I suggested last year that sports games had plateaued with the new generation of consoles. What more can we really expect from new iterations of landmark series like “MLB The Show,” “Madden NFL,” and “NBA 2K.” I love the most recent versions of those games, but we’ve reached a point like we have with a lot of the most famous car models—most of the time, next year’s edition will be awfully similar to this year’s edition.
It comes down to handling and slight aesthetic changes. And so playing “EA Sports Rory McIlroy PGA Tour,” I was reminded of the difficulties that game developers must face in trying to keep new sports games feeling fresh. I remembered near the end of the Tiger Woods’ run of EA Sports golf games thinking that the graphics had reached their apex and the controls were as fluid as they were going to get. Where do golf games go once the physics have been mastered and the visual artists have mastered how to create virtual courses? It turns out they don’t go far. In fact, the developers of “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour” almost seem to recognize that the recreation of the game itself can’t be improved, and so they add quirky bells and whistles like a golf course inspired by “Battlefield 4” and a bonus challenge mode that feels like a mobile iOS game.Here’s the point in a video game review when one typically recaps the plot or gameplay of the title. You know what to expect from “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour.” It has all the depth that one has come to expect from EA Sports games, including detailed virtual versions of real-life courses, multiple styles of play, customizable golfers to create your own PGA champ, online play, etc.
The career mode is deep, the game promises daily and weekly online tournaments, and, as has been common in the PS4 generation of sports games, the customization is remarkably intense. Your PGA champion can really play golf in whatever style you like from a more powerful, strong golfer to a more precision-based putter.
EA boasts that this is the first sports game to utilize the Frostbite 3 engine and one does notice how fluid the gameplay is and the relatively low load times between holes and shots. Having said that, some of the detail doesn’t seem as remarkable as other sports games. Water looks flat, leaves on trees look unrefined, grass looks pale, etc. Again, these are kind of graphical issues that most people won’t notice or complain about. The game absolutely looks “good enough,” but it’s not the kind of title that I think people would use to show off their TV whereas “Madden NFL” an “MLB The Show” look their actual sports if seen from a distance. And a few of the visual bells and whistles like slow motion when you really nail an approach or a flaming ball when you hit it at 100% power start to get repetitive and silly.
What’s most surprising about “Rory McIlroy PGA Tour” is the quirky, humorous tone of the game, not something for which golf is regularly known. Not only do they hilariously include the occasional “Baba Booey!” shout from the crowd during PGA but odd cutaways to alligators on the Wetlands course, a course based on the “Paracel Storm” map from “Battlefield,” and a whole mode called “EA Sports Night Club Challenge,” in which you can use boosts to try and get points to earn stars and open the next level a la “Candy Crush Saga.” One thing I wasn’t expecting from a 2015 PGA game was a sense of humor. Having said that, “Night Club Challenge” is kind of silly. I didn’t experiment with it long before going back to my PGA career. (The best addition to that mode is being able to play the “most important holes” of a tournament instead of having to play all 72 holes over 4 days.)
If sports games have plateaued, the tone taken by developers becomes more essential. Instead of merely going for pure realism this year, EA Sports tried to return “fun” to the world of golf games. For the most part, they succeeded.