Guess Who’s Back… Back Again?

HIGH The refined three-click-and-stick swing controls are wonderful.

LOW The graphics are fairly flat, even on new hardware.

WTF Are we the only residents of “Golf Island?”

Unlike yearly renditions of football, basketball or hockey, an annual golf game is hardly a guarantee. After EA Sports severed ties with then-embattled Tiger Woods and failed to replicate the same success with Rory McIlroy, digital golf has been a little less consistent, year over year. A new contender arose in the form of The Golf Club series, but its sense of authenticity over escapism didn’t quite strike the same notes with genre fans.

Enter 2K Sports, which took The Golf Club’s hyperrealistic approach to digital links and married it with proven videogame know-how in 2021. Its initial 2K21 effort certainly felt like a return to form, but the formula still needed adjustment. It appears that balance has been struck, as PGA Tour 2K23 has come full circle, welcoming Tiger Woods back to videogame golf, and creating the most enjoyable golf game in nearly a decade.

Starting with the positive, 2K Sports heavily refined the control scheme, making it infinitely more accessible without losing the accuracy and feel of a well-placed shot. No longer do newcomers have to revisit training modes to ensure straight, deep drives or precise putts. Instead, it allows users to figure it out, adjusting the difficulty to match their progression. The result is an experience that encourages repeat play without needless frustration. Golf is still tough, but for the first time since the arcade-heavy Rory McIlroy title, success seems attainable and entirely up to user input.

The swing stick mechanic–always a difficult endeavor for gamers lounging on a couch–is much more forgiving, depending on the chosen difficulty level. Perhaps more hardcore players will find this forgiveness cheap and pandering, but as a person who only gets a few hours to play each week, I genuinely appreciated the ability to just sit back and play some golf.

The classic three-click swing mechanic, long considered the standard for golf titles, is back in a heavily refined, improved form. It takes a few seconds to learn, but once users get the hang of the timing, the sense of reward is huge when placing a long drive right in the heart of the fairway. Of course, weather conditions still play a role in a shot’s likelihood of success, yet they never prevent the user from overcoming the challenge. 2K23 presents an ideal balance of control options, and longtime enthusiasts will likely be thankful.

Keeping things light and enjoyable, PGA Tour 2K23 features a number of well-known pros, a few unexpected celebrities, and a fairly deep player creator, so users can populate their games with anyone they want. Each pro has clear strengths and weaknesses, offering new challenges to overcome on each course.

It should be noted that several big-name golfers are not available, thanks to them moving to the divisive LIV Golf organization. While it was a little strange not seeing some famous faces, it makes Tiger’s presence feel more comforting. Besides, I sincerely doubt the lack of Dustin Johnson and Talor Gooch is going to dramatically reduce sales.

This is all solid so far, but where PGA Tour 2K23 lags is in the presentation. Golf may never be a “rock and roll” sport, but I give credit to 2K for including the wildly popular TopGolf minigame mode, a full slate of today’s most popular gear, and a welcome sense of loose enjoyment that golf titles have lacked for several years. Still, at the end of the day, this is golf, meaning players are still wrapped in a sense of isolation.

The commentary is typically dry, with inflection and enthusiasm saved for only the best shots and leaderboard comebacks. Plus, 2K23 never gives users the sense they’re part of a tournament while playing. Some nifty cutaways in the broadcast try to replicate that ‘being there’ feel, but things still center on another long, lonely march through 18 holes. This might be inherent to the sport of golf, but it would be nice to see a little more sizzle as users progress.

Visually, the graphics are decidedly last-gen. Player models are solid, the limited slate of animations is perfectly fine, and the courses have the expected level of detail and accuracy, but there’s a looming sense of familiarity that may make fans wonder why they’re staring at the same renditions of Pebble Beach and TPC Sawgrass they’ve seen for years. Background visuals are simply ‘there’ with little effect on immersion into these vastly different regions. I expect most gamers won’t care as long as the shots keep falling, but I hope future editions bring something new to the presentation.

Despite these visual criticisms, PGA Tour 2K23 delivers immersive gameplay. The simple MyCareer Mode isn’t trying to tell a sappy underdog story, but rather makes players work hard for big rewards — from entry-level tournaments to the heights of the PGA Tour. Unlike most career modes, 2K23’s quick gameplay and well-paced player progression give that unbeatable sense of ‘just one more game’ that’s sadly missing from so many bloated sports titles today.

In the end, PGA Tour 2K23 is far from perfect, but also much closer than anyone could have expected. With EA Sports re-entering the video golf scene next year, I have high hopes that fresh competition and a little fine-tuning will encourage 2K to deliver a resurgence of excitement to golf game enthusiasts in the years to come.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published by 2K Sports and developed by 2K. It is available on PC, PS4/5, and XBO/X/S. This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Xbox Series X. Approximately 17 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. Approximately 2 hours of play were dedicated to online multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB this game is rated E. This is a golf simulation game in which players can select and play against PGA pro golfers onreal-world courses. Players can improve their skills in several game modes (e.g., PGA Tour Career, Course Creator, Society). The words “hell” and “damn” are heard in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the Game Settings menu.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: PGA Tour 2K23 features subtitles that cannot be resized (see text examples above and below) and numerous tactile feedback features within the controller, in all modes. The game is easily playable without sound and is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Brad Bortone
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