April 17, 2023

EA Sports PGA Tour: Genuinely the Dark Souls of Golf Games

EA Sports PGA Tour: Genuinely the Dark Souls of Golf Games

Bow down to your judge, jury, and executioner, EA Sports PGA Tour is here to make you suffer, and you'll love it!

It's been eight long years since EA released a golf video game, and this 2023 iteration is a bitch to play in the very best way. It is uncompromisingly realistic. It's frustrating. It's unreasonable at times. And I'm loving every second of it.

For as long as the PGA Tour games have existed, they've been more of a power fantasy than a simulation. Like the long-time cover athlete, Tiger Woods, players were able to utterly dominate the virtual competition. Players could hit the ball a country mile, they could sink holes in one with their eyes closed, and so much more. It's not a stretch to say that payers could become Golf Gods and exert their superhuman club swinging abilities over every virtual golfer year after year.

2023's PGA Tour is the exact opposite. This year's game is amazingly uncompromising. This year's game wants you to know that you suck at golf.

EA Tiburon spent countless hours using drones, lasers, and probably spy satellites to track and digitally recreate 30 real life golf courses. Each course plays completely uniquely to each other and comparable to its real life counterpart. What this means is that two shots that are hit the exact same way will react differently on different courses. On one course, your shot might hit the ground and bounce a couple of times and stop, but on a different course your shot will hit the ground, bounce a couple of times, and then roll and roll and roll. This is revolutionary! In every golf game before this one, each course felt the same. Sure, they had different designs and challenges, but each fairway played the same. Each rough was the same struggle. Each hill rolled the same. Simply put, in this years game you have no idea how a fairway or green is going to react to your shots until you actually play the course. 

The next biggest change brought to 2023's PGA Tour is essentially the elimination of accuracy when swinging the club. Like past games in the series, players pull back and then push forward on a control stick to execute a swing. In past entries, this motion was pinpoint accurate. If you pull the stick back and push forward when the club is 75% of the way back, you hit the ball with 75% power. That makes sense, but it also turns each of your swings into a math calculation.

2023's PGA Tour offers no such certainty. The stick motion at first feels laggy. It feels muddy. It feels gross. I genuinely thought the swing mechanic was broken! But as I kept playing, I began to understand. 2023's PGA Tour makes you swing by feel, not like a machine. With what feels like a slight input delay, you don't have time to react and make the "perfect" swing. You have to use your instincts to execute the swing to what feels like the right timing. 

This might sound crazy, but once you get used to it, the swinging feels fantastic. More than anything, it feels REALISTIC. I don't even need to look at the meter to tell if my shot was good or not, I can just feel it.

EA Tiburon has also completely revamped the way your golfer levels up and increases their attributes. In past golf games, players earned exp to level up and boosted their attributes to that of the Gods. With enough time, anyone can become the literal perfect golfer.

Again, 2023's PGA Tour provides no such power fantasy. Each player's attributes are split into 5 categories: power, driving, approach, recovery, and putting. Players will NEVER accrue enough exp points to max out every attribute. Players MUST decide which attributes to focus on. The courses themselves also have these same 5 attributes, with each course having a unique mix. If your player's attributes match up with the course's attributes, you'll have an easier time managing that course. If you don't match up with the course, you're more likely to struggle.

For example, I accidentally won the Amateur Championship tournament and qualified for The Masters, one of the most prestigious golf tournaments. The course for the Amateur tournament didn't require a lot from my abilities. I was able to play pretty well. The Masters, on the other hand, required attributes FAR beyond what I was capable of. I STRUGGLED. In the first round I finished +14 over par. I was in 90th place out of 90 golfers! In the second round, I used what I had learned from the first round, adjusted my strategy and shot types, and executed better on my swings. I finished the second round a much improved +5 over par! I still finished in 90th place and was kicked out of the tournament, but I felt SO GOOD for improving!

And the best part about that improvement was that it wasn't due to me dumping points into attributes. It wasn't due to me calculating the perfect swing speed and landing area. It was because I actually learned what the course needed from me to be successful.

The combination of feeling your swing, each course playing uniquely, and attributes actually mattering leads to a golf game that plays like no golf game before it. I was so in love with the challenge that I turned off the default guiding lines for shots and putts because it felt like I was cheating the way the game wanted me to play! I am STRUGGLING on these professional courses and I am loving every second of it. It makes each rare success where I make a 15-foot putt feel flat out orgasmic. It makes each decent shot out of a sand trap feel like an accomplishment. At times playing this game feels like punishment, and I can't get enough of it. I've never played a golf game that feels so close to the real thing.