I’ve played a lot of golf over the years, from the Links 386 Pro on my family’s first PC (yes, I’m the older one) to the Links 2004 on the original Xbox to the Tiger Woods PGA Tour in the Xbox 360 days. Good golf has always been fun and interesting with Friends like real sports. But my virtual group of clubs, just like the real life group sitting in my garage, have been gathering dust for years. So the fact that I was able to jump straight into the PGA 2K23 tour and feel right at home with the three-click swing and swing control options during the two-hour hands-on session was a testament to the developer HB Studios: It’s really easy to pick up and enjoy even if you haven’t played The video game version of the sport has been around for a while.
That’s not to say that PGA Tour 2K23 is an easy game – or an arcade-y game. Sure, you can customize the experience however you like, turning the help and difficulties up and down to suit your taste. But it has everything you want here to enhance the realism, from shot formation on links to character customization in the locker room to skill upgrades for your custom MyPlayer.
PGA Tour 2K23 – Screenshots of the release date announcement
I started with a quick round of Top Golf, a video game version of the realistic driving field game that, in fact, feels like it was taken out of a video game. This gave me a feel of the default three-click swing system in 2K23. Aside from the 10mph wind that affected the ball more than I was expecting, it was a good way to acclimate to this year’s game. After that, it was an attempt to recreate my obsessive self in MyPlayer, and despite feeling rushed by my limited time with the game, MyPlayer did a friendly job of creating a quick and dirty version of my real-life radio face. The trigger builder lets you tweak everything from jaw depth to cheek roundness and beyond. You can also set your own golfer archetype and spend your initial skill point.
I played 18 against a course that included my chosen pro opponent, Rickie Fowler, in the fictional Craggy Heights course, though HB Studios promises more than 20 realistic courses as well as player-made courses. Navigating around the course will be familiar to any golf veteran, and the aforementioned types of swing control work great. The three-button tap style punishes poor timing with shots that skip or fade, while swing stick users will suffer the same fate if they forward their swing backwards or follow off-center in either direction. On the green side, meanwhile, you get a grid overlay showing the direction of the slopes, and you can also get a one-time shot preview by holding the X button. It’ll instantly feel familiar to players of old Links and Tiger Woods.
In fact, HB Studios told me that Xbox’s Links 2004 was a “much referenced” game in the studio during 2K23’s development, and based on how easily I got comfortable with it, I tend to believe it. I finished top of the leaderboard after my tour, easily outpacing my pro competitors on the PGA Tour and bagging quite a few sparrows in the process. I only missed Nasrin because I missed an easy hit or two.
Head to the locker room to spend the XP points earned on some new failed machines, and customize the combinations you’ve unlocked as well. These are item-specific rewards that can be toggled as per your choice, such as the rings on your Diablo character. I’ve also earned enough to level up as well, which means I have another skill point that I can spend. To that end, HB Studios promises loads of situational skills that, for example, can be activated for the next hole. This would definitely spice up the gameplay if it worked as described, although I haven’t tried it myself.
However, I think 2K and HB Studios stand a good chance of attracting a lot of people like me – the redneck gamers of EA’s Tiger Woods games. In fact, since it’s called the PGA Tour and has Tiger on the cover, some more casual parents might choose this game without realizing that it’s a different game from a different publisher. Thus, it’s up to HB to make sure it’s a really good game that makes them want to come back again next year. So far, it looks like they’re off to a great start.