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PGA Tour 15

PGA Tour 15

Written by Sean Cahill on 7/14/2015 for XBO  
More On: PGA Tour 15

Last year, the people at Tiburon took a year off from the PGA Tour franchise.  There was a lot of speculation as to why, though the obvious answers ended up being the reasons why:  To properly transition into the next generation and to reboot the franchise with a fresh start.  Gone is Tiger Woods from the cover of EA's golf franchise and enter Rory McIlroy, four-time major tournament winner at just the age of 26, as the new face of PGA Tour, officially dubbed Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.  The year off did not sit well with the fans, given the jump into the newest generation of gaming, but decisions like this are calculated, and given the response that a couple of other sports IPs received for lackluster entries (Madden and NHL, to be specific), it seemed to be a smart decision to give the Tiburon team an added year to adjust to a new development kit.  Was it worth the wait?  Let's dive in and find out.

PGA Tour comes with 12 available courses and an extra course for preorders, which are as follows:

  • TPC Sawgrass (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL)
  • Wolf Creek (Mesquite, NV)
  • Royal Troon (South Ayrshire, Scotland)
  • TPC Boston (Norton, MA)
  • Bay Hill Club & Lodge (Orlando, FL)
  • Whistling Straits (Sheboygan, WI)
  • The Old Course at St. Andrews (St. Andrews, Scotland)
  • 2015 U.S. Open Host Chambers Bay (University Place, WA)
  • Lighthouse Pointe (Fantasy Course, billed from Lighthouse Pointe, ME)
  • Wetlands (Fantasy Course, billed from Green Cove Springs, FL)
  • Coyote Falls (Fantasy Course, billed from Grand Canyon, AZ)
  • Paracel Storm (Fantasy Course, billed from Paracel Islands, South China Sea)
  • TPC Scottsdale (Pre-Order bonus, Scottsdale, AZ)

This is a downgrade from the previous title, which shipped with twenty authentic courses, had six more available immediately via the Historic Collection, then another 18 courses available via DLC.  The fantasy courses are challenging, yes, but people want to play the courses that the professionals take on week in and week out.  The Paracel Storm course, which is a 18 Hole, Par 54 course (All the holes are Par 3s), is an over-the-top course designed out of the Battlefield 4 franchise.  This wouldn't be a major issue if there were more authentic courses to play, but teeing off from an aircraft carrier isn't going to be on the PGA Tour no matter what.  I would gladly trade this product placement course out for just about any other course I'll see on TV or in real life.

The most notable exemption from this course list is Augusta National, site of the first major of the year, The Masters.  The licensing agreement between EA Sports and Augusta reportedly expired in the off year and was never renewed, which is a huge blow considering that this is the first golf title EA Sports is releasing on the next generation systems and, quite frankly, inexcusable.  The first major is now replaced with a generic named tournament that most players hoped to forget before Augusta was brought into the fold in the 2012 version of the game.  Also missing are Muirfield Village, Torrey Pines, Royal Birkdale, Pebble Beach, Spyglass Hill, and many other courses that were in the last version of the game.  Sadly, I expect to see these all in some form of DLC, but we'll come back to this later on.

The roster available for players is a tad thin as well, but those names are as follows:

  • Rory McIlroy
  • Jordan Spieth
  • Rickie Fowler
  • Martin Kaymer
  • Ian Poulter
  • Keegan Bradley
  • Hunter Mahan
  • Brandt Snedeker
  • Miguel Angel Jimenez
  • Jason Dufner
  • Patrick Rodgers
  • Jonas Blixt
  • "Laser Logan" (Fantasy player)
  • "Nevada Smith" (Fantasy player)
  • "Battlefield Soldier" (Fantasy player)
  • "Edna Masterson" (Fantasy player)
  • "Pops Masterson" (Fantasy player)

That's only 12 real-life players, which is down from 37 in the previous version, and there are ZERO LPGA players (Five were included in the previous version).  Some huge names in golf are missing, including former cover athlete Tiger Woods, U.S. Open runner-up Dustin Johnson, Camilo Villegas, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, and a few others.  There's no real explanation as to why the roster is so thin for the new franchise, but once again, this is inexcusable, especially with shameless cross-title advertising with Battlefield 4.  Players need less of these fantasy land golfers are more real faces of the sport.  Leaving off the U.S. Open runner-up is just baffling.

There are six modes for players to enjoy in this relaunch of the series, which are as follows:

  • Play Now - Just jump right in and get going with up to four players
  • Night Club Challenge - A series of various mini-challenges for one player
  • Prologue - A tutorial for players to get used to the mechanics and gameplay
  • Pro Career - Create your own golfer and take on the professionals
  • Head to Head - Online mode designed for head to head action with other players from around the world
  • Online Tournaments - Daily and weekly tournaments with various degrees of difficulty

Technically, we're going to call this five modes because the tutorial will only be for new players and a player will only dive into it once and be done with it.  I'll touch on each game mode later on, because there are plenty of highs and lows for each mode.

