There's something about adapting sports to video games that adds a real charm to it. I've never really been a fan of golf, but I never needed to be in order to enjoy the PGA Tour 2K series. Instead of emulating the reality of golf, it gives you the fantasy of simply being really good at it. And in PGA Tour 2K23, this disparity is clearer than ever.
Generally speaking, it definitely feels like the older games in the way the balls move and interact with each hole. This being said, animations are smoother and new gameplay systems make a meaningful impact. There are many steps made to adapt the game further without losing its charm.
Before getting to all this, it's important to note that 2K Games' PGA Tour 2K23 has a much bigger focus on golfing celebrities this year. With Tiger Woods being both on the game's cover and credited as an executive director, he's one of the many celebrity golfers you can play as. Some would argue it wouldn't be a golf game without him.
These celebrities are available in the local and one-off modes, including names like Justin Thomas, Lexi Thompson, and even Michael Jordan. For my first tee-off, I had to try out Michael Jordan.
Though I only had a handful of golfers available during the PGA Tour 2K23 preview, they felt different in their body movements, walk, and swing. All golfers have stats denoting their strengths and weaknesses, but who you will like will probably come down to how they feel in motion.
Luckily, the controls this year feel great. As well as having tonnes of difficulty options and over 20 courses, PGA Tour 2K23 comes with an all-new playstyle: the 3-Click Swing.
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Instead of using the analogue stick to hit the ball, there's a really arcadey new style that has you fill a gauge, then press buttons to align your shot. As the name implies, you have to press the A button three times at the right moment to apply the right amount of power and finesse to your swing.
This new playstyle feels a little closer to old arcade golf titles, employing what are essentially micro QTEs with every swing. Although it took me a little while to fully get into, I ended up preferring it to the standard style by the end of the preview session. This being said, you can swap back to the traditional style at any point through the settings option, making it work for fans of the original style as well.
Outside of the new swing, systems felt pretty much the same. On my first hole, I managed to hit into the minus 10s, only to get overly cocky and get annihilated on the hardest difficulty. Only when you play here do you realise how many of the game's systems are there to make you feel excellent at the game.
All predictive systems are gone, alongside almost all information about the course you're attempting to navigate a tiny white ball through with a big metal stick. You're left to calculate your swings entirely through fancy guesswork with huge margins of error. I promptly turned it back down to the easier modes to save me more embarrassment.
Though the game I played was very much one I'm familiar with, there's enough added extra depth to give me something to strive for when the full game comes out. This is a really hard balance to have and, though I liked what I played, we may have to wait to see how well it handles the rest of the wider golfing experience.
What I didn't play
In the full game, the "my player" system is back, with upgrade paths and tonnes of equipment. As well as this, the traditional career mode is here with new courses and more pros. You can start on the Korn Ferry Tour and make your way up to winning the FedEx Cup. You can use custom clubs and golf balls here, but it's unclear how they're unlocked or just how they'll play with your golfer's stats.
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As well as the normal online modes and small extras, Topgolf has also been added to the game. Being all about practice, you're tasked with hitting electronic goals to improve your character's skills and figure out how to do certain shots. With a new hitting system, this is a nice addition that allows for some low-stakes practice before the next big round.
Finally, the Course Designer mode is returning, with tonnes of details from all the courses. As of the start of the game, they don't have the renaissance options that can be found in "The Renaissance Club" course, but one can hope we'll get even more options later in the year.
From my brief time with the PGA Tour 2K23 preview build, I'm quite excited to see what all the extras will be doing at launch. The new swing mode adds a certain depth to play, but many of the game's core assets and systems are still the same. It seems like the team have put in a lot of effort to make this a new game with the old feel.
We'll have to wait until launch on October 14th to see if it can pay off.