Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Review (XONE)

RMPT screen 1
RMPT screen 1. EA
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EA Sports' PGA Tour series has a new cover star in Rory McIlroy and has had a two-year dev cycle to polish it into current-gen shape, so our expectations were reasonably high.  The good news is that the game plays fantastically well and putting is actually a decent challenge for once.  The bad news, however, is that the game is pretty light on courses and content overall, and presentation issues really drag it down.

  Like all of the first entries in EA Sports' franchises so far this generation, it just seems like Rory McIlroy PGA Tour wasn't quite ready for prime time.  There is still reason to be optimistic, though.  Continued reading for our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Electronic Arts
  • Developer: EA Tiburon
  • ESRB Rating: “E" for Everyone
  • Genre: Golf
  • Pros:  Solid gameplay; good controls; decent visuals; Night Club challenges; quick rounds
  • Cons:  Not enough courses; film grain visual filter; bad commentary; so-so customization

Features and Modes

Rory McIlroy PGA Tour only ships with 12 courses (one is a pre-order bonus) - 8 real courses like St. Andrews, TPC Sawgrass, Chambers Bay, and Bay Hill, and 4 fantasy courses including one that takes place in a Battlefield 4 level (not kidding).  This simply isn't an acceptable number of courses, particularly for a full priced $60 release.  And not including Pebble Beach, my favorite course and a mainstay in pretty much every golf game ever, is a huge omission.

There were 20 courses on-disc in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 14, plus a lot of other features.  What happened?

The modes list is fairly lacking as well.  Rory McIlroy may be the cover star this year, but there aren't any modes that specifically feature him.  Rory facts and trivia appear on every loading screen, but beyond that you'd barely know he was here.

  Instead the modes are pretty bare bones with quick play in a number of match types, a career mode for your customized golfer, online modes, and an admittedly pretty cool Night Club Challenge mode.

First, the career mode.  You start by making your own custom golfer - though the options are surprisingly limited - and then start out by winning a Web.com Tour tournament to earn your PGA Tour card.  From there, you're on a menu-driven jaunt through the PGA Tour season will little-to-no fanfare.  As you play, your golfer levels up and earns new and better equipment and has better stats.  In your first season you can easily win all four majors (though Augusta National and thus The Masters are not present) and rise to being the #1 ranked golfer in the world. 

One nice touch in career mode is the way tournaments are handled.  Instead of playing through all 72 holes (or selecting the option to make the tournament just one round, which is what I usually did in past games), you can now play through quick rounds.  Quick rounds have you only playing a handful of holes - between 4-8 - each day, and then your score on the rest of the holes is determined by your stats.  For the most part, the Quick Rounds play out fairly realistically.

  You'd certainly get a lower score if you played every hole, but it keeps things more competitive when you have to make every shot at the holes you do play count.  Occasionally your A.I. competitors will put up some ridiculous score (one time the A.I. won a tournament by 10 strokes and I couldn't catch up no matter how well I did), but the Quick Rounds option works well overall. 

The other main mode is the Night Club Challenge mode, which is pretty cool.  You play a series of challenges at each course at night, and the course is all lit up with neon lights and everything looks really awesome.  The challenges task you with hitting specific shots and nailing targets, and you earn boosts and upgrades (like a rocket boost that shoots your ball up higher while in the air, for example) to help you do the challenges.

  It is a fun mode and there are a ton of challenges to do.

I just wish there was more "stuff".  More courses.  More modes.  Better customization options.  Previous Tiger Woods PGA Tour games had a ton of features.  This entry is pretty barren in comparison.  EA has said there will be free content additions down the line, but we don't know exactly when or what they will be.  Here's hoping for more courses and modes, which could round this into something worth owning in a few months.  If EA is serious about free content updates here like it was for EA Sports UFC (which is a totally different game now compared to launch), Rory McIlroy PGA Tour could turn out all right.  We'll have to wait and see, though.

