PGA Tour 2K21 Review — Teeing Off
PGA Tour 2K21 misses a few putts, but lays down a promising foundation for the future.
PGA Tour 2K21 marks a turning point, both for golf games and developer HB Studios.
Pro golf titles have fallen by the wayside this console generation, but after several years of steadily iterating on its independently produced sim, The Golf Club, and attracting a publishing deal with 2K, the Canadian developer has stepped up to bring a major PGA-licensed title back into the sports gaming landscape.
And while PGA Tour 2K21 does leave a fair number of things to be desired, it’s a solid game overall and lays out a promising foundation for the future.
Customization is king in PGA Tour 2K21, and at the center of it all is your MyPlayer, a 2K Sports staple that will represent you in every aspect of the game.
From head-to-toe, every aspect of your MyPlayer’s appearance can be altered to your liking, whether you’re starting from scratch or working off a list of presets. And you can express yourself on the links through an expansive catalogue of apparel and accessories from major brands in golf (like Adidas, Bridgestone and Callaway) that are purchased with virtual currency accumulated through completed matches or unlocked by accomplishing career milestones and challenges.
The high level of customization also extends to gameplay and difficulty. The stick-based swing controls from previous The Golf Club games carried over into PGA Tour 2K21, and they feels as good as ever. Swings are performed by pulling back on either the right or left stick, then pushing up to follow through, with the quality of the shot determined by the path and tempo of the motion.
The concept by itself is simple, but can take some getting used to for new players. That said, HB Studios implemented a wide array of difficulty settings and gameplay assists, so you can start mastering your swing in no time.
Suggested shots will always present you with the safest path to the green by default (the level of risk/reward you want to take in clubbing up or down from it is all up to you), and Pro Vision will let you see the ball’s projected flight path before you swing. A power meter placed at the bottom of the HUD allows you to gauge how much is going into your shot as you pull back on the stick, and the game can provide adaptive feedback hints if it notices you’re struggling.
All of these features are optional, though, and you’re free to toggle each of them on or off to find the level of challenge that is right for you. If you’re new and need as much feedback as possible, go ahead and knock the difficulty down a notch and turn on all the assists. And if you’re a seasoned vet, you can try shutting everything off and rely solely on your instincts and haptic feedback. Plus, there’s always the training mode to head back to, where you can go through lessons to refresh yourself on the fundamentals or take as many swings as you need at the driving range.
Your ability to improve relies entirely on developing your skills and constructing your golf bag accordingly. Unlike other licensed sports games, PGA Tour 2K21, just like The Golf Club games that came before it, doesn’t have a ratings system that ties attributes to the players. Instead, it’s all in the clubs.
Carrying a bag of 14 clubs, also purchasable through earned VC or career-specific unlocks, you can put together a set that best suits your game. As an example, I was consistently slicing my drives in the early going, so I traded in the driver the game gives you at the start with one that was a touch more forgiving control-wise. I did straighten out my drives, but it came at the expense of distance. HB Studios wanted to make sure every club in the game has an equal pro for every con, so the clubs you run with will ultimately come down to how confident you are in your swing. Want to absolutely crush balls off the tee or shape pinpoint pitches on to the green? There are multiple clubs that can do that. Just know you’re going to have little room for error using them.
While customization is at the forefront, PGA Tour 2K21’s major selling point is its official licensing, and all of the strengths and weaknesses that result from it are laid bare in the game’s new career mode.
With options to start your career in qualifying school, the developmental Korn Ferry Tour, or on the PGA Tour outright, you’ll take your MyPlayer on the professional circuit with the goal of capturing the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.
The mode features 12 tour pros to compete alongside — highlighted by cover star Justin Thomas — and 15 faithfully recreated courses that allow you to play in some of the sport’s biggest events, like The Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Florida or the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale.
For the most part, PGA Tour 2K21 does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of each official stop on the tour. Crowds roar when you land a ball near the pin or sink a difficult putt, and the commentary team of Luke Elvy, Rich Beem and John McCarthy (a returning TGC fan favorite and 2K21’s reporter on the ground) fill the air with vivid descriptions of each hole, memories from years past, and insight on pros elsewhere on the course.
The par-3 Stadium Hole at the Phoenix Open, in particular, was a real standout in my time with the game so far. Bleachers full of fans surround you from every angle, with ultimately one shot to either hit the green to a chorus of cheers or miss to a storm of boos. Of course, you want to get to the green in one to the benefit of your scorecard, but I’d be lying if I said all the eyes didn’t add any pressure to hit that shot perfectly the first time through.
With all that said, there’s much room for improvement, both in terms of presentation and gameplay. For starters, you never directly interact with any of the game’s featured pros, and you can’t even play as them. Their presence in the mode, and the game as a whole, is limited to their names appearing on the leaderboards and broadcast cutaways to their performance earlier in matches, which gets tedious after a while considering every time it happens, the game has to take a few seconds to load in the clip then take a few more to load back to you.
And let’s face it, while the game does boast a respectable roster of pros and official courses, it’s hard to ignore the omissions of certain names (like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth) and locales (Augusta National).
The other half of the career schedule is balanced out with unofficial events on developer-created courses, and the commentary and presentation is noticeably more repetitive on those.
The career mode also includes a rivalry system that challenges you to outperform each pro for special rewards in the way of clubs and gear, but it’s implementation is pretty shallow. So long as you’re playing for the top of the leaderboard, you’ll come out on top of every rivalry within a round or two, then the game will pit you against the next golfer on the list.
Sponsor contracts, on the other hand, offer much more unique and diverse challenges, asking you to complete each match under certain conditions, like averaging 300 yards per drive, keeping your average putts per round to under 1.50, or finishing a round without a bogey. Like the rivalries, contracts come with their own special rewards, but do make you actively think about how you’re playing.
Last, you are allowed to create a female MyPlayer. And while I wouldn’t call it a dealbreaker, it would be nice to see some LPGA representation down the line.
Outside of the career mode, a suite of fan favorites returns from previous The Golf Club games to go alongside the standard Play Now, online matches, and private matches.
The Course Designer returns to all versions of the game (though the Nintendo Switch version will require a launch-day patch) with more than a thousand assets to place and edit that are no longer tied to specific themes. And once a created course is uploaded, it will be available to play for anyone on any platform. Online Societies are also back to allow players to set up their own series of competitive or casual events with friends.
PGA Tour 2K21 doesn’t hit everything cleanly, but it is a solid game of golf at the end of the day thanks to intuitive controls, a heavy degree of customization, and presentation that ultimately captures the spirit of some of the tour’s biggest events.
It brings a major golf title back into the picture, and one with plenty of room to grow.