With the World Snooker Championship at Sheffield reaching its final stages and as no one seems to have made a new one in ages I thought I'd dig out a snooker game from the Gamecell archives–and boy did I have to dig! The first game I found was WSC Real 11: World Snooker Championship for the Xbox 360 (the last in the long-running series by Blade Interactive) but that wouldn't play on our Xbox One or Series X, so I then hunted for the much more recent Snooker 19–first released in April 2019 to coincide with the real World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
Well I was going to start off this review by complaining about the stupidly accurate AI opponents and their unrealistic shot selection, but then in my second career match I started to get the hang of the control system and using the 'Amateur' aiming mode I managed to make 58 and 84 breaks and won a qualifier 2-1, which made me change up to the "Pro" setting because it felt a bit easy.
Having said that, although pressing 'Y' frees up the camera, it can never get close enough to the balls and you can never zoom right in to have a really close look at how things are set, and this makes some shots unrealistically difficult. A ball over the pocket might be more difficult to pot than one 10 feet away from the intended pocket, and that just doesn't make any sense, nor does not being able to lean over the table to check if a ball will pass another/if balls are a plant etc. Another weird limitation with the camera view is that on occasion you'll have to nominate which colour you're going for without being able to have a proper look at the table, with only the TV-style camera as a guide!
Game options are Quick Match Snooker, Six Reds and Shootout (against the clock), match length (up to 35 frames!) and a choice of arenas. There's a career mode and also online matches and online tournaments. The career mode doesn't allow you to edit your own player character for some reason, so you have to select from two divisions of the top and lower ranked pros on tour, which is a major disappointment. I chose Joe O'Connor as my pro, who was a promising youngster 3 years ago and has never been heard of since I "became" him,. Despite me becoming world #4 playing as him, he keeps losing in the first round or failing to qualify, and is now ranked in the 60s... It's like I was no inspiration to him at all, either that or he doesn't have the ability to lower the difficulty setting like I do...
Online play seems to be a constant mixture of players who play near perfect snooker that makes you wonder if they are in fact AI or they've hacked the game, and real players who quit as soon as it looks like they're going to lose the frame, rendering the online mode pointless unless you have a family member or friend who also plays the game, which 3 years on is highly unlikely. You can of course play a 2-player game taking turns, but again, who has a family with 2 snooker video game fans in it?
The table and balls look great, but even for a three year old game the player likenesses are disappointing. Digitised faces plastered onto blocky heads and generic body models didn't really hack it in 2019, and certainly don't now. I've also got to say that when John Higgins, Mark Allen, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan all have the same body type you know someone's been a bit lazy, and as a player called BangerBoycie said on Xbox reviews: "Graeme Dott looks like he's got a terminal disease" - and he's not alone, check out snooker zombie Jack Lisowski below!
The player animation is basic, the cue actions identical and for some reason the players all stand up immediately after hitting a shot like they're standing to attention. Over all you could say the game looks bland, and even a few animated spectators (the crowd grows as the tournament progresses, and the crowds are bigger at the major tournaments) can't help a rather sterile atmosphere–although amusingly there are a few cough effects and you even get someone's phone go off at random times–both of which are a constant distraction for professional snooker players.
The camera you view your actual shot from seems a bit random and well... for want of a better word daft, and bizarrely even sometimes misses the outcome of a shot! There's also no replay mode which, in a 2019 sports sim, seems utterly ridiculous.
Commentary is supplied by part of the Eurosport snooker team; Neil Foulds and Dave Hendon. They've recorded quite a few comments but they're rarely relevant, often nonsensical and soon get repetitive and annoying - so just like the real thing then! Some of their comments will at first confuse you, then amuse you, then annoy you and then you will probably turn the commentary off if you value your sanity.
The sound is also disappointing; a few muted crowd noises and ball clicking sounds that sometimes seem delayed or inappropriate to the power of the shot played-and although they improved the sound so that shots potted with different levels of power sound more like they should with an update, it doesn't matter how hard you smack a ball in you'll never get that satisfying clunk that you actually get when you pot a ball hard into the centre of the pocket. A problem with momentary freezing seems to have been cured as well, so kudos for that, although that might just be that I was running the game on the Series X.
The main irritation I have with the game is the lack of realism of the AI players' abilities. They play impossible shots; cueing through other balls rather than over the top of them, and there never seems to be any added difficulty for them when playing what would be an extremely tricky shot in real life. Distance, angle and proximity to a cushion seem to make little difference to them either. They also constantly play slow rolling dead weight shots the length of the table that real pros rarely, if ever, actually play. Given the credited involvement of World Snooker and former world champion Shaun Murphy (also Chairman of the WPBSA Players Commission at the time) this lack of realism in the AI is hugely disappointing.
It is possible to have a good frame of snooker with Snooker 19, but the chance is always there that the AI will pull out an outrageously silly and unrealistic miracle shot and spoil the whole feel of the game (like when I played John Higgins who smacked the brown hard enough to go backwards and forwards across the table 4 times and just drop in the corner pocket, leading to a jammy total clearance and a highly unlikely win on the black! But I'm not bitter. Oh no, but I'm really glad Ronnie beat him in the semi final though!
If you've been watching the World Snooker (which has been amazing this year) and really, really want a snooker game to play on a Gen 8 or 9 Xbox then you could do worse, but you'd have to look hard. Snooker 19 wasn't very good at launch and it hasn't aged well, but it's only £10.49 in the Xbox store, so what have you got to lose? (Apart from £10.49.)