PGA Tour Golf Challenge, the third Facebook game produced by EA Sports over the past year, is now live on the social networking site, bringing real-time 3D gameplay elements to a genre with few console-style games.
Club type, shot direction, distance and even ball spin are controlled by players on a shot-by-shot basis in EA Sports PGA Tour Golf Challenge, a more hands-on sports experience than the publisher's earlier Facebook entries, FIFA and Madden NFL Superstars. In those games, players assemble teams whose on-field performances are controlled by background calculation.
"It's a console quality game, playing in your browser while you chat with a friend," Mike Taramykin, vice president and general manager of EA Sports' On-Demand division, which has produced the three Facebook games plus the Tiger Woods PGA Tour Online game that launched last January.
"The visuals, I think, are stunning; we'd definitely put it against any game on Facebook," Taramykin said.
As a golfer in the game, players can change clubs, alter distance, trajectory and even shot types - standard, punch, flop or chip. The swing meter many expect is gone - a single click puts the ball in play. Instead, when a player lines up a shot, its potential landing area will be represented by a circle that is more precise depending on the clubs he's using and the training he has.
The game is free to play, but players are given a limited number of shots to take per day. Extra shots are available for sale, costing about 20 cents each. (Players will buy "Golf Cash" to get them; Golf Cash is bought by Facebook Credits. Facebook Credits are, of course, bought with cash.)
Full rounds of golf at one of five real-world courses, plus performance boosts like better clubs, may be acquired with cash, but can also be picked up with "coins," an in-game currency earned for playing the game. Coins can be redeemed for anything except shots.
After completing a tutorial, players will have about 40 free shots to take, and will also earn a maximum of roughly 10 free shots in during a 12-hour span, enough to complete the daily, free three-hole challenge the game offers. Players also earn a free shot with every five or so minutes of real time spent in the game.
"What it does is bring gameplay closer to the immersive experience that's typically provided in console games," Taramykin said. "It's not just a card trading game. It's not to say that it's harder, but it puts you on the course, actually hitting the ball, as opposed to something like FIFA or Madden Superstars, which are management games."
Kotaku was given access to the game for two weeks pre-release. It was easy to imagine PGA Tour Golf Challenge as an office pastime hurriedly clicked away when the boss shows up on the floor. Entirely web-based, the game preserves course progression shot-by-shot, so you can cut away and return when it's convenient. The graphics are handled through the Unity player, and the game runs smoothly in all conventional browsers.
The trickiest aspect of the game came from reading your lie and, especially, the green's surface. Ball spin may be manipulated mid-air to make a big drive roll further or an approach shot sit up on the green. But bottoming out an eagle putt or saving par with a 12-footer is pretty satisfying, and the game offers plenty of opportunities to brag to your Facebook friends what you're up to.
While value-minded free-players will be able to play a three-hole challenge every day, stay trained near 100 percent, and pick up birdies with skillful play, those willing to splurge will get plenty of cash to power up their golfer and still give him enough shots to finish a full round.
Five real world courses - TPC Sawgrass, Pebble Beach, St. Andrews Old Course, Wolf Creek and Banff Springs - are available at launch, though the latter four must be unlocked with experience.
These are the at-launch features. More are coming after launch, Taramykin said.
"This is one of those things we feel comfortable saying no one's ever played on Facebook before." Taramykin said.