Watch any recent interview with Tiger Woods, and you will find him talking about “feel.” Similarly, feedback and feel are vital to sports gaming. So, how well does PGA 2K23 simulate hitting a forged-iron pure? We put PGA Tour 2K23 through its paces to find out.
PGA Tour 2K23 Review: 2K23 Plays True
This review is being performed on Xbox Series S with the Xbox Series S/X controller. A review copy was provided for free to Sports Gamers Online by 2K Sports. The review was played on 2K23’s performance graphics setting found in the main options menu.
PGA Tour 2K23 starts its round out white-hot with the signing of cover athlete Tiger Woods. Additionally, HB Studios and 2K Sports deliver Michael Jordan and Steph Curry as playable characters in the game, among a number of other PGA Tour players. And I must say, it caught my attention. There’s something about NBA2K’s signature player models that other studios can’t match. 2K players move so life-like – I can’t help but to want to play some golf with Steph Curry in a completely new environment.
Visually, the game is crisp – sunny and bright. The colors are balanced evenly, and the overall environments are clean. The sharp lines speak to 2K23’s high-resolution graphics. HB’s attention to detail in the environment(s) is undoubtedly one of its strengths.
2K and HB developed 20 official courses, many found on the PGA Tour. One of the things I love about golf games is the ability to virtually travel and play through some of the most beautiful courses in the world. At a minimum, 2K23 delivers in this regard. One step further, the game returns its full-fledged developer tool to design virtual golf worlds. I applaud 2K and HB for engaging the mod community in an official capacity.
Moreover, the sound effects are a welcome surprise. Considering I am new to the series, the various sounds at impact provide excellent information. They lend a sense of realism and positive reinforcement to a pure swing. Put a poor swing on the ball and you’ll know it upon contact by the sound. Overall, 2K23 promotes a simulation feel through its excellent sound design.
Conversely, 2K23 is missing other important presentational elements. The game does not feature narrated flyovers on individual holes. These drone camera views are an informative way to show off course design. Moreover, PGA 2K23’s tragically bad replay system further illustrates the need to integrate NBA 2K camera technology into the PGA game.
For context, 2K Sports fired shots at EA Sports by signing Tiger to be the cover athlete. The expectations are higher than ever, yet 2K fails to deliver on what 2K does best. The remarkable player models and the unmatched presentation from NBA 2K never migrated over to PGA Tour 2K23. It is confounding to have such incredible intellectual property that cannot be shared amongst the games two years after 2K acquired the golf simulator.
As a result, the player models are vanilla at best. They look semi-realistic but are all carbon copies, animation-wise. Whereas the iconic 2K animations are fully leveraged in NBA 2K’s MyPlayer mode, distinct swing types are nowhere to be found in 2K23. It is a shame because the game has the potential to be special.
MyPlayer will walk users through various pro tour matches throughout a given season to compete for the FedEx Cup. The “mode” features a number of archetypes to build your avatar with. It is unclear how the different archetypes will deliver varying feels to the game other than player ratings. For example, a rhythm archetype is selectable, but the game does not feature an impactful concentration or composure meter to complement it.
There are three skills to choose from: Assist, Passive, and Zone which can be activated in unique circumstances. These boosts feel like an afterthought because they fail to feature any on-screen visuals or graphics that communicate clearly with the end user. They lack engagement and information. Customization in MyPlayer can be fun, but the game mode feels a bit more beta than a full-fledged 2K MyPlayer we’ve come to know in the NBA series.
It is important to play the shot that works with the situation, and a shot that you are confident you can pull off… 2K23 challenges you to use your imagination to get up and down.
2K23 is a simulation at heart. It succeeds in emulating the sport and the precision the game of golf requires. Similar to real life, 2K23 requires accuracy down to the millimeter in order to hit the ball cleanly. All of 2K23’s swing action occurs in a very narrow plane of motion on the analog stick.
Tempo, precision, and concentration are required. Just as important, a commitment to the shot is a must. Your hands must be quiet to consistently hit good shots. The overall feel that I’m looking for is here, but the game just needs a few adjustments. A variety of unique animations would add much-needed personality to the game.
On that point, HB Studios delivers plenty of shot customization options. Players can shape shots, add or remove loft, and execute a number of shot types. Each shot type will require a different tempo, so it’s best to practice shots by pressing in the right analog stick before letting it fly. It is important to play the shot that works with the situation, and a shot that you are confident you can pull off. In this regard, 2K23 challenges you to use your imagination to get up and down.
Continuing, the swing control itself is not revolutionary. Those familiar with the series understand that the game borrows the design of Tiger’s games from the PlayStation 2 days. In this sense, the game treads water. The design choice works, although it does not move the genre forward. All of the shot customization I’ve outlined above existed in Tiger’s previous games.
Going back to feel, my first real critique is on the rumble feedback. The feedback at impact does not sync with the impeccable sound design of the clubs. A flush, center face shot should result in a smooth and subtle rumble center of the controller. Instead, the feedback occurs in the backswing and confuses the feel at impact. The incongruity of it all is head-scratching. Surprisingly, this does not take away from realism. Perfect swings still feel like magic because of the sound and the ball flight.
