Someone recently said that darts is one of the most popular sports in the country at the moment. Of course he had no facts to back this up and at the time it seemed quite a ridiculous claim to make, but thinking about it afterwards, it made sense. Darts can be played by anyone, and there's something quite exciting about watching it on TV. It's not too surprising then that Oxygen Games has brought PDC World Championship Darts 2008 to Xbox 360 and PSP, following the Wii and PS2 releases earlier in the year.
The merits of darts as a sport can be debated elsewhere, but there's no question that it's a game that anyone can play if you're down the local pub. The real question is if we really need a darts sim to play on our consoles, even if it does recreate the real thing pretty well with the use of an analogue stick.
First things first. This isn't the best darts game we've played. Touch Darts on the DS still holds that crown, delivering a tactile feeling that a game played with a standard controller simply can't compete with. In PDC World Championship Darts 2008 you use the right analogue stick on the 360 controller/analogue nub on the PSP to effectively mimic your player's throw. Pull it back to start the motion and then push forwards to throw. It's very simple, but takes a surprising amount of skill to get right.
What makes it tricky is how the strength of throw required depends on where you aim. When played on the easiest difficulty you are shown an on-screen dart, which indicates the strength (time the analogue stick/nub is held back for) needed in order to throw the dart within the on-screen marker. This zone changes as you move the aiming reticule around the board, so on the harder difficulty setting, where there is no on-screen help, you have to know the ins and outs of your throwing action.
To add further difficulty, your forward stroke to release the dart needs to be smooth and straight. A skewed motion will cause your dart to veer off target, which will be extremely costly if you're going for the all important double to win a leg. By no means is PDC World Championship Darts 2008 in the same league of complexity as a sports game like FIFA, but it will certainly take time to master.
The core game mode sees you taking your custom created player (the character creation tool isn't the game's highlight) through his career, playing in tournaments for prize money and ranking position. It's not the flashiest of productions, but gives you something to strive towards. Other game modes include a plethora of 'fun' mini-games, with just about every alternative pub darts game included, from Round the Clock to Cricket.
Those accustomed to the kind of production values seen in high profile sports EA will be in for a slight shock when PDC World Championship Darts 2008 loads up. Menu designs are rather ugly and player models look pretty basic, especially in the PSP game. On Xbox 360 players have been given a slight makeover, but they're still not what we'd call 'next-gen'. The 360 game does support two-player online play, which is a nice addition, and the PSP version offers game sharing if you want to play with a mate. Commentary from fan favourite Sid Waddell is included although he's even harder to understand here than he is in real life, making most of his one-liners fall short of the mark.
PDC World Championship Darts 2008 isn't going to interest anyone who doesn't already have a fondness for the sport and, given how easy and cheap it is to play in real life, even those fans may struggle to find reason to pick up their 360 controller or PSP. The gameplay works, but the simple presentation and general lack of polish unfortunately relegate the game to something only a very small minority will enjoy.