Gameplay

While the features list isn't as long as we'd like, the gameplay itself is very, very solid.  You can choose from an oldschool three-click swing (where you press once to start the swing, again to set the power, and a third time to set the contact accuracy) or the analog stick swing on either the left or right stick.  I used the left analog stick to swing for all of my time spent with the game.  One thing I want to say is that the Xbox One controller feels really good with the analog swing.  I felt like I had an easier time making consistently straight swings on XONE than I did on the older games on X360 - perhaps because the top of the XONE sticks is smaller than the 360 sticks. 

A nice feature this year is that you can have an optional extra marker onscreen to tell you how your ball is actually going to travel based on wind and lie and those things.

  Previously, you just had a spot onscreen showing you where your ball "should" go in perfect conditions, but then had to figure out where it would actually go on your own.  This new line showing your real ball flight makes the game a lot easier and accessible and, like I said, is totally optional.  You can turn off all of these assists if you want a more difficult experience.  I didn't.  But you can.

Another great new feature is that putting is quite a bit more challenging than before.  Previous games would give you an optional putt preview that would show where you putt would go based on the line and power you had before you pushed the preview button.  In Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, the game instead gives you the ideal line and it is up to you to aim it and set the power correctly based on that line, which is a lot harder.  It took me 2-3 full rounds before I really figured it out, and even after that setting the power on downhill / uphill putts was still pretty difficult.  It felt a lot more realistic, though.  There is just  something more satisfying about having to really think and earn your scores, even if you only get par, than pouring in eagle putts from 50 yards away because the putting was too easy. 

My only real complaint about the gameplay is that it is almost impossible to putt off of the fairway or even off the fringe.  Real PGA pros do this stuff all the time, but it is strangely difficult in this game.  Putting off the fairway, even if you have a straight shot onto the green with no rough or anything in-between, takes an absurdly high amount of power just to get to the hole, which it really shouldn't.

  You instead have to take little 2-3 yard chip shots you'd normally use a putter for in real life because they're a lot easier and more consistent. 

Graphics & Sound

The presentation is strangely uneven in Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.  The graphics are good for the most part and the courses actually look really good, but there is a weird film grain filter on things that makes it not look so hot.  Occasionally you'll get scenes with no filter and they look great, but then the next camera pan will have the filter and look awful.  Speaking of camera pans, it is pretty ridiculous how much pop-in there is whenever the camera moves around the course to show you the next hole or something.  You see the background buildings and crowds and animals and stuff just pop in and out of existence right before your eyes.  The player models, as well as the animals that you occasionally see on the course, are also weirdly plastic looking and unappealing.  On the other hand, however, the game does has some nice lighting showcasing different times of day and even clouds passing overhead the cast shadows on the course.

The sound is similarly uneven.  Oh, the menu music is fine and the sounds out on the course are good.  And the crowds can actually be pretty loud and raucous depending on what course you're on, which can be fun.  But the commentary is just absolutely terrible.  The commentary repeats the same lines pretty much every round and routinely falls behind what is happening.  They also occasionally just plain get stuff wrong.  It is just distractingly bad.

Bottom Line

All in all, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a pretty uneven experience.  It plays really well - I really do like the gameplay changes this year a lot - but there just aren't enough courses to play on or modes to play in.  The presentation aspect is a little more baffling - whoever thought using a weird film grain filter was a good idea is totally nuts - and the commentary is just bad.  With that said, it can still be a ton of fun to play and the promise that more content will be added in the future softens the blow of paying full MSRP at launch quite a bit.  You'd probably be wise to simply wait for the next iteration of the series that will have all of these kinks worked out, or at least wait until the DLC and free content situation is made more clear as the free content updates could make a big difference in a few months, but if you're desperate for a new current-gen golf game right now (and Powerstar Golf or The Golf Club don't suit your fancy), Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is still pretty solid and worth a look.