Next, swing plane and tempo feedback are provided in real-time but limited information is provided. A mishit can occur even when executing a very smooth swing on the ball and the game does not tell you what went wrong. We are forced to trace the ball flight and come up with our own analysis. I can’t help but think that my holy grail for sports game design, MVP Baseball, might offer the type of feedback valuable to a golf game. MVP’s slow-motion, hyper-zoomed swing replay would suit 2K23’s swing analysis tool well.
Despite such shortcomings, 2K23 plays so true that it can be quite enjoyable. The game offers many layers of simulation elements such as swing-tuning and all of the equipment options you can dream of. I’m playing the Titleist T-series irons that I would like to try in real life. As a true simulation game, 2K23 has the potential to generate different sounds and experiences depending on the brand of iron. I am surprised that 2K missed the opportunity to do so, considering the game hits all other points so poignantly.
2K23 plays at a good pace. The game is quiet, but overall, 2K23 promotes a smooth round of golf. The game requires patience and time, and it funnels gamers into using a true golfer’s mentality. I was able to cruise through 18-holes within minutes once I got into a bit of a rhythm.
I intended to make an argument that PGA Tour 2K23 is not interactive enough. But the truth is, the game allows users to interact with the breathtaking courses. Sky Peaks Resorts is so pristinely beautiful, it changed my outlook on 2K23. We have the ability to get lost in perfectly designed landscapes and to shape shots around giant redwoods. The game’s excellent golf ball physics shine with every unique lie, with each pin position, and the ways in which you can map out an attack. In this sense, the strategy begins to stack, and each shot requires considerable thought. HB Studios and 2K deserve big points for nailing down the formula and immersing gamers in the environments.
The biggest challenge you will find online in PGA 2K23 is aiming to beat the top scores on each course. This is a traditional approach to competitive golf. The game fails to shift gears to make it more casual or social. There are no boss battles, challenges, or creative game modes that fuse flowing gameplay and teamwork together. PGA Tour 2K23 would benefit greatly from such features that engage users in a less intense or intimidating way.
Online play offers a few multiplayer game modes. The Divot Derby mode drops in 20 players and requires players to score before the rest of the field. Straight from Mario Golf, this mode might be the best social feature except it is filled with A.I. golfers at the time of this writing. The most fun I’ve had online is matchplay with up to four players. The servers are not the most stable, but a quick three-hole match is an excellent format.
Continuing online, gamers can create their own social clubs and create tournaments for the members of the club. The social clubs don’t track team progress toward team achievements or unlocks. It would serve PGA Tour 2K23 best to borrow concepts from Forza, Destiny, or other games that succeed at demanding teamwork in order to make progress. Here, the social clubs function as a way to create private leagues and tournaments. Perhaps the most organized of leagues through third-party support will make the best use of this feature, such as this one.
By all accounts, the course designer might be worth the price of admission alone. Similar to the MLB The Show Stadium design mode, this tool is quite impressive and might be the most intriguing element of PGA Tour 2K23. The amount of options, details, and assets that are available at your disposal shows off the capabilities of the consoles we are now playing on.
I have no doubt that beautiful courses will be crafted, recreating the best courses in the world. It is an expensive piece of design software, dropped into a game. Ten years ago, this type of program normally would cost thousands, found in most boutique architectural design firms. It is crazy to have the ability to build with developer tools on a console. HB deserves a great deal of credit for dropping in a special piece of software in its game and committing to improving it year after year.
Clubhouse Pass – Seasons
It goes without saying the game launches with a season pass called Clubhouse Pass. The achievement track is cut and pasted from most achievement tracks you will find in gaming. Gamers can pay for varying levels of subscriptions to unlock rewards that may take hours of grinding or might not be accessible at all without a subscription. Overall, the microtransactions are status quo, and not overly burdensome. This is a welcome change from what we normally see from 2K in its basketball game.
I do not think the achievement tracks are motivating to continue to play PGA Tour 2K23 for new unlocks. There’s only so much swag or golf equipment can do, week in and week out, to keep the game fresh. Boosts and other small value-adds are welcome but are not enough to keep me returning if the overall apparatus of competitive golf is so isolating. The game modes are not creative enough; not competitive enough, and consequently, the achievement tracks hold less value as a result.
Golf is not the most intense competitive social sport. It is the developer’s responsibility to cultivate an eSport environment in its golfing metaverse. 2K and HB fail to do so and continue singularly on a narrow approach: simulation gameplay.
PGA Tour 2K23 is a deep, yet conservative golf game. If Apple were to build a golf game, I contend 2K23 would be it. Efficient, beautiful, and clean design, yet fails to take risks outside of what it does best – siloed, simulation golf. It will need a few changes to reach greater heights. The gameplay, physics, and course design are its saving grace and balance out the game’s overall grade. HB Studios’ graphic artists have produced award-worthy golf landscapes.
PGA Tour 2K23 - Plays True
Though the game lacks a lot of visual and presentational flare that 2K clearly does with its other sports games, PGA Tour 2K23 challenges you to use imagination to get up and down its gorgeous golf courses.
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