Too much backspin.
Maybe it was the changing of the guard from Tiger Woods to Rory McIlroy. Maybe it was the upgrade to the Frostbite 3 engine. Maybe it was the rush to leap toward next-gen consoles. For at least one, but likely all, of these reasons, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is bafflingly underdeveloped for a game in a longstanding, annualized sports franchise that skipped out on an entry last year for the purpose of improving the series.
Now, this isn't too surprising as we've seen other annualized franchises like EA Sports UFC and WWE 2K15 struggle with content in the face of a graphical upgrade. Touted as the first title from EA Sports to incorporate the newfangled Frostbite 3 engine, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour is meant to be both a testing ground and a foundation for the developer's future next-gen titles. To that end the improvement can be seen most readily with the severely reduced loading times between holes, by virtue of the game loading all eighteen holes at once instead of one at a time. Not only does this save about five to ten minutes of waiting for a full round of golf, but any ball that accidentally lands in the playing field of an entirely different hole can still be played and won't be considered out of bounds.
The trouble is that the graphics themselves don't seem to have received the same treatment. The sunsets and wide blue skies can be a sight to behold, but there are hardly any weather effects like rain. The modeling for trees and foliage feel awkwardly two-dimensional, with added wildlife that's cute but out of place, and objects will pop in and out of the course both during loading screens and during play in real time. Clipping occasionally occurs on clothing with clubs going through jackets and with hands going through the pants of the extra Battlefield-inspired soldier costume.
Exacerbating this lack of polish is a likewise lack of content. The roster only contains eighteen golfers in total, three of which need to be unlocked, and there are only twelve courses (one more if you pre-ordered the game). The signature Masters course, though, is nowhere to be seen. To counter all of this, the game pads the content by requiring you to complete all four rounds of a tournament, instead of only one in past titles, though you have the option of switching on "quick rounds" and only finishing about six of the eighteen holes each round. However, turning this on cycles through the courses even faster, making the small offering of courses more apparent.
If we're following the official rules for golf, the inability to use a club other than a putter on the green is still a problem. If you're 120 feet from the flag (say, at The Open Championship), it's actually better to be on the fairway deliberately for a chip shot than to be on the green and attempt a putt from that distance. The series also hasn't fixed the issue of not providing how many inches the elevation the putting surface has when you aim beyond a foot in height; this may sound like nitpicking, but the difference between 1'1”-high and 1'11”-high is night and day, yet the game only displays “1 FT” for both measurements. Worse, there are no options for replaying or recording shots either, so you'll just have to believe me when I say I nailed a hole-in-one, that one time, somewhere, yeah…
The options for character customization are equally as disappointing. The options for heads, skin tone, body shape, and height are all fixed without any sliders anywhere, so if there isn't a single face or hairstyle you care for, well… too bad. You can't change the age of your character, can't choose where to distribute skill points, can't rotate characters in preview mode, and can't pick which victory poses they use. That last one might not seem important, but when your character starts doing "the sprinkler" and other horrible dance moves after sinking a birdie, you'll wish your character could do anything else.
But at the very least, even if it's bare-bones, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour rolls out enough of the familiar club-swinging gameplay to be enjoyable. The aiming mechanic and the option for the three-click swing in classic mode makes the game quite relaxing if you like scoring birdies and eagles on every hole. On the other end of the spectrum, you can turn on Tour Pro mode or try some head-to-head or online tournaments for expert play, though the online golf club feature is no longer available.
In a twist in art direction, someone at EA Tiburon must have enjoyed Hot Shots Golf, because the game now has numerous reaction poses, a fire trail behind the ball after a Big Hit moment, and the inclusion of Night Golf, a lengthy tongue-in-cheek mode where your chosen character plays a golf course at night with neon lights, rings, and targets. Collect enough points and you'll earn stars toward new outfits and two unlockable courses. Along the way, you can use various powers like boosting golf shots, remotely controlling the ball, or making the ball sticky so that it doesn't bounce. Night Golf is easily the best part of Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, with three extensive courses that can last several days altogether.
However, as much as Night Golf and reduced loading times are fantastic additions to the standard PGA Tour offering, I would rather have more courses, golfers, and character customization with clean next-gen graphics. Content and execution outweigh novelty modes and convenience. On that front, Rory McIlroy PGA Tour likely has a well-formed plan for DLC that includes more courses and perhaps more golfers, but this base game might not be enough to convince fans to pay full price at the start.