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Rory McIlroy PGA Tour

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: July 14, 2015


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Xbox One Review - 'Rory McIlroy PGA Tour'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 5, 2015 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

EA Sports Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is the first EA Sports title to be built using the Frostbite engine, allowing the development team to create beautiful new environments, featuring the most detailed courses in franchise history.

I'm not a golf expert, in real or video game life, but I am familiar with the feelings a round of golf can pull out of you. When you're on, at least in the video game sense, you feel like you're maintaining a Zen garden. There's a flow, an energy where everything seems to move on its own. You're at peace, and for a few brief moments, all feels right.

When you're off, however, your entire existence can feel thrown into chaos. Miss a few too many putts, and you start to assign some cosmic meaning to the round, as if the latest botched eagle opportunity is symbolic of your life path. Of course you missed, you think: You miss everything, and you're in control of nothing.

These may sound like extreme, polar interpretations of the mental journey golf can take someone, but the fact that my mind even traveled to this landscape says something about the pure playing experience of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour. It has the capability of taking an unabashed, non golf-watching football and basketball fan and pinning him or her to the couch for chunks of time as they figure out how to nail the perfect approach shot on a par-5, which I barely knew what all that meant until I was grinding through a few courses myself. It is captivating, addictive and maddening. But sadly, as one eventually learns, it is also not enough.

Being able to "play your way" isn't just a cute phrase; it's this game's creed. The simple joy of getting on a course and hitting some balls is the fixed point of the whole experience, and for the most part, EA handles it with brilliant touch. You can choose from three different playing styles, depending on how difficult you want to make virtual golf life for yourself: Arcade, Classic and Tour.

The Arcade style is a simple matter of pulling back on the left thumbstick and pushing forward to varying degrees, hoping that you can at least keep a straight line during your "swing" motion to hit a perfect shot. You toggle between aiming for distance and using an "aiming arc" with the left shoulder button, and you can pick different kinds of shots using the Y button (like a "choke up" swing versus a flop shot) and shape your shot using the right thumbstick.

Veterans of past golf game will recognize the "three-click" nature of the Classic playing style: One push of the A button starts the backswing, a second one sets the power and the final click determines how well you strike the ball. All this is visually represented through a curved meter that displays small "windows" that signal the optimum time to press. Screwing up any of that can mess with your shot. Playing this way is likely to lead to some cussing even before even you get the shot off.

Then there's Tour style, a completely analog system where every errant twitch of any of your left thumb muscle fibers can mess up your shot completely. You can control every aspect of your shot from power to curve. Even the speed at which to flip the left thumbstick can determine how hard you strike the ball.

The tutorial does a solid job of explaining this, but neophytes like me will most likely find the arcade style the most forgiving, as well as the speediest way to tear through rounds. There are still plenty of other ways to shoot crappy scores without worrying about the idiosyncratic nature of your own thumb.

Whatever the play style, you won't be able to stop noticing some of the beauty of the real PGA Tour courses here. If you're unfamiliar with the courses in general, the commentary does a good job of walking you through some of the more notable holes (like the hole at TPC Sawgrass that's basically surrounded by water) and course history while chronicling what your chosen golfer is doing and how he is playing. There are also nifty fantasy courses, like one inspired by Battlefield, where you'll be driving balls over aircraft carriers that suddenly beach themselves on your hole. It's a cute, if not unneeded, distraction that once again drives home the point of the game's other tagline, "playing without limits." You can play the ball from anywhere and make shots that defy reason.

All of this is done at breakneck speed, at least for golf, as the game's use of the Frostbite engine has practically eliminated hole-to-hole loading times. That's a huge plus that adds to the day-to-day playability of the title. Since you know you'll be able to mash out a round in about 20 minutes (or less, depending on your settings), you're more inclined to sit down and try it.

All of this makes for a fun, in-course playing experience, which is good, since there's not much else to do when you step from the course. The game's most glaring weakness is a disturbing, almost embarrassing lack of overall content. Compared to the offerings of past EA games and current EA games in other sports, I get the strange feeling that I could probably fool someone into thinking that the Rory McIlroy PGA Tour I was playing on my system was an early version or a tech demo. That's how bare-bones we're talking.

Let's start with the golfer lineup. I counted 17 golfers, four of whom were fictional characters likes Pops and Edna Masterson and a Battlefield soldier. The rest are modern-era names like McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and some other excellent golfers that I, unfortunately, didn't know very well. That's fine — I'm not a superfan — but by comparison, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14 carried almost twice that amount of golfers, including a stable of LPGA players and legends like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead. Knowing that, it's weird to play in the Arnold Palmer Classic in this game and not actually have Arnold Freaking Palmer to use when he was in the previous game. Not to channel Seinfeld, but what's up with that?

There are other empty cupboards. I counted eight real PGA courses to go along with several fantasy courses, including the Battlefield course. Overall, that's barely more than half of what players got with EA's last PGA offering. During Career mode, you'll find yourself repeating some of the same courses but under different tournament names. After a season or two, that starts to feel tedious. Conspicuously absent due to the ending of EA's licensing agreement is Augusta National, home of the Masters Tournament and one of golf's four major championships. Instead, the "EA Sports Invitational" is seen as a "major" during career mode, and … no. Also oddly missing is Pebble Beach, which I can remember being part of the series since its beginnings.

Even the game's most intriguing aspect, the career mode, feels left at the option altar. The create-a-golfer feature feels woefully base and limited for both genders. You get a small list of preset head, face, and body types, with the most customization saved for outfits. For those who like facial hair on his or her golfer, sorry — you can't. However, I did like the role-playing feel of career mode, where I could level up and unlock attributes to bolster the skills of my golfer. Some of these skill boosts come from natural play at the end of tournaments, while others come in packaged form with colorful names like "pitch and putt" and "going for the green." Finding the right combination of skill packages gave me a greater feeling of ownership toward the skill set of my golfer to how I like to approach the game, which is mastering the longer stuff, so the need for long putting mastery isn't as great.

However, I felt like a lot more could have been done with the career/story mode instead the occasional generic report of my golfer signing with a new company or winning a tournament. Even after my created golfer (a female who was called "he" sometimes during commentary) won the FedEx Cup, all I got was a blip about how I won the FedEx Cup. Then it's on to the next season. If Madden franchise mode can put elements like Twitter, contract negotiations (or in a golfer's case, endorsement deals), news and even business aspects in the table, I should expect more from other sports.

Other parts of the game proved to be simple distractions compared the career mode. The time I tried online matches didn't really differ much from my offline experience, but the game does have a host of daily and weekly tournaments for those who want to satisfy their competitive side. There's also a "night club" challenge, where players gets to try a variety of shots on very cool-looking neon-lit courses. You're not playing regular golf here; instead, it's a player's chance to see what kind of goofy shots they can master.

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour isn't a bad game; there's just not enough of it. Its predecessors not only supplied a good time in-game but also stacked the deck with a lot of value. We've talked about the lack of golfers and courses, but there's also a lack of golf play styles and even a lack of differing weather conditions. As good as the playing experience is, a sports game should also feel complete. Instead, we're left with untapped potential and questions that will dog designers until the next hole.

Score: 6.0/10

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