We're not going to pretend that we're big snooker enthusiasts (well, I'm not anyway). We enjoy a bit of pool down the pub every now and then, but that's about as far as our cue-stroking experience extends. Hopefully the new PlayStation 2 incarnation of Codemasters' "award winning" snooker franchise might stoke in us a glimmer of enthusiasm for the game. Hopefully.
The preview code's loading screen started things off well enough, with the promise of amazing artificial intelligence, photo realistic balls, and chalk marks on the table... frankly, we could scarcely contain ourselves and we hadn't even started yet. So anyway, from the start you're presented with all kinds of different ways of playing snooker, including a career mode, single match mode, trick shots and a "Fun games" mode - as if snooker wasn't already fun enough!
Zombie flesh eating pool players from Barnes
However, we also spotted the option to go for a spot of pool, and because we actually know how to play pool, we opted for that instead. Now, it's important to remember that this is pre-release code we were playing here – 80 per cent complete it says here - but we honestly didn't expect to see our virtual representation waltz up to the table with his head stuck to the floor and his neck rather grotesquely stretching right the way up to his shoulders. We thought this was Championship Snooker, not The Thing.
And the concerning glitches didn't stop there; cues disappeared, heads disappeared, random polygons flew about the screen, limbs and heads clip through clothes, player models would warp across the floor and the camera would get confused about exactly where it was supposed to be looking. Actual bugs aside, the game isn't particularly impressive in the looks department - the textures are bland, the simplistic environments even more so and the chunky players move like theme park animatronic robots. For a game that's supposedly 80% complete, our hopes for a quality representation of a classic pastime were slowly dampening - and they weren't even that great in the first place.
More atmosphere on the moon
But as long as it plays all right, then that's all that matters surely? Don't be so sure. If we were able to suspend our realisation that we were sat on the couch with a DualShock 2 in our hands and not even a little bit drunk, instead of in a bar not five minutes away playing the real thing, then sure, but World Championship Snooker 2003 feels so shaky and completely devoid of any atmosphere that anyone but a hardened snooker nut would lose interest within minutes.
The pool plays as you would expect, but just doesn't engage or excite. There isn't any background noise at all so you can either stick on some of your own music or listen to the balls punctuating the deafening silence with "thock... clonk... pock... thunk thunk..." If the computer player manages to pot a ball, they can be so uncannily adept that we found ourselves wandering off and coming back in five minutes to check if he'd fouled yet so that we could have our go.
And if the pool was boring, then the snooker was impenetrably dull, and even harder than its smaller tabled and more accessible sibling. Codemasters seems to have missed the point in balancing the game somewhere between accurate, challenging and fun. Certainly, the balls seem to bounce about quite accurately to us - much like every other snooker game of the past few years, in fact - and the game is definitely a challenge (to stay awake), but there was nothing fun about embarking on the career mode aside from getting to hear the stilted commentary getting cut off prematurely before the end of each sentence. Still, though... 80 per cent complete remember. Sigh...
Sort it out Codies!
We certainly hope Codemasters manages to sort this mess out before the final code arrives. We're not really sure the billiards wheel needed reinventing again, but it would be nice if a good job could be done of it. If Sega can make one of the most entertaining videogames ever out of Tennis, then surely Codemasters can come up with a way of making Snooker fun. The first step would probably be to stop taking everything so damn seriously. Please?