Thursday 11 January 2007
We can all agree that you didn't splash out big on launch day for the most important next generation games console and a fat HDTV to play snooker games on. It may feature the shiniest balls you've ever seen, perfect physics and more realistic baize than you could have previously imagined (or indeed, as Steve Davis himself said to us when we met him this month: "It's very good, you know, the tables really look like the real thing.") but it's never going to be a system seller.
However, the thing is... we've loved playing WSC. Yes, other scribes' eyes glazed over as we took to the table on our 50" Plasma, and yes, we acknowledged that it might not exactly be a pivotal point in next generation, HD gaming. But the bottom line is that this is as complete and absorbing a sports title as you could ask for.
Okay, so the new game doesn't particularly advance the playing model from the Xbox's World Snooker Championship 2005, but it's at a perfectly pitched difficulty level and includes two cueing action modes - although we must admit that while the analogue stick model felt more 'right', it was also more 'impossible' and doesn't have the same approachability as the control system enjoys in the likes of Tiger Woods and Fight Night.
When it comes to making your shots, the aids are useful enough to make big breaks possible but they're always a challenge, meaning your big pots and victories feel like real triumphs. There's nothing quite like pumping the old fist when you've pulled a frame around from 40-odd down to take the title.
Misleadingly, it's not just snooker on offer in World Snooker Championship 2007. With Blade Interactive's admirable goal being to create the world's ultimate cue sport simulation, they've also chucked eight-, nine- and three-ball pool into the bargain, along with billiards and bar billiards, the weird 'Snooker Plus' and an unlockable trickshot game.
There's plenty on offer here then, but the pool games are the only ones really worth playing -though, fun as they are, they lack the depth, satisfaction and strategy of the titular game. Despite boasting the most crisp depiction of a snooker table ever seen, we must admit that other areas of the game haven't been lavished with the same standard of graphical treatment - a bit shoddy considering the main on-screen focus is only, well, a table.
The crowd has a touch of the zombies about them, while celebratory animations and facial expressions, designed to give you feedback on how your game is going, usually look confused rather than engaged. The player creation feature is detailed without reaching Fight Night levels, but you'd think that this is one area where Blade could have used the 360 camera to good effect. It's hardly the end of the world, but they could have put a lot more into this aspect of the game.
Above: The character models don't really look convincing, but are better than nothing
On the mic, John Virgo and Steve Davis make a surprisingly good job of analysing your shots, offering polite nudges in the right direction with comments like, "I'm sure he'll play a defensive shot here," or urging you to check out other possibilities.
There's the odd mistake when the engine totally misreads what's going on, but that's forgivable when it's not just the general analysis that's so good but also the atmosphere created with whimsical asides about ordering a curry in if you're taking too long over your shot, or chipping in with facts and trivia. It's just like on the telly, which is about as high an accolade as you can award commentary.
Above: You can compete on Xbox Live, of course, adding fresh challenge each time
World Snooker Championship 2007 is a hypnotic title and once you get your teeth into it, the hours will slide by - but there are some issues, especially when you consider its recommended street price is 50 notes. Now, if you're a savvy buyer you'll pick it up for forty quid, possibly less. But it's still quite a steep price tag for what's on offer here.
Yet, it's still a cracking game, it is online and in terms of atmosphere it can compete with the best. A bit of a conundrum then, but we can safely say this: if you want a game to show off your HDTV and impress your mates go and buy Gears of War. But if you want a sports game that's deep, rewarding and absorbing then World Snooker Championship 2007 sinks the pink.