Review: Though not a perfect swing, PGA Tour 2K21 delivers sweet drives to golf enthusiasts

With a rebrand and modified gameplay, HB Studios and 2K Games have taken a strong step forward for the genre.

After years of being in a relatively dormant state, simulation golf games have finally gotten back into the forefront of the conversation thanks to the launch of PGA Tour 2K21. The last major release of a golf game prior to 2020 came back in 2015 with the launch of EA Sports’ Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, the successor to the old Tiger Woods PGA Tour franchise.

However, that doesn’t mean that the golf game genre completely went away, as HB Studios has slowly but surely been plotting along with their own franchise, which is now known as PGA Tour 2K. The first installment of the re-branded franchise does offer quite a bit for golf enthusiasts, but its flaws show that we are still a bit away before we see a truly great simulation golfing experience.

Hitting the links

Image via 2K Games

PGA Tour 2K21 received a lot of fanfare prior to its release, and for good reason. 2K Games touted that the title would feature real PGA pros, something a simulation golf game has not had in years, as well as an immersive career mode.

However, one of the common misconceptions about this game is that it is the first game of a brand new golf game franchise. That’s half true, as while this is the game of the PGA Tour 2K franchise, it is actually the second title in 2K Games’ quest to breathe new life into simulation golf games.

The roots of PGA Tour 2K21 can be traced back to 2014 with the launch of The Golf Club, a simulation golf game released by Canadian-based developer HB Studios. After two releases, 2K Games became the official publisher of The Golf Club in 2019. But after the launch of The Golf Club 2019, 2K Games shook things up, renaming the title under the traditional 2K branding that both the NBA 2K and WWE 2K franchises have.

PGA Tour 2K21 brings back many of the features that were in The Golf Club 2019, including a career mode, Online Societies, and the ever-popular Course Designer feature. Want to build a daunting course that features bridges, lakes, cars, and even planes (yes, you read that correctly)? You can in 2K21’s Course Designer mode. And as you could probably tell by 2K21’s name, PGA Tour branding also returned from last year.

With all of the new and returning features that were advertised for PGA Tour 2K21, it should have gotten golf enthusiasts excited. And as far as the overall experience goes in 2K21, there’s a lot of good things here, as well as some issues that need to be addressed.

Get your bags ready

Image via 2K Games

The most prominent gameplay mode in PGA Tour 2K21 is its career mode. Upon starting up 2K21 for the first time, the game prompts you to create and customize your MyPlayer avatar, which will be used in local and online play, as well as in career mode. There are a number of paths you can follow in career mode. You can either start right away in the PGA Tour or work your way to the professional ranks in the Korn Ferry Q-School events. 

Once in the PGA Tour, you can write your own story, as not only will you be competing against the pros in tournaments, but you will also have to beat the rival pro golfers you will come across. There are 12 rivals to defeat, with the final one being the game’s cover athlete, PGA Tour golfer Justin Thomas.

However, there will be some parts of this game that golf fans will probably be upset about. For one, the small number of golfers that are on the 2K21 roster. While you will come across some of the bigger names in golf, like Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, and Adam Scott, you won’t actually see any of these players as rivals in career mode. And to make matters worse for golf enthusiasts, you actually won’t be able to play as any of the 12 PGA Tour players in the game. There are licensing reasons for this, and a lot of that is out of HB Studios’ hands. They shouldn’t have to pay for it, but that’s the way it is.

A solid birdie

HB Studios did a strong job with the gameplay in PGA Tour 2K21, for the most part. While it can be tricky at first, the developers did well balancing all the aspects of golf. PGA Tour 2K21 features quality driving and putting animations, as well as logical game physics that give players that true real-life golfing experience. Players need to manage firm and soft fairways and greens that can affect how much roll and bounce a ball will receive on the course, as well as green speeds and wind conditions.

Is the gameplay perfect? Not at all. For example, the swing mechanics look and feel a bit flawed and inconsistent at times, particularly with the game’s downswing mechanics. In 2K21’s tutorial, when coming down on your downswing, the speed at which you come at the ball will affect where it will go on the course. If you come down too fast on the ball, it will hook. If you come down too slow, then the ball will also drift in a different direction. The key, when driving the ball, is to hit it at the perfect time. At least, that’s how it is supposed to work.

The Swing Timing and downswing mechanics in this game appear to be a bit off, as the game will seemingly register you as having too slow or fast swing mechanics at times, even if the stick goes up and down at around the same time on every occasion. The lack of consistency is a hindrance to the gameplay, and believe me, I’m not the only one that is having the same issue.

Another minor flaw that I detected was that more balanced fairways that weren’t supposed to be all that firm played up a bit like that. But as far as gameplay in PGA Tour 2K21 goes, it’s actually not too bad at the moment. Yes, Swing Timing needs to be patched, but there’s a lot to like here.

The verdict

Image via 2K Games

Six years after the launch of The Golf Club franchise, the fruits of HB Studios’ labor are finally close to realization. Yes, PGA Tour 2K21 has its flaws, but this is a strong step in the right direction, and this game can be a lot of fun for both new and experienced players. With the right amount of tweaks, this could finally be the successor to the Tiger Woods/Rory McIlory PGA Tour franchise that golf enthusiasts have been waiting for.

Final score:

7.5 / 10

+ Course Designer is immersive and innovative.
+ Clean graphics and animations make gameplay enjoyable and fun.
+ Career mode gives PGA fans a fun ride.
Lack of PGA Tour players and crossplay could detract from users’ experience.
Shooting mechanics could use some further tweaking.
Disclaimer: This review was written using a review copy supplied by the developer and/or publisher.