I used to love snooker. It was pretty much my life from the age of 11 through to 18. I’d practice three times a week and play competitively at least once a week, in local leagues and county tournaments. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I was pretty good. These days I’d be lucky to string a few pots together, but WSC Real 11 lets me relive my glory days and pretend I went pro.
Ball physics are the be-all and end-all when it comes to a snooker simulation, and developer Dark Energy has certainly done an impressive job with this aspect of the game. Balls roll, spin, bounce and swerve as I’d expect them to, table speed is excellent and I haven’t been able to pull off what I’d call a ‘fantasy’ shot – as you could in the classic game from the 90s, Virtual Snooker.
Anyone expecting a Tiger Woods-style analogue stick cueing system will be out of luck as your shot’s attributes are set up before you press a button to strike the cue ball. Aim, cue angle, cue ball striking position and power are all set using a combination of buttons and analogue sticks, while the game automatically determines if you need to use an implement such as a spider or rest – although at some points the forced use of a spider is downright ridiculous.
On-screen aids show you the direction of the target ball if hit, the angle the cue ball will head once it makes contact and its finishing area on the table. Depending on the power and spin applied to the shot the target area zone changes in size, adding a level of uncertainty to your shots – although numerous stats (increased through points earned via tournament play) help reduce this margin of error.
The problem for anyone who has ever played snooker before at a mid to high level is that WSC 11 is far too easy. In my first four frames against an AI player I knocked in three century breaks, with my best being a 127. You can chose to replay a number of shots in each match, but I soon found even this to be unnecessary given the ease at which I was able to knock balls in.
Positional play is key, of course, but as long as you keep the ball relatively under control (which isn’t hard thanks to the visual aids), you’ll hardly ever be in a position where a pot is genuinely difficult. The only danger comes from a lack of concentration and laziness, which did occasionally cause me to jaw a ball and let in the opposition – not a problem against the unknown players, but the licensed pros more often than not clear the table if given the chance.
You might think that turning off the assists is the answer, but the aiming aid is more or less essential if you want to do anything. The game doesn’t let you get low enough to aim properly without the aiming arrows, making playing completely assist-free a real chore. Turning positional help off is a much better option, forcing you to learn the nuances of ball control, but the potting still remains either a complete walk in the park or nigh on impossible. A half-way house that gave you an arrow showing the trajectory of the cue ball, but not the object ball would have been a good alternative, but it’s not an option.
A career mode lets you take a custom player through all the major official tournaments of the snooker season, earning ranking points and prize money, as well as points to spend on attributes. The length of your aiming aid, accuracy of the positional aid, cue power and spin ability can all be increased, but this only serves to make the game increasingly easy. Stat boosts work brilliantly in certain games, but in snooker improved performance should come from practice, not artificial ability boosts. If snooker gets a little tiresome there’s also the option to play 8 and 9-Ball pool, along with a couple of variations on each type.
Anyone hoping the game to teach them how to play snooker is out of luck too, as the included tutorial just shows you how to play the best shot in the current situation – it doesn’t explain what you’re doing and why. It’s better than nothing, but not by much. Online play is included, but it’s pretty bare bones stuff, offering only friendly, ranked and tournament play alongside leaderboards, although for a lot of people that’s all that’s really needed.
On PS3 the game supports PlayStation Move (via a downloadable update), but sadly this adds little to the gameplay and if anything is less preferable to the normal controller. The standard controls have essentially been mapped to the Move and Navigation controllers, and you get no extra level or accuracy or an increased sense of actually playing snooker. Shots are still played with a pre-determined level of power, with a prod forward initiating the cue action.
Outside of the actual gameplay WSC 11 is a more than a little rough around the edges. The presentation here is dated from the word go, with the menus preparing you for the ugly player models and terrible player stances. It might not be obvious to a casual player, but the way your pro stands over the cue looks appalling and is the kind of thing you’d see a 10-year-old do the first time you give them a go on a pool table. Replays are nice enough, allowing you to go super slow motion, but this doesn’t make up for the sloppiness elsewhere.
I’m a big snooker fan so I could play WSC Real 11 for hours, putting up with its problems, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good virtual version of the sport. The assists are the biggest problem, making a game that’s either far too easy or far too difficult, and the presentation is far below the standard expected of this generation. WSC Real 11 is passable, but it’s a long way from being an easy recommendation.