World Snooker Championship 2005
Developer: Blade Interactive Studios
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Out Now
Players: 1-4, 2 players online via PS2 Network Adapter
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Whilst having a quick look back at our review of last year’s World Championship Snooker 2004 my mind wandered and I got to thinking how truly remarkable it is how much has happened in that year, how some things have improved vastly, how little some things have changed, and how some things are inexplicably worse – and this goes for Blade Interactive’s excellent snooker game too (renamed World Snooker Championship). Just like the game, some things won’t need altering from last year’s review at all, including the opening statement…

The new publishers of this excellent snooker series Sega have managed to get the game on the shelves with remarkably good timing, to coincide with the actual World Championship at Sheffield. Quite why previous publishers Codemasters never managed this is a mystery, but hopefully this EA-esque timing will be rewarded with the sort of sales figures that a game of this quality deserves.

World Snooker Championship gives you over 100 pros to play against including World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, Peter Ebdon, Matthew Stevens, Paul Hunter (best wishes from everyone here Paul), John Higgins, Ken Doherty and even “interesting” Steve Davis. They all go along with some names you won’t recognise to make up the tournaments and form a sizeable world ranking ladder for you to climb. The game’s main focus is the Tour that gives you a full season’s events to play in, which come together as a career mode.

Progression and winning tournaments unlocks extra venues and novelty tables (there’s an L-shaped one!), videos etc. The ultimate aim is obviously to get to the number one ranking spot and of course win the end of season finale, the World Championship itself, at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Just like the real game though, just getting into and retaining a top-16 ranking is a significant challenge.

The mechanics and excellent ball physics of the game will be familiar to anyone who’s played the previous four incarnations (the original dates back to the PlayStation). The incredibly complex possible interactions between balls and cushions during any snooker shot are replicated with remarkable accuracy, and unlike virtually every other Snooker and Pool simulation ever, rarely fail to convince. The aiming seems as instinctive as ever, and playing pots and positional shots with heavy side spin has been made easier and more believable. There’s also a new “Tactile Control” system that allows you to use the right joystick to cue the ball with backward and forward movements, but the old ‘powerbar’ still seems to be the more accurate option to me. I may be out of practice but the pockets seem tighter to me as well, a lot of shots seem to stick in the jaws rather than turn in and drop – but then the game is called ‘World Snooker Championship, and not ‘Sloppy Old Club Table Snooker’™.

As you’d expect with a snooker game, practice and getting a feel for the table is vital, and judgement of pace on shots and the subsequent position on the next ball is everything. Also, although practice reaps its rewards, and there’s and genuine “feel” built into the game, it’s still more difficult than it should be to judge the weight of shots and sometimes the aiming lines aren’t as helpful as you’d expect (you will still leave shots short now and then – it’s a thing that hardly ever happens in the real game and is very annoying when you miss because of it). A new ‘down the cue’ view really helps in aiming certain shots, and you can still aim from the overhead view (initially there are two levels of aiming assistance).

As you play tournaments in the Tour career mode, the opposition realistically improves in the latter stages, and by the time you start coming up against familiar name players one mistake can cost you a frame – if anything the career mode is spoiled by top players who are unrealistically talented and don’t make enough believable mistakes, and also take on risky shots that showmen like Jimmy White, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Alex Higgins wouldn’t attempt, not even in an exhibition match. If there’s absolutely nothing on the AI players seem to play a more believable game tactically now though, and sort out some neat safety shots, but the non-alterable difficulty level of the Tour is going to be way too tough for the casual player (for instance a first round qualifier scored 56, 63 & 70 breaks against us in a best of 5 frames match).

World Snooker Championship 2005 is also playable online via the PS2 Network Adapter and if you can find a game, it works well, if slowly. Things can be sped up if you both turn off the player animations, but online play is a very deliberate and chilled-out game (you can set up one-on-one matches either ranking or non-ranking of up to 35 frames in length, but how often is that going to get used?). For the first time the PS2 version gets voice communication, which really helps the game’s appeal to me, as last year the game felt cold, impersonal, and like you may as well be playing against a CPU opponent.

There’s a custom player editor which allows you to make a “replica” of yourself, but it’s extremely basic when compared to the likes of Tiger Woods or Tony Hawks Underground’s player edit functions. And surprisingly, there is still no option to make a female player – don’t they know how many girlies play games now, and how many are snooker fans? Both 8-ball and 9-ball versions of Pool can be played (although still not online for some reason), as well as Billiards and the quirky games of Bar Billiards (mushroom-shaped skittles on the table) and Snooker Plus (two extra colours). The ability to play doubles is also a nice addition, but again, how often is it going to get used if it’s offline only – why no online doubles?

Again this year there’s notable improvement in the game’s overall look – the balls and players have improved, but as the players previously looked like Resident Evil zombies that’s not saying much – at least they’re motion-captured now and look more like their human counterparts - they’re supposed to behave like the real players too but I didn’t see much evidence of this, and many still take an age to take their shot (they’re more “Ebdon” than “O’Sullivan”), and you’ll definitely be yelling “GET ON WITH IT” at CPU opponents on more than one occasion (if you’re really impatient or short of time you can turn the AI player turn off though, and the CPU will simply generate the AI player’s break). The TV-style presentation is made more authentic by having John Virgo joined by Steve Davis and John Parrott (Virgo still sounds like the most miserable git in existence). Good shots will be replayed automatically and you can call up a replay of any recent shot. The amount of detail around the table is worth a mention too, with working ball chutes and animated crowds. I don’t know who designed the menus and selection screens though, they look rather yucky and are laid out in a confusing manner – this wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t coloured what is best described as high tech ‘snot’ green, and they just don’t fit with the rest of the game.

Two other major flaws in the game, and things I’d really hoped they’d cure for this year’s game are the quirky facts that it’s sometimes easier to miss when the ball is close to a pocket than when it’s clear of the jaws (especially if you’re playing on a small screen), as the aiming lines all get a bit messy and indistinct when the object ball is close to a pocket (or disappear altogether). Also, should your opponent foul then you’re expected to decide whether you want to play or to put him back in without getting a proper look at the table – which is hardly fair, or realistic.

Gripes aside, all in all, what we have here is another highly respectable update of the best and most playable simulation of the great game – but to be honest it’s unlikely to appeal to anyone other than snooker loopy nuts (like us), and needed even more of a tune up than it got.

Best Bits

- The ball physics totally convince, and are even better than before.
- The game allows you to play like a Pro and make big breaks.
- Over 100 of the World’s top Pros - and they’re better animated than before.
- You can play 8-ball and 9-ball pool too!
- Online play and rankings.
- You can chat during a game, which is nice.
- It’s out in time for the real World Championships.
Worst Bits

- Still some issues with the control method and aiming.
- The players still don’t actually look or act that much like the real thing.
- The Tour may be too difficult for the casual snooker player.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2005