Ding dong the Woods is dead. Since Tiger Woods no longer personifies the excellence EA Sports requires of its cover athletes, the PGA Tour franchise found a new wunderkind: Rory McILroy. Just in case you didn’t quite recognize the name on the box this year, EA Sports put McILroy’s freckled mug front and center at the beginning of the game, with his dead eyes drilling into you in HD as he explains the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s unnerving to witness. We get it—this is McIlroy’s franchise now—but it sure feels a lot like it did when Tiger was the frontman.
Rebranding aside, the folks at EA Sports know how to make golf games and they’ve done an admirable job of teaching this old dog new tricks—even if the old mechanics and physics haven’t changed much. Our favorite addition was the new Night Club Challenge mode, a local multiplayer competition that seems destined to entertain groups of people hanging out and pre-gaming. These are bite-sized challenges across an array of courses and they beg for the trash talking and one-upmanship that can only be fostered when drinking and Xbox come together.
Other game modes are the familiar standards you’ve played since Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. Straight 18s, skins, head-to-head and career modes are all present and accounted for. What actually makes them interesting isn’t the style of the match but the courses themselves. This year’s PGA Tour has classic mainstays like St. Andrews and Sawgrass but it spices up the offerings with majestic nature, like Coyote Falls at the Grand Canyon. It taps into weird EA synergy by borrowing Battlefield 4’s South China Sea and carving an 18 hole course out of the rubble and wreckage of the warzone. Will we see McILroy’s putter make it into Battlefield as a weapon too? We’re not holding our breath.
Good as the gameplay may be, Rory McILroy’s PGA Tour isn’t without faults. Stuttering animations and lag when switching camera views were present in every game mode, a small but annoying blip on an otherwise clean record for Rory’s first outing. Hopefully a quick patch can fix these minor issues, but we haven’t seen it yet. We were also thoroughly disappointed in the game’s create-a-player mode, one that has yielded an incredible amount of variety for customization in the past but is pitifully lacking this time around. We can’t help but wonder where EA Sports’ Gameface system went, why it’s not here and, most baffling, why does our character always turn out looking like John Daly?
If you can put aside the superficial hiccups and make your peace with the absence of Tiger, Rory’s first shot as EA’s golf poster boy is a good one...as long as his dead-eyed stare doesn’t end up haunting your dreams.