World Snooker Championship 2005
As good and complete a snooker game as we can recall. Cue debate.
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This score's going to be a bit of a fudge. I can see it now. The problem isn't the quality of the game - World Snooker Championship 2005 is easily the most comprehensive and well worked clack-'em-up I've played, and makes a number of significant gains over its forerunner, of which more in a bit - but rather the question of what sort of value to place on a snooker game in the first place. It's relaxing to watch the pros on the TV occasionally, and it can be top fun to play pool or snooker with the aid of a few jars of ale every now and then, but is it something that you'd spend £30 to actually play yourself on your television?
Any answer I offer is going to be shot down by somebody with half a cue in their hand and my head in their sights. If I give it a big score because I can't find too much wrong with it, someone's going to take issue with spending that much money for what this is. If I go lower, someone's going to point out that since I can't find much wrong with it I should be scoring it higher. So I'm going to stick with the middle of the range, I think, and let you make up your own minds.
The rest of the review ought to be pretty easy. For starters, let's talk features. WSC2005, which is available on virtually any format you could want (with an excellent-looking PSP version called World Snooker Challenge due for that system's European launch, whenever that is), has exhibitions, championships, tour modes, trick shots, all manner of pool/billiards variants, coached matches to get your positioning skills in tune, custom tournaments, loads of real pro snooker players (finally getting away from the paper-plates-on-mannequin look of the last version, too), commentary from various personalities who you can mix up for any combination you like, believable ball physics, two cueing systems (including a very nice analogue-based system that works in a similar manner to Tiger Woods' analogue golf swing system), intuitive controls that allow you to compete very effectively, and, in the version reviewed here, Xbox Live multiplayer support for up to four players in doubles.
It's been keenly observed and refined throughout by Blade Interactive, whose experience on previous snooker titles (under the World Championship Snooker banner for Codemasters) is really paying dividends. When you forget whether you're on a red or a colour, it warns you prior to taking the shot. You can nominate balls if you're trying for a double. You can view individual replays of the last bunch of decent shots. The aiming assist shows you where the balls will go, but only part way, and when you try for a more acute angle it shortens the line of arrows to make it tougher - preventing you from just rocketing everything home from ludicrous angles like I used to enjoy doing in Virtual Pool. And you can always turn it off if it proves a bit too easy regardless.
There are even little unlockable videos for when you perform some feat of snookering genius. In one frame I completed a very satisfying plant shot successfully, and then afterward I was rewarded with a short video of Peter Ebdon doing the same in a proper match. It looked a bit grainy compared to the shiny smoothness of the in-game graphics, but it's a really nice touch.
All the aesthetics hit the mark too. Player graphics, as I mentioned, are much improved, and their animation is pretty accurate, even if the cue sometimes looks a bit off the mark in replays. The players even hold their cues over the table waiting for the balls to finish moving before sauntering back to their chairs. And the level of incidental detail is much more impressive than it has been in the past - from the snooker clubs with blokes quaffing pints quietly in the background to the serious championship halls, where members of the crowd and seated players can be seen fidgeting, shuffling in their seats and uncrossing and crossing their legs. The camera angles are great, including some nice in-pocket shots for lengthy pots. It can sometimes be a little difficult to line things up without going up to the screen and measuring it with your eye (or a ruler; might try that next time actually), but otherwise the way the game's made rarely puts you at a disadvantage. Even the way the numbers roll around on the score bar when you're added points is the same as it is on TV.
The commentary complements the pictures far better than you'd expect, too. It obviously can't be as dynamic as real life, but whichever duo you go for will sit and make very reasonable points about positioning and the like, and when you're told that you're 46 ahead with 43 available, for example, John Virgo may well chime in to note that you'll need to pot the next red and a colour to make it truly safe. It only becomes mildly incongruous when someone says something a bit off, like "His opponent certainly won't appreciate cueing off the bottom cushion," when the ball's in open space. Mind you, Steve Davis does take a while to figure things out, even if he clearly is a genius with the old mental protractor.
There isn't much else to say. Much to my delight, it just works. The menuing is a bit confusing from time to time, but you get used to it - and on the whole you know a game's got it pretty much right when your biggest concern is menu navigation. As for the Live options - there aren't too many people playing it right now for obvious reasons (not obvious? Well, it's not out till Friday) but the experience seems to be just as good as offline. Snooker isn't exactly reaction-based after all, unless you're trying to hustle someone and he works it out and goes to spill your pint.
So, after all that, it's a snooker game that gets pretty much everything spot on. You'll have very little trouble lining up, fine-tuning and positioning your shots, and you'll be able to do it in virtually every conceivable scenario. The only question, as I said at the start, is how much the game's worth to you, the buyer. If you fancy a snooker game, this is the one to get. But when you take a chance and discover it's the genre that isn't worth investing 30 notes in, that's not something you can really blame on the game. For me, it's a clacking buy.