World Snooker Championship is effectively two games in one, these days - thanks to the American audience's apparent aversion to the sombre and gentlemanly world of snooker, the pool championships (in all their many forms) have been built up over the years to the point where they are now more numerous and just as comprehensive as the snooker tournaments. Good news for pool players, I suppose, but as a snooker fan it just looks like more and more versions of the exact same thing to me - a pattern that has arguably come to define sports games these days. In most cases (snooker's in particular), we've been making them long enough now to have perfected the mechanics of the particular sport. For official licences, progress now lies in making them look and feel as authentic as they play.
Just like the last instalment, WCS2007 plays about as authentically as you could wish of a snooker game. New players can rely on the selection of tutorials to introduce them to the importance of spin and cue elevation, but anyone with a decent knowledge of a real-life snooker table can expect to jump right into the competitions. The career mode takes your customised protagonist through an enormous selection of tournaments and qualifiers before allowing him a crack at the World Championship itself. There is satisfying depth to the gameplay, and though the positional and directional indicators might seem a little over-generous to more experienced players, they can be turned off. The computer players are well weighted, but still represent a challenge in even the most insignificant of qualifying matches - mistakes are harshly punished, and although the game can feel unfair at times, it's never any worse than real-life snooker.
Accomplished though it is, however, WCS2007's simulation of pool and snooker is hardly an advancement over its predecessors' - the differences here are minimal, the chief ones being Xbox Live play (which requires a lot of patience) and the Golden Cue and Hybrid tournaments, which allow you to mix and match different cue sports over the course of a single tournament. But then, the series' core gameplay didn't need fixing. As with almost any sports franchise, you'd expect the chief improvements to lie in the presentation. It's here that WCS2007 is genuinely flawed; this would have looked dated three years ago. Its sombre presentation is appealing and befits the sport, but the confusing and unhelpful menu system and stiff, slightly frightening player models are very, very out of date, as is the repetitive commentary. Almost every annoyance can be turned off in the depths of some options menu or another, but even so the lack of polish is disappointing.
Especially in comparison with its sports-game contemporaries, this apparent laziness sours the experience of playing WSC2007. You'd expect the tables and balls, at least, to look nice and shiny and realistic, but the entire play environment is fuzzy and generally has the air of a cheapish 2003 PC game. The ambient noise is horrible, bad-quality, tinny chuntering from the audience, which runs on a very short loop, as does the commentary - I'm used to jarringly general comments in sports games, but Blade could have recorded more than five of them. The menu system is the only thing about this game that's pretty, and it's extremely confusing - it took about ten minutes to figure out how to start a two-player game. If you're a fan of snooker - and anyone who buys this almost certainly will be - it's extremely disappointing to see the game's 32 licensed pro players cueing the ball like someone's drunk uncle at a wedding thanks to the poor motion-capture, and hearing John Virgo say, "He's not left himself a lot of options here," for the sixteenth time in twenty minutes would lessen anyone's affection for the sport.
World Snooker Championship 2007 is a competent and comprehensive simulation of the actual sport, but there is no flair in its gameplay or presentation. It's snooker (and pool, and billiards) by numbers, with none of the realistic-looking players or visual authenticity or visible effort of its golf, table tennis or basketball compatriots on the Xbox 360. Really, we have now reached the stage where sports games should attempt to deliver as effectively in the presentation area as they do elsewhere, and this series appears to be making absolutely no progress on that front (or any other front, for that matter). WCS2007 is, as ever, a reliable a bet for snooker fans, and the Xbox 360's only realistic snooker simulation - next time, though, we expect a more up-to-date experience.