Real golf has no shortage of thrills – watching a player sink a tricky chip-in is no shortage of excitement. But in the context of a video game, it needs a little extra power. A spice. Extra excitement, even if it’s when navigating a menu, just to keep it from becoming something you can sleepwalk. PGA Tour 2K23 lacks that. It’s silent, it’s calm, it’s bland, it’s so… decent.
PGA Tour 2K23 (and previously, PGA Tour 2K21) was born out of HB Studios’ fanatically accurate simulation, The Golf Club, and the name change didn’t change the underlying philosophy much. The real-life shooting mechanics, bullet physics, and standard frustration when sinking into a bunker retain their dazzling authenticity, and yet, even with a year off between edits to rethink things, HB Studios has produced another Simple, sultry, elite golf sim with as much personality as a white polo shirt. 2K23 makes minor progress towards releasing the pump, but lands inches from falling into the cup.
2K emphasizes the points-based FedEx Cup as a central career goal. That’s fine, even if the PGA draws more attention to the Masters, US Open and other high profile events – the things EA has allowed in the past for its golf projects. PGA Tour 2K23 does not have those, nor their most famous courses, such as Augusta National. That means the career mode feels like filler as it bypasses licensing restrictions and takes us through second-tier courses like Detroit Golf Club and TPC Southwind. It’s a problem when it’s the main way to play, and there aren’t many other options here.
By following the course, the major influence of 2K’s editors becomes evident. There’s an effort to streamline things, including an optional three-click swing system. It’s new, but brutally difficult to master, and it’s not the expected accessible functionality. This method involves holding down the swing button to set the power, then releasing it to initiate a spinning counter that must be stopped twice to determine swing accuracy. If you’re anything like me, you can expect sloppy shots before returning to smooth, clean, and precise analog-stick swing.
HB Studios has mastered this analog method, thankfully. Other golf games have tried – and even succeeded in their own way – but HB’s quest to mimic the feel and challenge of a real club pays off. It’s a fragile enough existence off the tee or fairway, as club speed dictates a slice or a hook. Even well practiced, there is always the possibility of missing a shot – as it should be. Additionally, 2K23 adds necessary shot types like punches to press the ball under hazards, deepening the repertoire and strategy of the PGA Tour.
There is an attempt to add charisma to this series, but it seems half-hearted. Selectable golfers include cover star Tiger Woods and other household names in the PGA, but also celebrities like NBA stars Michael Jordan and Steph Curry. In the gear section, a hockey stick is offered as the putter choice, giving the necessary nods to Happy Gilmore. That’s all, and these famous players only exist in secondary modes or in versus mode. Say what you will about the defunct Tiger Woods PGA Tour series, but maintaining the golf-centric appeal while driving with Happy Gilmore’s swing was a delight, at no cost to play.
There’s also TopGolf, a party challenge founded in 2000. Now it’s digital, and a passable substitute for when you’re short on time with friends, if it’s also a golf training event. uneventful target, unlikely to win a long-term commitment.
Probably the most time people will spend with PGA Tour 2K23 will be with the Quarry, mainly because that’s almost all it’s offered. There is one goal (FedEx), one style of play, and outside of exhibitions, nothing else for solo golfers to do. Brief rivalries (usually) at an event using a Stableford scoring system bring the slightest bit of extra drama. Local and online oppositions add a little variety, like two-on-two matches and skin games. It’s something. Between matches, deepening the RPG side offers incremental skill boosts. Some offer easier swing timing, others precision or better work out of the bunkers. Leveling requires multi-level decision-making as each club type is individually upgraded and opportunities grow in tandem with the custom golfer’s XP meter.
PGA Tour 2K23 – Release Date Announcement Screenshots
In a reversal of the usual HB Studios ethos, the clubs themselves matter. Not just clubs, but every boost given to them, which can be acquired after winning events. A +3 club power shaft paired with a +2 shot shaping handle can form a believable weapon – er, sports equipment. Given the demanding swing accuracy of PGA Tour 2K23, even a small improvement in accuracy or timing will reduce risk, and that’s appreciated. It’s a particularly playful idea for what is otherwise such a deep simulation, and buying real clubs makes no difference. Only partial boosts do.
Going for the FedEx Cup is attacking HB Studios’ weak point: the dismal quality of its attempt to recreate the atmosphere of televised golf. It’s not so bad that completely broken in places. Commentators regularly make bad calls, such as not identifying when a ball is or is not on the green or whether it is dragging left or right. Attempts to show replays of the start of the tournament take too long to load in the age of SSDs (and push further sometimes trying to reach the server), and when they appear they often show nothing . Rather than following the ball, these snippets stay on the golfer reacting to an unseen shot, but at least the character models warrant that lingering focus. Coming from 2K, whose emulation of NBA broadcasts set the best example in its class, the non-functional delivery of PGA Tour 2K23 annoyed more than helped once I got past the intro of the first game.
By the way, the orchestral music playing on the menus adds painfully to the idea that golf is a boring, elite game. There was room for PGA 2K23 to build energy while maintaining its status, but it didn’t take a single opportunity to do so.
The recurring course creator allows people to give the spark to PGA Tour 2K23 if they want. It also helps fill in the gaps in the course selection – someone will render an accurate pebble beach in no time (with titles like “Pebbles on the Beach Golf Course”), although as I was playing before the release , there was nothing available to download yet. That said, Trying to Build Something offers a nice, easy-to-use menu system with choices. Best of all, it’s all open from the get-go, meaning there’s no need to unlock items to fill in the gaps. Yes, a crocodile hiding near the 9th green is just as much an option as placing a hotel on the 16th.