Because some features of PGA Tour 2K23 were not available at the time of writing this, and because I don’t have enough time to fully complete a MyCareer run, I’ve decided that, in lieu of reviewing PGA Tour 2K23 and taking the chance of giving it an unfair score, I would just write up the five most important things to note about the game.
All told, HB Studios still has a solid core in PGA Tour 2K23, but after three years with the license and 2K’s backing, I expected a lot more out of this game.
3-Click Swing changes everything
Ever since it was known as The Golf Club, HB Studios’ series has exclusively used a “swing stick” mechanic. That’s the one where you mimic the actual swinging of a club with the left joystick, making sure to get both the timing and direction as close to perfect as possible. That’s changed with PGA 2K23, which introduces the “new” 3-Click Swing.
I put that “new” in quotes because the 3-Click Swing is definitely reminiscent of the kind of gameplay mechanic that golf games used for ages until the popularization of dual analog sticks. Instead of timing a swing, you have to time button presses, though PGA Tour 2K23 twists the formula ever so slightly. Rather than perfectly timing two clicks, you start the swing by holding and letting go of the button within the power range that you want to hit the ball. Then you have to time two more button presses, one for the backswing and one for the downswing.
If that sounds easier than the standard stick swing, that’s because it is. While I’ve played every iteration of HB Studios’ golf, I’ve never fully mastered the swing stick. It’s not like I play these games every day (or even more than a few times every year), but I still can’t just pick up and play with the swing stick mechanic and expect my ball to go where I want every time.
The complete opposite is true of the 3-Click Swing. Even at the pro difficulty level, I already mastered the timing to the point where I was shooting sub-59 easily. If HB Studios’ intention was to make PGA Tour 2K23 more approachable for casual players, that’s exactly what it’s accomplished. I now feel like I can tackle any tournament on any course and succeed, and I’m much more inclined to revisit the game more often for a casual round or two. If you want a challenge, you can up the difficulty level and really test your reaction speed, too.
One issue I initially had with the 3-Click Swing was that I was experiencing horrendous input delay. Especially when it came to the backswing, the game registered my input a noticeable amount of frames after I pressed the button. I was playing in Quality mode on the Xbox Series X (higher visual fidelity at a lower framerate), but when I switched to Performance mode (higher frame rate but lower visuals), that made a huge difference. Suddenly my timing was spot on. As someone who generally prefers a higher frame rate to resolution, that isn’t an issue, but PGA Tour 2K23 is already looking pretty dated, even on Quality mode. It didn’t ruin my experience, but it’s a trade-off that’s certainly worth noting, I think.
I also wish there was an option to change the color of the initial power circle. It’s nearly impossible in some situations to see the neon yellow-green meter fill up. Please, HB.
Presentation isn’t up to par
While the 3-Click Swing exceeded my expectations for how much more fun I could have with an HB Studios golf game, that’s about the only thing that got me really excited for PGA Tour 2K23. Even after gaining the PGA Tour license and a major publisher in 2K, this year’s game feels remarkably similar to HB’s previous titles, and not in a good way.
What’s really noticeable is how slight PGA Tour 2K23’s presentation feels. At this point, you’d expect the game to more closely resemble real broadcasts, but playing a round of golf doesn’t feel any different than it did in previous years. Maybe there are slightly more voice lines recorded for the commentators, but it didn’t take long before I started to notice repeats. Likewise, the commentary itself was shallow. Nothing in the play-by-play or color commentary felt like an actual reaction to what I achieved; everything felt canned. The production value feels extremely low for a licensed game, especially compared to 2K’s own NBA series. And as someone that only pays attention to real golf when the majors are happening, the absence of those banner PGA tournaments is notable in MyCareer.
It doesn’t help that the game’s graphics have really started to show their age. The facial animations look a little more detailed than in PGA Tour 2K21, but everything from the lighting to the foliage looks dated. It’s a flat, empty-looking game. For a sports title, a genre that generally likes to tout realism and attention to detail, it’s incredibly disappointing.
2K’s virtual currency gives me the ick
Really, the only influence that I can see 2K’s considerable largesse having on HB Studios’ golf series is exactly what I was afraid of in my PGA Tour 2K21 review and what I railed against in my NBA 2K18 review all those many years ago: 2K’s patented virtual currency has infested PGA Tour 2K23.
While the influence of virtual currency (VC) isn’t nearly as pervasive and game-ruining as it is in the NBA 2K games, it’s already starting to get there. At least in my time with the game, the only cool new cosmetics I received were the ones I paid for, and the game’s new season pass levels up painfully slowly if you don’t purchase the premium track.
More pernicious, however, are the ways that you can upgrade your gear with VC. Again, it’s not as bad as it is in NBA 2K, where you can literally buy your way to the top of the game, as you can’t just buy godly clubs and stats. However, you can purchase better fittings for your clubs that will give them a slight statistical edge. Even worse, you can buy better golf balls, but they only have a limited amount of uses.
If the new microtransactions in any way benefitted the series as a whole, I wouldn’t be as upset, but as I stated in the previous section, nothing about the game’s presentation felt more “premium” than the last game. It’s just more 2K virtual currency grossness for the sake of squeezing some extra pennies out of diehard fans.
Topgolf is not top of mind
Topgolf is an obvious partnership for PGA Tour 2K23, and the one mode that it brings into the game is really fun if you’re playing with friends and want to practice with different clubs. Essentially, you’re playing on a Topgolf range, basically a driving range with targets, where the further away the targets, the better score you get, although the game also prompts you to hit specific targets for bonus points.
I only played a couple of rounds of Topgolf so far, and while it’s fun, that’s really all it is. As far as I can tell, there aren’t different Topgolf arenas, so even the backgrounds stay the same. Some new scenery would have gone a long way. And, although I understand the desire to keep things accurate to real life (probably due to branding deals), using the Topgolf mode to mix it up and make the game a little more arcadey would have been welcome. HB could add modifiers like randomly altering the sizes of the targets, add new obstacles, and so on. Heck, they could even have the Topgolf buggies out there on the field, blocking shots or as targets themselves.
It’s still the best golf game on the market, but for how long?
I might have a lot of qualms about PGA Tour 2K23 and where HB Studios is putting its energy, but it’s hard to deny that this is still the best-playing golf game on the market, putting it above the last entry in the series. The new archetypes for the MyPlayer subtly but noticeably let you shape your golf game to your own strengths and weaknesses, and the Course Designer is better than ever with some improvements to its UI and its loading times (at least on Xbox Series X). The 3-Click Swing even makes a game like Mario Golf: Super Rush kind of obsolete for me, since I can now play PGA Tour 2K23 with an easier-to-master input system.
Just because it’s the best golf game out now, though, doesn’t mean it will be in the future. Just like 2K’s NBA series, HB Studios has had relatively little competition in its niche. With EA Sports getting back into the game next spring and gobbling up all the majors, I don’t think PGA Tour 2K23 does enough to future-proof itself against stiff competition. Of course, only time will tell, and even the superior NBA Live 18 couldn’t rip gamers away from its exploitative competitor. But, given this is only its second entry, I don’t think PGA Tour 2K has the same level of popularity as EA’s long-dormant giant, even with Tiger Woods now on its cover.
2K provided a code of the game for the purposes of these impressions.