(Pocket-lint) - EA was once king of the triple-A golf game, having dominated the genre with its Tiger Woods and PGA Tour licensed games for more than two decades.
But it withdrew from the category after 2015's Rory McIlroy PGA Tour received rather luke warm reviews and has cast nary a look in the sport's direction since.
This therefore left a gaping hole that HB Studios and 2K Games are happy to fill with the official PGA Tour 2K21 game.
The devloper of The Golf Club and publisher of NBA 2K21 are an ideal fit in that regard. The latter is aufait with sports licensing and top grade presentation, while the former built an in-depth golf game engine over numerous years that has drawn acclaim if not widespread attention.
They actually coupled for the first time on The Golf Club 2019 featuring PGA Tour, but that seemed more like a simple extension of well-trodden paths. This latest game is a whole lot more.
Not only does it include 15 licensed PGA Tour courses, plus 30 official events, but it has included a handful of licensed golfers to add credibility to the whole proceedings. World number one, Justin Thomas, is included (and also stars on the cover), plus 10 more, such as Matt Kucher, Jim Furyk, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
It could do with a fair few others, but as they say "from small acorns" and that.
We've played a few rounds with the PC build of the game ahead of a full review copy - although it is close, we were told - and so here are our initial thoughts.
For those who have played The Golf Club games and love them already, you'll find much here to like too.
However, HB Studios has made great effort to make a game much more accessible for casual players and beginners this time around.
There are vast customisation options to adapt the gameplay to suit skill levels, including modes that make it as close to real-life golf as possible. But, at its heart, PGA Tour 2K21 is much more pick-up-and-play than any of HB's predecessors.
That includes plenty of tutorials, stroke suggestion and even a putting guide line that can be switched on or off depending on your own ability to read a green. Some might even remember the same helping hands being included in EA golf games of yesteryear.
Should you get better at the game, or are already of a proficient level, not only can you turn off the guides, but opt for pro vision and even play with the HUD removed entirely - using haptic feedback to time your swing rather than visual clues.
The swing itself is slightly changed, with backswing timing no longer important. While different clubs from different manufacturers can be tuned to suit your own game, rather than just add more power, etc.
Par for the course
Perhaps, for us, the most impressive part of the new game on initial play is the look and feel, both on the course and off.
Each of the main licensed courses has been lovingly scanned using drones and other technologies to reproduce every bump, bunker and pin position exactly. Trees, water and even spectators are detailed and realistic, while the presentation has been ramped up to give you a more TV-style feel.
The physics seem true, with the ball reacting to the environment as you'd expect. And, the game feels natural and smooth.
CBS veteran Luke Elvy returns as lead commentator and is this time joined by PGA Tour pro Rich Beem, with both lending the play-by-play action a sense of realism. There are also dynamic cutscenes during a tournament, showing other competitors, plus some excellent replay shots of particularly good putts, for example.
Even the menu systems have been spruced up no end. And, considering the 2K Sports heritage, MyPlayer customisation is more extensive, with plenty of clobber and clubs from real-world brands available to purchase with in-game cash and sponsor rewards.
Certainly, there is a lick of polish that makes this the best-looking golf game for many years and considering HB Studio's traditional course designing tools are still present too, that makes for a very compelling package.
If you build it...
Like with former The Golf Club games, there is an in-depth course designer built into PGA Tour 2K21, which offers all of the more realistic elements brought into this game specifically.
In addition, courses from TGC 2019 can also be imported and played on. And that makes for a massive community base from day one.
We can't wait to try some of them out for ourselves, but our brief time with the pre-release version was more playing career than online, so can't really comment too much on that right now.
Thankfully, our initial play was involved enough to get a real taste of how much has been added to HB Studio's existing golf game mechanics and, therefore, got to see exactly what 2K brings to the table.
The level of presentation, myriad of customisable options, and involving MyPlayer career mode could well make for the best golf game in many years. It's certainly shaping up that way.
Yeah, we'd like more of the major tournaments included (The Masters, anyone?) but it does seem there is plenty here to be getting on with for starters.
We're looking forward to giving it a thorough play for a full review soon.
PGA Tour 2K21 will be available for PS4, Xbox One, Windows PC and Nintendo Switch from 21 August 2020. A Google Stadia version will also release soon.