The meat and potatoes of any sports title is always going to be the in-game experience, from how the title plays to the presentation that is given to the player.  PGA Tour does a great job of capturing the moment to make it feel as though the player is going through an actual tournament.  NBC Golf Channel was brought in to make the experience as authentic as possible.  The commentary team has been changed up again, now hosted by Rich Lerner and Frank Nobilo, whom golf fans will recognized from broadcasts.  Everything from the leaderboard, the HUD showing current player score, status, strokes, etc., all feel like a broadcast on NBC Golf Channel.  Crowds will be present heavily in career mode and will grow based upon how your golfer is doing.  If he or she is toward the bottom of the leaderboard, don't expect much of a following and expect it to be early in the day, which is impressive.  The conditions of the tournament, though, sadly do not change it seems based upon what time of day a player starts out as.  It's all pre-determined based upon the difficulty, which can be altered pre-round in Play Now but not in Career Mode, which seems to progressively gets harder as the golfer gains levels.

The mechanics of the game will be very familiar to veteran players with some fine tuning.  The old school "3-click" option is available for those who want to play the way early golf titles used or the standard analog stick, which most players should be using.  The options will allow adjustment of how easy or difficult it is to use the stick, split up into "Arcade" and "Tour" gameplay styles.  The arcade setting is the default setting, and one that is very easy.  Shot arc, putt preview, and direct aiming are all available, so veterans will want to quickly switch to "Tour" style to increase the difficulty.  A nice feature is the "Custom" option that allows players to turn on or off any of the features available.  For example, a player may have the initial swing mechanics figured out but are having a hard time reading putts.  A player can customize the settings where the shot arc is turned off but the putt preview is still available to assist with the green.  This is an excellent feature to have that will allow players to get better all around as they play the game more.

Lerner and Nobilo give authentic and fairly accurate commentary throughout the round, provide great analysis as rounds progress.  Nobilo tends to get a little wordy when describing holes, but it is impressive as he will not only give his opinion on the hole, but even give hints as to how to attack it.  Lerner's shot-by-shot coverage is very good as well and he generally sticks to what works on golf commentary:  Shot description, analysis of the round, and course description.  The problem with this new team, though, is that they get extremely repetitive.  Nobilo constantly refers to "green light specials" on approach shots while Lerner's go-to phrases of "commercial play" and "can't hide the flagstick" are spoken over and over again.

Graphically, the wait was worth it.  The authentic courses have everything in the right place and the scenery is nothing short of spectacular.  While playing at Chambers Bay, it was impressive to see ducks and geese in the water holes and even seeing orcas surfacing in the waters off the coastline.  Trees, bushes, grass, sand, and water all look as accurate as ever.  Playing out of the rough, though, isn't as challenging in this version of the franchise.  The worst lie I've had, and I've had what I thought were some brutal lies, was only down to 78% contact.  There were some lies in previous games where that would go down to as low as 50% contact.  Even with difficulty levels raised up to higher levels, it seems like the challenge is lessened in this game.

Career mode is where things start to get dicey.  In past versions, creating your own golfer was the epitome of the franchise, especially with the ability to tweak everything about the character.  Player models could be changed in almost any way and faces would be near perfect with the use of EA Game Face.  Golf club selection, tweaks to each club, sliders for skills to determine how a player wanted to utilize their strengths; All of this went into Career Mode.  Sadly, most of this is missing this time around.  I was very upset to find that EA Game Face is not even included in the options and the player face models are as generic as it gets, most of them looking like mannequins that were brought to life with magic.  Most look very plastic and fake, which is a far cry from what this franchise offered in the past.  I reached out to EA Sports to get confirmation, thinking that I may have just missed this option in the settings, but they did confirm that EA Game Face is not available at this time.  That leaves the door open to include it in a patch down the road, but this is yet another inexcusable omission for a game that has been in development for the better part of two years.  There is also very little customization on body.  Sliders are gone, as previously mentioned, meaning that players are left with very generic options to determine height, weight, and body size.

Character attributes have been dumbed down as well.  Individual points are now a thing of the past and a player only gets to choose their character's attributes based on attribute bonuses.  These are named after various styles of play, such as Center Cut, Bite, Going for the Green,, Shot Maker, etc.  A character's level maxes out at 100, and while you only start with one of these boosts, a player gets to choose an extra one every 25 levels, maxing out at four total.  Individual points will be earned as a player earns experience, which is very easy to do.  I started my career mode early on Saturday morning and was level 54 by Monday night with about 10 hours put into the game.  This can even go faster if a player opts to play Quick Rounds instead of the full rounds.

Speaking of Quick Rounds, EA Sports gave players an option to speed up their careers to improve the players faster by offering this option.  It's slightly misleading, with most advertisements saying you play your rounds in a fraction of the time.  What actually happens is that, in career mode, a player will only play notable or important holes on each day of the tournament.  Most of the time, this will range between 4-6 holes, though if a player is in contention, as many as nine holes will be available in the Quick Round access.  This isn't a feature that is good or bad, and can be utilized to help speed up progression to get to Level 100.

