PGA 2K23 Review
Golf is a sport that has always fascinated me and I even came close, once upon a time, to picking it up as a hobby. I bought a cheap set of clubs, the right type of shoes and appropriate apparel but the closest I got was some lessons at the driving range. My theory was sound, learn how to hit the thing before attempting to play an actual hole, but I guess you could say I had some sort of performance anxiety. Despite good feedback from my tutor about my swing, I was worried it wouldn’t translate if I approached an actual tee. As such, playing as a digital version of me will likely be the closest I’ll ever get, and that’s no bad thing.
It’s been a couple of years since PGA Tour 2K21 and HB Studios has been busy. The headline addition is that of Tiger Woods as the cover athlete, and the increase to the pro roster. This includes the debut of female pros such as Lydia Ko, who you can take on during your career or, if you prefer, you can now play as them too. You can’t use any of them in your MyCareer, though they can become your rival, but are available in Exhibition or Multiplayer modes. If that wasn’t enough, you can even play as NBA stars Steph Curry and His Airness himself, Michael Jordan. It’s great to see the roster expanding with 2K indicating that additional pros will be added post launch.
PGA Tour 2K23 has had a fair few visual updates with the new look menu system being much more intuitive and responsive than previous versions. It might just be me, but the menus in the past always felt laggy and it’s nice to be able to navigate around without waiting for things to catch up. With the move to current-gen consoles such as the Series X, PGA Tour 2K23 now supports HDR and 4K gaming. Interestingly though, on my Series X system hooked up to an LG C7 OLED, I found things a touch too dark with whites looking more grey too. Turning up the OLED brightness in-game (as it’s already set to 100% on the TV itself) did improve things but this then made things look washed out. Hopefully this can be tweaked in future patches and, if you want, you can turn HDR rendering off.
That minor annoyance aside, everything about PGA Tour 2K23’s presentation has improved on previous iterations. As it does so, its in-depth career mode, MyCareer, continues to benefit and it’s where most players will likely spend a vast amount of their time. Starting out as always on the Korn Ferry Tour, the amount of customisation and choice at your disposal this time around adds an element of RPGs to this sports title. As you play you are awarded skill points that you can use to unlock skills that activate and deactivate depending on how you’re playing. Often hitting the rough off the tee? You can unlock a skill that helps with timing if you mess things up three times in a row. Want to get more distance? You can have a power skill so if you get a few good tee shots your next one will get a boost.
Your clubs are also customisable with different heads, shafts and grips that are interchangeable as you play. In addition to customising the look of your clubs, fittings introduce perks to your them as well that both positively and negatively affect the attributes of what you have in your bag. These perks, when added to one of five archetypes — Powerhouse, Rhythm, Greensman, Woodsman & Sculptor — gives you a lot of control of what type of golfer you want to create. Furthermore, if you want to change things up, you can alter your archetype at any time during your MyCareer playthrough. These tweaks are just as well as I very much found that swing timing in this year’s entry is a lot less forgiving than in the past.
This isn’t a bad thing at all and moving the timing graphic to the left of the player in an arch feels much more natural than the bar we used to have at the bottom. However, as timing is so key to a good shot, the occasional graphical hiccup I encountered every now and again really made things tough. It would often occur on the backlift which then made the timing for the downswing tricky to judge and often led to my player shanking the ball wildly into the rough. Whilst you can recover, hopefully, on your second shot, this inconsistency wasn’t just limited to tee shots and could make some rounds very, very frustrating. This is likely patchable and it’s worth noting that swing mechanics were included in patch 1.03, which arrived soon after launch, so it’s clearly on their radar but not quite resolved as of writing.
Whilst much of MyCareer remains the same in terms of progression, things have been reworked in terms of interactions. Choosing your rival or your sponsors is now decided at the end of each tournament through messages on your phone. Whilst this does save you having to remember to select a sponsor like before, it gets a little tiresome after a while having to either agree or decline these messages each time. Doing well in tournaments for your sponsor rewards you with items you can equip to your golfer and if you beat your rival — only available once you reach the PGA Tour — you will also get rewarded with gear though of rarer quality. If you really want to, you can also purchase the Clubhouse Pass which is effectively a battle pass but for golfers. The standard pass that all players get unlocks a few things every so often but the full pass has heaps of cosmetics for those who wish to fork out A$16.95 for the privilege.
One thing did strike me, however, as I played through MyCareer though and that’s just how little has changed in the commentary area. Rich Beam and Luke Elvy return as the main commentary duo and are now joined by Henni Koyack for the on-the-course updates. Much of Beam and Elvy’s commentary are seemingly recycled from PGA Tour 2K21 and whilst Henni’s updates are new and fresh, it really doesn’t feel like much has changed. I suppose there’s only so much you can pre-record in terms of commentary but with other sports titles allowing you to customise things such as the name the commentators refer to you by, I feel there’s much more that could be done here to lift its presentation game. Equally, there seems to be some areas of commentary logic that’s broken as, during my rivalry with Bubba Watson, they kept on referring to him despite the fact he’d missed the cut on day one.
Where PGA Tour 2K23 really shines is in its longevity and the course designer is the key tool here. Past iterations have included some amazing courses created by some very talented community designers ranging from the realistic to the wacky. With the tools at your disposal, if you can dream it, you can pretty much build it. Online play is fun and quick to matchmake though it’s a shame there’s no basic communication tools to say well played to your fellow golfers after a round. If you don’t want to play full holes you can take on Topgolf, a new addition in this year’s title. Essentially it’s a driving range game where you score points depending on how close to the pin you get your ball. It’s a quick and rather fun way to hit a few balls if you don’t have the time or energy to commit to full holes.
Hopefully some of the issues discovered during my time with PGA Tour 2K23, most importantly the swing timing, will be resolved in upcoming patches. However, the fact they exist at all at launch is a little disappointing. In essence, PGA Tour 2K23 feels like a false dawn for the series. It’s been in the works for two years and you can see that time and effort has been put into its development but it's the minor issues that hold it back from being as good as it could be. At the same time, I found myself frequently booting it up if only to shoot a few holes or have a quick pop at Topgolf. Golf will likely never be something that I pick up in reality but digitally, HB Studios continues to offer the best digital facsimile of the sport.
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