Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a shallow, lifeless golf game--rich in technical failings but bankrupt of interesting content. The game types are limited, the number of players and courses is laughably small, and the textures awkwardly pop in and out of view as the camera scrolls across a course. Actually swinging a club and mapping out shots feels right, but whatever goodwill is earned on the course evaporates as you pull away to discover the unimpressive Pro Career mode and the restrictive nature of even the basic Play Now feature. The fresh face on the cover and fancy new game engine can't mask the fact that Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is an undercooked debut that feels like half of a game.
It starts strong, at least, with a detailed tutorial on the various swing styles that provide you with more freedom than ever before. There are three set swing types: a basic analog stick setup where power is determined by the backswing, a more complex version where the follow-through is also taken into account, and the classic three-button press system. If none of the above suits your style, a custom swing option allows you to combine elements of each approach into a personalized pairing of preferences. You can determine if you'd like to be able to hit power shots, zoom in on the trajectory of your ball, see how the wind shapes its flight, and even closely control its spin. Whether you'd like to play Rory McIlroy PGA Tour as a sports simulation or an over-the-top arcade game, the options are there.
No matter what style you choose, taking a smooth backswing and making solid contact with the ball feels authentic, and the putting is challenging without feeling punishing. A dashed line represents the path of your ball from its place on the green to the hole, which takes into account the putt's speed and break. It takes time to correctly read greens with steep hills or sharp ridges, but watching a 20-foot putt bend from right to left and clink at the bottom of the cup is very satisfying.
Other than the lack of load screens between holes and an improved putting system, the swing selection is the only area where Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is bigger and better than what's come before it. The number of real-life courses has been more than halved, with only eight locations that golfers will actually recognize. There are four additional make-believe locations, but none of them make up for the fact that you can't experience the Masters at one of the most famous courses of all time, Augusta National. If that’s not disappointing enough, there are just 12 playable golfers--about a quarter of what previous games have trained us to expect.
Fewer golfers wouldn't be all that damning if the character creator was even passable, but what's available is one of the worst customization tools ever stuffed into a sports game. There are so few options when creating your custom golfer that it's nearly impossible to make a character that you can even pretend looks like you, unless yours happens to match one of the 11 pre-set heads or three body types provided. Instead of feeling like you're starting your own unique career on the PGA Tour, the barebones tools force you to role-play as some anonymous young golfer straight out of a stock photo.
You take this indistinct, cookie-cutter avatar through a single lower-level Web.com event, and from there, you're off to the races. There's no grand buildup, no scenes of your collegiate career, and no narrative to push you forward. You go from tournament to tournament, either competing in quick rounds where you play five or six of the most important holes per day or going through all 72 holes with the hope of becoming the world's number one golfer. But without any sort of subsidiary content to complement the tournaments--such as a story, drills, or even a schedule to outline your goals--the Pro Career can quickly devolve into an unexciting slog devoid of drama.
The only saving grace is the fact that your character raises levels, earns new clubs, and unlocks additional outfits just about every time you complete a round of 18. This sense of progression makes the gauntlet of tournaments much more palatable, as you're able to see your power, accuracy, and spin vastly improve and lead to pretty shots and even prettier scorecards worth hanging on the fridge. You don't manually add points to specific aspects of your game, but you can choose from different packages that might focus on power, accuracy, or more balanced play.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour fails to pair its solid mechanics with diverse and interesting content, and its myriad technical failings drag the otherwise picturesque courses into the dirt.
Unfortunately, the bleak only gets bleaker as you venture outside of the career, where the online community-based Country Club and popular modes like Skins, Best Ball, and Battle Golf have all been removed. Online tournaments and head-to-head play give you some reason to test your created golfer against players more savvy than the AI, but the utter lack of gameplay variety is disappointing.
If you find yourself hungry for something--anything--new to grab on to, a fresh Night Club Challenge mode is available. This extended series of challenges has you landing balls in small circles and through floating hoops to earn points, but a mid-air nitrous boost just isn't enough to make target practice drills any fun. You can earn three stars per level--similar to most popular mobile games--but the deeper you travel down the road of challenges, the less it feels like golf.
Even outside this neon-lit, objective-based playground lie moments that, again, don't feel like anything you'd find on the real PGA Tour. Sinking birdie putts as your created player often leads to a shot of him or her awkwardly busting out the robot or the sprinkler--and while I don't think golf needs to be some sacred pursuit devoid of humor, the celebrations feel completely out of place.
Additionally, the commentary sporadically mismatches its messages with what's actually taking place on-screen. Even though I sliced my ball out of bounds and into the trees at St. Andrews, both commentators talked about how unfortunate it was that I just hit it into the water--despite my ball being completely dry. After that, they mentioned how my approach shot had too much speed and not enough backspin as they watched it softly land on the back of the green and spin backward toward the front hole location. Like most other aspects of the game, the commentary is careless.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour fails to pair its solid mechanics with diverse and interesting content, and its myriad technical failings drag the otherwise picturesque courses into the dirt. There are just too few courses and golfers to keep you playing, and even the limited game modes available don't have anywhere near the complexity or depth we've come to expect. Whether you want to call it a shank, a duff, or a whiff, all that really matters is that Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is a poor effort from a series that was looking to make a splash in its generational debut.