Awhile back, we noted that the one of the next major Electronic Arts properties set to come to Facebook would be EA Sports PGA Tour. Now the game is finally live in the form of EA Sports PGA Tour Golf Challenge. Simplified with much more casual-social mechanics than its counterpart, Tiger Woods PGA Tour, this new app attempts to reach a more common social user.
Unlike Madden NFL and FIFA Superstars, Golf Challenge is not quite a full-on sports manager sim. However, it’s also far from a true golfing title like Tiger Woods. Lacking any real control in the actual golfing mechanics, the game has been pruned down to marginal management and simple point and click play. Of course, while many may rejoice in the removal of tedious power, aiming, and slicing mechanics, just as many may find the game far too simple.
The idea is simple enough: Golf. There’s no real goal for the player other than trying to be better than their friends and beat their high scores… err, low scores. Each day, users are given a challenge made up of a handful of holes from a random golf course. Within this challenge, they attempt to beat out their friends, earning points and money based on how well they do.
Once players attempt their first daily challenge, the simplification begins to stand out. When preparing to swing, users can only adjust the relative position of where they are targeting. This is represented by yellow circle that shows where the shot might land. The better the golfer and equipment, the smaller the circle and more precise the shot. Depending on the terrain and wind speed, players must adjust this target area accordingly. Additionally, choosing different clubs will also affect distance and accuracy.
As for the shooting itself, this is done with a mere click. Power, curve, and other modifiers are all automated. The only control is a bit of spin the user can put on the ball after it is in flight. This can be controlled by clicking and dragging a direction on a golf ball icon, but it is extremely difficult to judge what kind of spin is helpful until the ball is very close to the ground. Even though play slows when spinning is applied, it is often too late by the time an accurate spin can be applied. It’s actually safer to just not use the feature at all, most of the time.
This lack of information also comes into play by not really being able to survey the course as a whole (save for an automated flyby). Players can really only ever see where their shot may land and where they are standing, making it difficult to judge where each shot should go. This isn’t a problem for smaller courses, where the hole can be seen from the first swing, but for larger ones, or courses with a lot of bends, it can be annoying.
Other than basic aiming and spin, players can also improve their game by training their golfer and improving their equipment. The former works much like Madden NFL Superstars, in that as players play, the “training” of their golfer decreases. As such, practice sessions must be constantly applied to keep said training percentage high. Each of these takes a set amount of time, but will have its affects applied only after the user has started a new training session. The equipment, on the other hand, is similar to many free-to-play shooters, except rather than guns, players are purchasing drivers and wedges. These items augment the aim, power, and/or spin of shots, but like many guns in freemium shooters, only last for a finite amount of time.
In Golf Challenge, that time is determined by a number of shots. Once the item has been used for a stated number of shots, it disappears. In fact, shots, as a whole, are the primary gating factor behind daily play. Working like energy, every shot made consumes, well, a shot, and it takes several minutes to recharge (unless players want to buy more with virtual currency).
On the social side of things, basics such as leaderboards and gifting are present, but there is a bit more of a competitive element added in features like the Daily Challenge, where users earn bonus cash if they beat friends’ high scores.
In fact, it’s pretty important to try and earn as much money as possible, for playing anything other than the Daily Challenge requires some coin. As users level up, they unlock new, full golf courses (not just three holes like the Challenge), but will also have to pay a sizable chunk of change to play. Also, while on the topic of different game modes, there are sections for directly challenging friends and a PGA Tour season. Unfortunately, neither are available at this time.
As a whole, PGA Tour Golf Challenge is well made, but its design does leave some questions. While FIFA Superstars and Madden NFL Superstars have done much better than most sports manager games on Facebook, the dumbed-down elements of Golf Challenge may detract from its user base. It’s just less involved. On the other hand, it also seems possible that its more simplistic golfing mode will makes the game more attractive to the average Facebook user.