Golfing for gamers will forever be a somewhat niche experience, giving those that are devout to the subtle sport. Sure style may be apparent, and definitely showmanship upon jubilation, but flair may be overreaching when it comes to its tedious pacing. PGA Tour 2K23 tries its hand at capitalising on a year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, right after the 2K series initial launch in 2020. HB Studios’ Golf Club franchise may have primed the Nova Scotia development team to hand publishing rights to 2K, but now directly under the 2K banner it’s been expected to have some form of financial backing to aid or expand its team and boost its quality of life. Unfortunately, a year off may have done more harm than good with PGA Tour 2K23 exposing flaws that may not have shone so brightly on the green, while trying its best keep par with 2K21 although landing the bunker.
Don’t get me wrong, everything that was great about PGA Tour 2K21 is retained, but there are some drawbacks to what is seemingly a stripped down, barebones, back-to-basics presentation that’s akin to HB’s Golf Club roots that aren’t such a warm welcome as to what was a necessary deviation in 2K23’s predecessor. However on a technical scale, there are qualms that cannot be overlooked that have unequivocally been rushed, which are what I would personally consider to be below 2K’s standard in sporting simulation. You can’t have a title that has multiple close-ups of character models, that lack detail or emotion. By comparison, NBA 2K harbours some of the greatest models and textures in sporting titles, emulating the pro-baller’s elation and heartbreak, down the beads of sweat on their forehead. It’s the small things that elevate the sensations of viewing the sport, but are missing in PGA Tour 2K23.
Gold Jacket, Green Jacket...
Not to take away for what’s inside the box, but the biggest thrill that will engage you is 2K23’s cover art, because what’s on-screen barely matches the aesthetic to what’s formally geared to be a thoughtfully paced exhibition. The problem we have with 2K23 is its roll back to what HB Studios presented us with The Gold Club, rather than what we’ve been acclimated with 2K’s spectacular branding that emblazons perfect audio-visual selling points to even its menu system. I can understand giving players a fresh, clean and easy to navigate UI, but the nonsense of having it be as basic and quiet as it is in 2K23, continues its trend in-game. Even giving players the choice to activate some background ambience while teeing off would have been a great, if not imperative addition. Not everyone likes to play in silence; it’s a video game – you can make those sacrifices here.
Gameplay wise, everything is just as good as it was in prior entries to HB’s 2K and Golf Club series. From physics to accuracy, teaching the player how to wedge out of a sandy bunker or chip themselves out of the rough and onto the fairway while avoiding a water hazard, and making it onto the green are all picture perfect. But what’s the difference? How has it improved? MyCareer can be highlighted as somewhat streamlined instead of a seamless slog, that aids the player rather than challenging them, but this can also be a downside to what players want out of their simulated golfing experience. The giveaway of tutorialising the gamer instead of imposing an impeding goal here is fine for newcomers, but for the intermediate or expert can be frustrating to deal with. Licensing issues between 2K and EA’s PGA Tour hold the title back from utilising any notable courses from the Masters Tournament and others, stifling what could very well be a rich and diverse range of choice here.
We’re instead parlayed with a preliminary prize of basic brand courses that aren’t as popular as the former. The courses still shine with exemplary design, and realism. Great lighting and architecture are fantastically demonstrated to give players something to gawk at, but is disrupted solely by player models and buggy commentary. The models themselves are as detailed as crash test dummies, and have just as much personality as one. The frustration of landing the pond would send a player up the wall, or even show some anger toward their fouled efforts but these characters stand there, stoic and emotionless while the commentators either cover for their miss or call it entirely wrong. The new and optional swinging system is welcome for those that can master it, but I can see fewer players engaging with its unfamiliarity and frustrating direction – best to keep that one off.
While this year's entry may have taken golfers out of their Happy Place and straight into the traps, there's no doubt that there's always next year for HB to come back strong for that Gold Jacket.
Sure the analogue system hasn’t been for everyone, but at least there’s no compromise for the triple-action button mechanic that tries its best to speedrun a course rather than having players think about their next shot. Golf may be a slow game, but it’s methodic like a game of chess. It’s supposed to have some form of monotony and brain game to both grow the player themselves and frustrate the competition. But I mean, if you’re looking to have a quick round of “Golf Bowling” as I call it, be my guest. Gimmicks give 2K23 some branding appeal like Top Golf mode, that has players visit a short range course with targets placed across the fairway, allowing gamers to have mindless fun, which I for one definitely had a few laughs with than playing the mainline campaign. You can play out the opening act of Space Jam, with Michael Jordan as a playable character here, as well as NBA Legend Steph Curry. Want to be Happy Gilmore? Well you can’t putt without the “H4 P33” Hockey stick. However, these additional features may only be used outside of MyCareer.
Play it as it lies...
✔️ Retains The Golf Club’s unequivocal mastered golfing mechanics.
✔️ Efforts in streamlining the experience for the novice golfer.
✔️ Top Golf. Top Golf. Top Golf.
❌ Stripped back and barebones aesthetic can be deterring.
❌ Becomes somewhat monotonous after a few hours.
Levelling your player’s XP is something I never thought I would experience in a golfing game. Sure there’s always been some semblance of statistics that could be tweaked to perfect your golfer’s playstyle, but this RPG style “Archetype” system gives players a better understanding on where your golfer needs improvement. Dealing points for improvement between five individual classes to their archetype will balance a player to how you prefer them to execute their skillset. Greensman, Powerhouse, Rhythm, Sculptor and Woodsman will entail their respective strengths and weakness in an octagon of primary skills including Power, Putt Weight, Putt Path, Lie Range, Shaping, Transition, Swing Path and Timing.
You may apply a boost to your clubs rewarded after each event. However, this is where it all started to become a little overwhelming, and all I wanted to do was just play golf. Presentation wise, emulating what one would view on TV during a tournament should be simple enough for hardware to emulate, right? Well load times in 2K23 are confoundingly long and tumultuous. Consistent stuttering and frame drops are apparent, and can definitely be felt upon returning to the action after a replay is shown. Highly recommend disabling it. Other than Top Golf, the most fun I had here was recreating Golf courses from Wii Sports in the course creator mode. A bountiful offering within the creator suite gives the player the opportunity to craft the course of their dreams.
Then of course, you may create yourself within the game, and to be quite transparent, it’s once again a barebones experience, with models themselves looking less human, and more living plastic. The suite does have a generous offering but quietly sneaks in minimal microtransactions that I don’t think anyone will honestly give a second thought to – mercifully. Online and local multiplayer will of course deal its hand to those that are looking to kill some time on their hands with 1 v. 1 or 2 v. 2 exhibition matches, but does nothing for those looking to participate in online campaigns or tournaments against other players – a missed opportunity to emulate what NBA 2K or WWE 2K does with real time events.
PGA Tour 2K23 is still a fine Golfing simulator, but it lacks improvement from its predecessor giving a need for imperative upgrades. A year off would have given the team some time to refresh and reboot what could have been a welcome reprisal, to re-invent the establishment. Sure the formula for what made The Golf Club a success may have stuck well in prior generations, but we’re beyond that. There’s a distinct quality assurance that’s missing in 2K23, and much of it seems to be outshone by lacking aesthetic, watered down presentation, signature 2K modes that would be excellent additions but are omitted, and a diverse online mode that is non-existent here. While this year’s entry may have taken golfers out of their Happy Place and straight into the traps, there’s no doubt that there’s always next year for HB to come back strong for that Gold Jacket.