World Championship Snooker 2007 Review (PS3)

Itís widely believed that Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain invented the sport of Snooker as we know it from a combination of other cue sports in his Officers mess sometime late last century. John Virgo doesnít like waiting for players to take shots at the table, doesnít think that youíre a particularly good player and also thinks that he lost his keys sometime between leaving the house and arriving at the venue. These are all random facts that youíll learn from the event commentary on World Championship Snooker 2007 in the first few hours, which is colourful at the very least and supremely inane banter at best. Simulation is clearly the name of the game this year then.

Player likenesses range from decent to zombified-creepy
Aiming is somewhat easy

As you would expect, this latest incarnation of the fully licensed cue sports collection comes with all the bells and whistles of previous titles along with some tweaked play mechanics. The playing roster has been increased along with the amount of game types available, each one coming complete with its own audio introduction and tutorial section. If you can think of a particular green baize game variant, odds are favourable that itís included somewhere in the myriad of menu options. Pool is heavily featured this year and includes favourite events such as the Mosconi cup for those that follow the game on TV.

The core of the title as always is the World Championship Snooker tournament itself, which will prove elusive and hard to conquer for anything but the most seasoned pros. Your customisable player is made to run through the full line-up of season events in hope of getting a shot at the big title, coming up against all the major professional opponents along the way. Thatíll mean repeatedly cursing at the screen as Ronnie OíSullivan knocks in a fifth successive 120+ break whilst John Parrott bemoans your lack of nerve under pressure. Just like BBC2 on a Sunday afternoon without the mute button fully taped in.

As a simulation of the way snooker is played, itís hard to imagine where developers can take the sport in future iterations. Weíve come a long way since Archer Macleanís classic Jimmy Whiteís Whirlwind Snooker, with ball physics so realistically modelled at this stage that everything behaves as it should, right down to the effect that a heavy kick can have on your chosen shot. Iím sure that a professional player may be able to pick apart the precise differences that a 42 degree angled swerve shot may have in real life, but for the rest of us itís as close as weíd ever need. Focus instead shifts to recreating the atmosphere of the various events and stadia, along with all the televisual flair somewhat missing from previous games. In general this works a treat, with recognisable venues right down to the seating arrangements and lighting.

All the various televised championships are present
Pool events are well represented

With that said, anyone thatís played snooker for more than 10 minutes in real life would appreciate that itíd be no fun to have the same real-world abilities with the cue translated to the virtual plane. As such, the game now includes a rather generous aiming arrow that visually plots the force and angle of both the white and object ball, along with a large grey circle to represent the rough final location of your shot. A momentum meter in also included, expanding and contracting the size of the aiming aid and the positional indicator according to how well you play, adding a bonus for managing to keep your nerve and build up a large break. This can also be influenced by the addition of various stat points as you build up your character over the course of a long career.

Even though it can be switched off if needs be, the addition of such a comprehensive aiming tool may seem a little easy at first and in truth it probably is. Itís a clear design choice however, as the effect this has is to change the balance of the game from simply attempting to make a decent shot to having a much heavier emphasis on positional play and break building. As any fan of the real game will able to tell you, this is where the truly great players really shine, without necessarily entertaining during the process. Stephen Hendry, Iím looking at you.

Of course the problem with that approach is that the difficulty level of your opponents has been ramped up to compensate. That brings along with it all the real-world frustrations of Snooker. Its ok when someone on television makes a 50 break and then gets decimated by a silly shot and a follow-up 70+ break from an opponent, but its not a lot of fun when its happening to you over and over again, followed by a 140 cleanup to finish the game without you even touching the pad in the interim.

In single-player mode thatís what it all boils down to essentially. As the game is so faithfully recreated itíll undoubtedly turn a lot of people off. It generally isnít fun to be sat watching the computer AI clean up time and time again without the personality of it being a real-life event or being able to intervene in any form. Multi-player, both online and locally, is a different experience entirely. With the additional of a second human player the appreciation in watching a skilled opponent making a monster break is entirely different, and even with the generous tools on offer mistakes are naturally more commonplace as concentration saps in a lengthy encounter. This is where the game comes alive and if youíve a friend with a similar passion for the cue arts then I wouldnít hesitate to recommend it as a purchase.

Graphically WCS2007 is adequate at best, with a create-a-player system thatís fairly shallow and environments that are generally well lit but with a lack of flair or fine detail. The player likenesses range from excellent to downright creepy, whilst animation is good for the limited repertoire of expressions that the game needs to convey its subject matter. One gripe is that the cue still manages to clip through the ball on low powered shots, youíd think that with all the next-gen power on offer the development team might want to stretch the engine to a little bit of inverse-kinematics so this doesnít occur, maybe next year eh?

The Playstation 3 version of the game is to all intents and purposes exactly the same as the Xbox 360 title, with the only loss being the achievement system and Xbox Live matchmaking service. Rather inexplicably for next-generation systems however, the framerate is fairly prone to fluctuation on both systems. This occurs with various camera angles and with complex shots on the table, lending the game a somewhat annoyingly choppy look. Although Snooker is generally a static experience by nature, the ball movement is at times spectacularly fast, so a decent engine locked at 60 frames per second would make all the aesthetic difference here. Should that really be an issue in 2007?

The atmosphere at the events is very true to life
As with real snooker, youíll be seeing a lot of that chair early on

Overall itís hard to fault World Championship Snooker as a simulation of a real-life pastime, and if youíre a fan of the sport then you should really be picking this up. As a videogame however I have my reservations. Whilst it is a fun experience and the addition of Pool, trick shots and tremendously kitsch commentary adds to the package, itís lacking in excitement, visual flair and involvement as a single-player experience. With multiplayer however the game could easily keep you entertained all year until the hopefully graphically improved follow-up. Letís just hope they give the commentators another bottle of Whisky and let them loose behind the microphone once again.

Top game moment:
Scoring a 100+ break for the first time.