reviews EA Sports PGA Golf on Sony PlayStation 5

Review: EA Sports PGA Tour (Sony PlayStation 5)

Golf is a better sport than this.

10 mins read

To all the big AAA publishers out there: if you are going to insist on monitoring our play sessions for every second that we play your thing, make sure your servers are rock-solid. Having to re-log into a golf game every two or three holes because a server disconnection throws me out of the single-player modes is ruinous to the experience. EA, I have had a genuinely lousy time playing EA Sports PGA Tour. Enjoy the score at the bottom. You earned it.

Mind you, even if I could play 18 holes of unbroken golf, I still would recommend the cartoony, and yet vastly more enjoyable Easy Come, Easy Golf on the Nintendo Switch instead. There is a stilted soullessness about EA’s effort. The game cosplays as a “cinematic, broadcast-quality” effort to recreate golf’s aesthetics and drama, but as soon as you scratch below the superficial pristine presentation, it fails to be convincing.

For example, one of the great rules about creating “realistic” video games is that you sometimes need to fake reality because the player’s perception is that it should look different. PGA Tour is a good example of why this rule is often cited. After you hit a ball, it looks like it’s skidding across ice once it lands on the fairway or green. It just rolls, and rolls, and rolls, seemingly unconcerned with physical laws like friction or the impact of gravity when something rolls up a hill. Now, I have no doubt that this really is just my perception, and EA’s developers took special care to measure the different lengths of travel a ball would move on the green following a drive with a 1 wood, 3 iron or pitching wedge. I have no doubt that according to real-world physics, this is exactly what happens on real courses. It’s just that my brain rejects that. The way the ball moves off the grass, sand, and rough in PGA Tour infuriates me, even when I’m at a score of -24 by the end of the fourth day of a tournament, because it simply doesn’t look right.

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Meanwhile, another area where the game does not play realistically is with the crowd. They’ll hang off your every shot, of course, but they won’t move out of the way when you’ve hit a ball right at them. In fact, I quickly made that part of my tactics. When there was a crowd arrayed behind the green, I would actively swat the ball from the fairway as hard as I could. I knew full well that even if I overhit things badly, the ball would simply crash into the crowd and stop dead. This would then typically give me an easier chip and approach shot to the green and hole than if I had tried to be precise, accidentally undercooked my shot and left myself with a 40-foot putt.

And then one time, off a badly mis-hit drive, I nailed some crowd member in the skull. The crowd, and my player, actually celebrated that shot. Don’t worry, though, the person that I hit with the ball wasn’t even aware of it. For all EA’s efforts to present the game as an authentic and realistic depiction of the sport, the development team has cut a lot of corners that completely shatter that suspension of disbelief.

Another issue is EA’s decision to choose a stick-flick control method, and make it the only option (for now). In fairness, it does work better than in the 2K golf games. However, the reality is that the PlayStation’s analogue sticks are never accurate enough to make this control system truly enjoyable. A more conventional and appropriate three-click system is coming, we’re promised but… well, I can’t review what isn’t in there. Sony’s baseball game has a half dozen different control options to suit every playstyle and then some. There’s no excuse for EA to fail to support a few of the common (and preferred) ones out of the box.

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In the developer’s efforts to offer “broadcast quality realism”, PGA Tour’s 30 courses are meticulously rendered in EA’s Frostbite engine. The grass is impeccably manicured. The trees are imposing on either side of the fairway, and the lighting system makes putting at the wrong time of day all the more difficult. Those rays of light make judging curves… and even seeing the hole… an even bigger challenge.

But it’s simply not fun to play. Your character is built from way too few options (all boring), and while their swinging action is smooth enough, their walking gait is the same awkwardly stiff and stilted movement that seems to plague most of EA’s games, and their range of celebration and reaction emotions is tiny enough that you’ll have seen most of them by the end of your first weekend with the game. Meanwhile, while the cut scenes and score updates do their best to look like a golf broadcast, the commentary is awful enough to completely undermine that effort. It’s contextual enough (the commentators aren’t going to say you’ve got an “easy” putt when the ball is dozens of feet from the hole), but it is painfully repetitive and limited in scope. Again, you’ll have heard most of the on-course quips by the end of your first tournament.

Overall, I simply can’t see a group of friends getting together to play this thing. Golf fans will enjoy the single-player career mode well enough, and particularly serious players will jump online for a game or two, but anyone looking to have an intense contest like in EA’s other sports games will find PGA too pondersome for a social setting.

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The main meat of the game, then, is that career mode, and it’s okay. The skill tree and experience system is a little too limited to get creative with the kind of golfer that you shape, but you are able to move up through the amateur ranks to the coveted Masters wins. It would have been nice if there were some narrative elements in there, however barebones, to allow you to get a sense of character out of your wooden little avatar, but alas that is not to be.

However, the biggest problem with PGA Tour is that the rewards for playing are just not there. The cosmetics you earn are universally dull and boring – a bunch of dry licensed stuff, with no joy behind it – that you can put on your stiffer-than-a-mannequin doll. Also, you can pay real money rather than grind it out, which makes the reward feel even less worth chasing. Look, realistic sports games are perfectly fine. I’m still enjoying MLB The Show and love both the NHL ice hockey and FIFA football series. But those sports are inherently active, tense and exciting. The sport itself is the energy that makes it entertaining to play. Golf is a hugely technical and challenging sport and the skills of the athletes deserve respect. However, the sport itself is also slow-paced and low-intensity. A golf game needs something else to give players a reason to get enthusiastic about it.