The pro shop is back, though not as deep as previous years.  Much of the equipment is unlocked by winning events, unlocking sponsorships, and progressing normally throughout the career itself.  A really nice touch to this version is that a player can set four different outfits based upon the day of the tournament, meaning different looks and not just the same option every time out.  A player can opt to wear the same outfit if they choose, and there's no advantage or loss based upon this as there are no attribute bonuses given for clothing or apparel.  I'm disappointed that sunglasses and accessories didn't make it into career mode this time around, and a lot of the shirt options are generic EA Sports wear, though some familiar names like Nike, adidas, Ashworth, and Callaway to name a few, will all be available.

Career mode really feels stripped down when it comes to stats and records, though.  There are no career winnings, just FedEx points each year, which just seems silly to omit.  The career progress only shows current level and what's unlocked at the next level based upon category, while the rankings and stats are limited to FedEx standings and various categories such as best round, driving distance, sand saves, etc.  The highlights section is nothing more than just snippets from each tournament the player has done well at, which will maybe include a quite from the character or a rival professional.  However, there are no physical trophies to look at, nor are there any award ceremonies, trophy presentations, etc.  When a tournament ends, it ends, and there is extremely little fanfare.  For example, the following video shows my final putt at the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay.  I ran away with the tournament and this was even for birdie.  Watch as my player and the crowd go....mild.

 Ironically enough, while my player just walks off like it's another day at the office, this is the exception on celebrations.  There are no custom celebrations to choose from and a golfer will whip it out at random.  Decent drive in the fairway in the middle of a Thursday round?  Perfect time to break out the bull dance!  Random chip shot barely gets onto the green?  Heck, let's break out the sprinkler!  Yes, the celebrations are very over the top in most cases and, quite frankly, need to be done away with or just saved for online mode as a way to taunt online players.  There's nothing wrong with a Tiger Woods fistpump or a punch straight up in the air on a huge putt to take the lead late, but this is golf.  A little emotion is good, but there is zero need for these huge celebrations at seemingly odd times, and the fact that these cannot be altered, controlled, or customized is very frustrating.

Online play is about what one would expect, and there's no real high or low.  The tournaments don't have to deal with lag of any type as you're playing locally on your own system and the score eventually is uploaded to the server to be posted onto the online leaderboard.  Only head-to-head has to deal with a connection between players, and there is little issue with connections, which is a big plus for any online mode.  I enjoyed playing both online modes and, while there isn't more more to them other than playing the events, in a game where I've experienced all levels of excitement and frustration, this is welcome to have a problem-free mode to enjoy. The customization allows players to choose their difficulty and gameplay style, which all players will adhere to, meaning that everyone is on a level playing surface and it truly comes down to skill.  For now, most online players were using Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth, the two best players in the game, though that will eventually change once players get their created golfers up to level 100.

Night Club Challenge is an interesting game mode, and a nice change-up compared to the more straight forward modes that PGA Tour has to offer.  Each challenge has three levels to achieve, much like you would see with Bronze, Silver, and Gold.  This is more of an arcade mode as there are power-ups to earn along the way, including extra mid-air boosts, nitro boosts, and remote control.  Most challenges are centered around landing the ball in various targets, shooting them through mid-air hoops, or timing shots perfectly.  These challenges all roll through three different courses:  Wolf Creek, Paracel Storm, and Coyote Falls.  Winning more stars means unlocking gear in career mode, with 400 stars being the goal for most, which unlocks the Battlefield 4 armor outfit for the custom golfer.  Will Battlefield 4 players like this?  I'm sure they will.  Will the casual golf gamer enjoy it?  Probably not, and there's no attribute bonus attached to either.

Wrapping things up, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a strange game.  Career mode left me feeling very underwhelmed with how stripped down it felt, especially with so few courses to play in comparison to the last couple of titles in the franchise.  However, the gameplay and presentation made me enjoy the in-game experience enough where I kept playing this title.  Still, this is not what I expected after missing a year in the franchise for this reboot on the next generation consoles.  I'm sure I will not be alone out there in feeling that this is a title that's not giving enough of a punch for $60.  One has to believe that more courses will be added in, but it's almost certain to carry a hefty price tag with DLC but there's no way to know for sure other than speculation and track record.  In the 2014 version of the game, the DLC package came out a few months after and, while it was a little steep in price, there was enough content with new courses that the DLC made it a new experience and new challenge.  This time, though, there just isn't enough meat on the bones to keep me interested for a few months until that DLC becomes available.  For a game that was close to two years in the making, the final product is just not what everyone should be getting.

The in-game experience is excellent, with beautiful scenery, accurate courses, and the true feel of a broadcast.  The overall product is hurt, however, by a lack of courses, big name golfers, and stripped down modes.  Gamers expect to be wowed after two years of development, not left with an empty feeling.

Rating: 7 Average

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Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.

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