfits are strictly cosmetic and that the clubs, again, have a con for every pro.

West also said the gear only unlocked through career mode will stay that way.

“There is an option to purchase VC as well if you decide to,” West said. “But we tried to balance it in a way that playing through rounds and increasing your golfer level feels good, so you don’t have to take that road if you don’t want to.”

Developing PGA Tour 2K21 has opened up a lot of doors for HB Studios, and represents a big step forward.

“It’s no secret that more people answer our emails when there are 2K emails in the address next to it, when we’re knocking on the doors of an Adidas or knocking on the doors of some of these major brands,” Muise said. “It’s been wonderful.”

“Our relationship with 2K was really born out of building the product (The Golf Club) the right way to come to the table with something that was strong on its own merit. And our partnership with 2K grew organically where they saw something that had potential, and we really needed to look to grow our product and move it to that next level.”

That next level comes to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC on August 21.

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