Between the lack of personality, inconsistent aesthetics, physics that, accurate or not, look broken, and cynical always online requirements, EA Sports PGA Tour gets just about everything wrong. I found myself jumping right back to Easy Come, Easy Golf almost immediately. Sure, it’s not the most realistic golf game out there, but at least it has fun with the sport and I’m not booted from the game after every other hole. EA’s dour, miserable effort is the “you must be fun at parties” joke/insult manifested as a sports game.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

  • That’s not a review that’s an angry gamer that bought into another live service and expects it to work straight away. Please stop buying titles in the first week this is normal and has been for years

    • You know, it’s really quite obvious when you don’t actually read the review. I outlined plenty of criticisms that had nothing to do with it being a “live service”. But putting that aside, read this comment back to yourself and just consider how silly it sounds. You’re telling me not to be critical of a game that isn’t working properly. What am I meant to do? Be uncritically sycophantic towards it?

      Also, I didn’t buy the game. I reviewed it from a code provided by EA. You know. What a games review website does. I’m not obligated to sit and wait for EA to get around to “fixing” the issues in the game. They put it out in this state. I reviewed it.

    • A game not working in its first week is not, and never will be, “normal”. If you think it is, you are part of the problem.

  • Great review, and I agree with most of your criticisms. I’m playing on Xbox and haven’t had the disconnect issues, but requiring online for single player is always a negative. Overall I’m quite enjoying the game, but it does have a slew of shortcomings. Here’s hoping EA listens to the valid criticisms and works to improve the next PGA game.

    • There is always one benefit of a “live service” and that’s that the publisher is, in theory, committed to tuning it into an excellent game. I’ll dip back in a few months and see how they’ve gone with that.

  • What I think is lacking is innovation into golf games. It’s still the same look from a decade ago. Im moving an arrow to a spot on the course and then doing the same stick style swing from a 12 to 6 flick.

    What I think should be done is get rid of this same old behind the golfer camera view, hit Y-button to zoom down course to pick a target and replace it with something more realistic.

    Give me a more robust character building than buying notches behind words like power, approach, putt. So boring and just doeant feel fun. You get better at golf by playing golf. Hitting the practice green. If there is ever a sports game where you could really build around an RPG style sports game golf would be it. So many possibilities but what this game is is exactly what EA does. They re-packaged and put lipstick on the sake thing from 10+ years ago.

    How do golfers manage a course? By their book and caddy. Caddies play a huge part in golfers games. Ever watch golf, every si gle person has a book in their pocket, checking it before each shot.

    Over time playing the same course and as your character upgrades you get better, more accurate information from your book. First time playing a course (Campaign mode kinda thing) you may not fully know whether than bunker is 110 or 120? But over time you learn the course better.

    Why not have me pull out my golf book that I can look at the hole and also be able to ask my caddy what distance they think it is for each shot.
    What is the wind strength/direction? What does the green slope like? How fast, slow, etc. Overtime be able to pull up previous rounds shot on your book (like a map of the hole) last time I hit 8 iron from here and this happened, etc.

    Make it to where the more you win the more your character can afford a better caddy which equals more course knowledge. Maybe I stick with my caddy from day one and we’ve built a bond so I get a boost from that instead and pay him more.

    How do I travel. My own expense like some or am I so good I have sponsors. If paying my own then I have to choose which tournaments I can attend. If in being sponsored I have certain requirements.

    If you’re going to have a stick swing let’s do it first person view. Swing my stick from 3oclock to 9oclock as opposed to the 12 to 6 method.

    Maybe use the each stick as your hands. Have to move them in unison or separate ways for certain shots. Have me looking over my ball as I putt. Maybe read putt lines by knowledge of course, caddy experience and previous putts played to gain that green knowledge.

    I think this would be so much better than what either golf game has offered. Both are incredibly under par and not worth buying or even playing. I’ve played both and have not bought either game.

    This game is just like Madden, it looks pretty in commercials but it’s just. not. fun. The online competition is pathetic and their just isn’t a sense of competing against someone. You just feel like your playing against leaderboards and basically against gamertags who are going to birdie every hole. Boring.

    I want to match up and play 1 v 1 match play. Nope not in this game. Why not put me into a 16 person 18 hole match where I can SEE the other players playing their holes, in real time, just like in real golf. As I pulling up to tee off I can the actual other gamers hitting their approach shots. Nope. It’s the same tired play against leaderboards.

    While they do have competition mode both characters play at the same time so it never gives that competition feeling as you watch someone lay up while up 2 with 3 to go and you are going for it. You never get that coming down to 18 and your tied in Match Play, who has the nerves if steel to land that close approach. Nah, just swing away, you’re playing against leaderboards. Just so meh.

    The camera angles are wonky or too close. Everything about this game is just meh. Maybe when it hits $20 or less I’ll pick it up. One good thing about this game is its better than 2K but that ain’t saying much.

  • We already know they got the green grids wrong to the point where it shows a right break when it should show a left one, or vice versa, (they’ve admitted as much in the support forums and promise a patch is on the way) so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they bungled the basic ball physics as well.

  • You are spot on about rolling and perception. Except I think it’s more than just perception at play here and the design is poor. In decades of watching pro Golf, I have never seen a ball roll through second cut or heavy rough with the same pace as it does in the game. The ball also often takes completely strange bounces on impact even on a perfectly flat lie.

    And why are all the greens as fast as landing on concrete? Doesn’t matter if it’s Augusta National, Bay Hill, Pebble Beach, or Torrey Pines: All of the greens in the game run SUPER fast. With no weather features in the game, they will ALWAYS play this way.

    We already know they got the green grids wrong to the point where it shows a right break when it should show a left one, or vice versa, (they’ve admitted as much in the support forums and promise a patch is on the way) so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they bungled the basic ball physics as well.

    • Thank you for confirming that. I don’t watch enough professional golf, and didn’t want to express a definitive opinion on the physics of the ball rolling, so I appreciate you coming here to confirm that my impressions were true. What a mess.

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