World Snooker Championship Real 2011 Review
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
Publisher: Koch Media
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Snooker has long been a well-represented sport in video games. Many will have fond memories of hammering Jimmy White’s “Whirlwind” Snooker on the Amiga back in the day, where the excellently implemented green baize action was supplemented with a healthy dose of humour, Archer Maclean having imbued his realistic simulation with anthropomorphic balls that would waggle their arms and blow raspberries at you if you spent too long diddling about with your shots. These days however, gamers demand more realism and licensed sporting action, and as simulations go, the WSC Real franchise offers as faithful an experience as you could want from a snooker game that you control from the comfort of your armchair.
After a two-year hiatus, developer Dark Energy Digital have returned to the table, and the latest installment in the series aims to provide the best and most realistic approximation of the Crucible favourite/working men’s club fave imaginable, and it is fair to say that they have improved upon the last entry in their canon.
STORY: Snooker represents different things to different people. To some, it is a mind-numbing green screen that eats into BBC2’s programming schedule a few times each year. To others, it is a thrilling pastime that can be a rewarding way to spend evenings in your local snooker hall or club with your mates and several pints of foaming ale. Not forgetting of course, there is the professional game, played to an insanely high standard by men in dapper waistcoats, with huge financial rewards on offer. WSC Real 11 offers you a mixture of casual and serious play, and gives you a magnificent way of enjoying a game that was cooked up centuries ago in India by Neville Francis Fitzgerald Chamberlain.
Of course, there is no actual story involved here, it is snooker for goodness sake, and snooker only. But you do get all of your favourite charismatic snooker heroes: Ronnie O’Sullivan (sadly sans-his crimetastic pops), betting scandal-hit Scottish legend John Higgins, and all manner of other snooker guys. It also offers a selection of tournaments to play through and the ability to invent your own Frankenstein’s snooker monster and play through them all. Oh, and there’s also John Virgo off casual racism king Jim Davidson’s Big Break.
GRAPHICS: Snooker venues are hardly the most picturesque of places, and even at the spiritual home of the game at Sheffield’s Crucible, all you get to see on telly is a big green ball-filled rectangle surrounded by near-darkness, a few silent onlookers and a pasty bloke wearing a novelty waistcoat, and that is pretty much what you get here. The graphics are certainly a step up from the preceding WSC game, with some superb lighting effects, pretty, shiny snooker balls and fair efforts at depicting the likes of Graeme Dott in pixelated form.
As nice at the table and environments appear, the characters look pretty poor, lacking any realistic facial expressions and animated jerkily. For a 2011 release, where games developers can make fictitious space beasties look god-damned photo realistic, this is a bit of a snooker cue to the knackers. You get the option to create your own player to take on the single player mode, but these look even worse that O’Sullivan and Co, so don’t expect to be able to improve on the below-average good looks of the real-life potting kings.
Worst of all is the fact that when taking a shot, the camera view sometimes means that your line of sight on a pot is blocked by your avatar, forcing you to switch to an overhead view of the table to nail the cue ball. This is unforgivable given how minimalistic the graphics really are. Surely this could have been rectified by adding transparency to the player or giving the player the option to turn off the players and just operate a free floating, poltergeist-esque cue.
SOUND: It isn’t hard to recreate the noises and goings-on at a snooker match, sonically. What is there is perfectly fine; the satisfying clack of ball-on-ball, the scratch of chalk on cue, and the reserved applause from the crowd as you sink a shot. So far, so snooker. However, the developers have roped in ageing trick-shot-master-cum-commentator John Virgo to provide his expert analysis on proceedings. Whilst in the real world Virgo is competent at delivering his opinion (having been in and around the game for a number of years), here, he falls spectacularly on his arse.
The commentary is rambling and mind-numbing. Half of the time, it doesn’t focus on the action and instead goes off on uninteresting tangents about snooker history, or (most jarringly) decides to break the fourth wall by mentioning things like “games console” or how you can practice your skills by “playing WSC Real 11”. This makes you long for the dulcet tones of the sadly recently departed “Whispering” Ted Lowe, the much missed Godfather of cue action play-by-play.
GAMEPLAY: The superior physics engine and classy controls mean that WSC Real 11 plays a quality game of snooker. Sadly, there is no option to control the action using Xbox 360 Kinect, which could have worked beautifully. However, the two methods of playing your shots that are on offer are well implemented and satisfying. The first, more guided method includes lining up sliders and sights to decide when, where and how hard to hit the cue ball. The second, more realistic way to play WSC is to use the analogue sticks to take your shot, by pulling back and then forward with varying speed and precision to twat the ball. Never do you feel frustrated with either control method, both of which can be mastered to Steve Davis-like levels of dexterity and precision with plenty of practice.
There are standard quick play, free table and versus modes, which all allow you to practice your skills against the computer, a friend or indeed alone, but the meat of the game comes from the Real Season mode. Your job is to create your own snooker player and work your way up through the ranks, competing at various ranking tournaments, earning experience points which can be used to improve your attributes and ultimately winning the World title.
Now, snooker is a tough game that requires years of practice. Even seasoned pool players who can stay “on” the table over the course of a drunken evening down the pub, or play to a competitive standard struggle with the lengthier shots and physics of the virtual snooker table. So naturally, when you begin you will get hammered. Time and time again. But don’t give up because you receive experience points even if you lose, and the game does reward your for the time and effort you put in, much like real snooker. To aid you, WSC has a clever “rewind” option, which gives you the opportunity to retake your shot up to three times per match. It may sound like a cop-out, but as missing a crucial shot could lead to your opponent clearing the table and handing you your snooker ass, it comes in handy, and heck, the purists among you have the option to ignore the rewind feature should you so wish.
The other oft-levelled criticism of snooker is the length of time a full match can take. This is still the case here, which is why the inclusion of an eight-ball “pool” mode is very welcome, meaning you can switch to this shorter format of the game to prevent your frames from being too lengthy during Season mode. Don’t worry though, this takes none of the challenge out of the game, which remains as hard as Bill Werbeniuk’s drinking habit.
There is little point trying to explain the game itself in this review, as most people looking to pick the game up will be fans of the sport and will understand its rules and nuances. But this should not have meant that the developer decided to cut out a meaningful, user-friendly tutorial on the rules and regulations of the game, and it is disappointing that rather than incorporate the option to have some form of in-game assistance in this respect, the rules are buried away in the options menu.
LONGEVITY: The Real Season mode is a real challenge and will last you for ages. The prohibitively hard nature of snooker means that practice makes perfect, and real fans of the sport will find that WSC Real 11 will devour hours of their lives as they aim to reach the top of the rankings. There are limited online options, but you can enjoy a good lag-free match against an internet opponent, which throws up some interesting and often well-matched opponents given the difficulty of attaining a perfect game. There is plenty of fun to be had offline too, with the game an enticing two-player prospect and one which you will find yourself returning to with your mates, such is its inviting and easy-to-pick-up-difficult-to-master nature.
VERDICT: WSC Real 11 is, quite simply, the sock-full-of-snooker-balls-wielding Daddy of green baize simulations. The developers have nailed the crucial elements here, namely the physics of the table, the excellent control scheme and the realistic, unforgiving difficulty of the single player experience. As such, we would heartily recommend it to fans of the sport. There are flaws though, such as graphical glitches, the zombie-like facial expressions of the already charisma-free players and the rotten commentary, but you don’t buy a snooker sim for graphical and sonic mastery.