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PDC World Championship Darts 2009

After various half-hearted stabs into the virtual darts world, it’s safe to say that Rebellion Games, the outfit picking up on the PDC series this year, have a lot of work to do. You don’t need to look much further than our review of last years Xbox 360 product to realise that this title isn’t going to be seen sharing caviar and smoking cigars with the likes of FIFA and Madden in the restricted club of sporting game greats. Luckily, after our recent visit to The Sports Café (London) to test out PDC World Championship Darts 2009, it seems Rebellion have enforced a strict focus on the series that’s been vitally missing so far, as they try to reinvent the failing darts formula with a brand new set-up.

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On arrival to the swanky VIP area, it was clear that Rebellion are keen on starting life controlling the PDC series with a fresh slate. Wanting to highlight their progress, we were quickly ushered onto a Wii console, readying ourselves for what we hoped would prove to be a huge improvement. Flexing our muscles for the first time, we were greeted with a new control system that not only aims for precision and simplicity, but has been put in place to speed up the previously sluggish game.

After a few throws, it wasn’t hard to realise that there are hidden depths for the various levels of competition here. For the casual Wii market, the easy-to-understand targeting system will come as great relief. By holding the Wii remote like a dart (either sideways or with the A button facing the ceiling, depending on preference and skill), you’ll lock onto a certain part of the board with the press of a button. Once focused, you then make your movement, aiming to generate enough power to hit a sweet spot that guarantees the best results. While simple on the surface, it wasn’t long before we began to try out a variation of techniques, deciding that aiming lower and then following through with a fast, powerful lunge towards the screen was the best way to go. After only half an hour, it was deemed that this product is going to be most enjoyable in multiplayer, as the looming thoughts of tackling the single-player campaign alone crossed our minds, forcing a grimace of doubt and a shrug of disapproval.

Take Your Bulls With You…

For DS owning darts fans, the game will also appear on Nintendo’s handheld. Mimicking the power-bar method from last year’s games, this one was slightly underwhelming, and nowhere near as fun as the excitement on the Wii. However, the title did flaunt a 3D board and decent visuals, meaning those who are too lazy to flick their wrist when standing up can still grab a piece of the action.

Interestingly, after discussing PDC 2009 with Rebellion producer Steve Hart, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the team strives for perfection with their new aiming system. Not only wanting to satisfy and replicate the hardcore fans’ pub-filled culture, Steve assured us that this title would reach out to non-darts fans as well. After rigorous testing from hundreds of different competitors, it was clear to see that Steve and the team’s passion have gone into making this the most accessible and relevant title for a sport that is still in its infancy with regards to mainstream media. When asked if the team are working on an Xbox 360 version to follow shortly behind the Wii and DS productions, a short, sharp “NO” rang loud and true. Fortunately, after last year’s disaster, our grin was nearly as wide as the superstar that stood behind us, who was waiting to show the present press what it really means to be a superb darts player.

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Not wanting to highlight that our skills honed in the last hour were fluke or in some way assisted, witnessing Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor passionately work his way through various challengers was a sight to behold. Played with such enthusiasm and ridden with light-hearted banter, it’s clear that approaching this title like a real game of darts is the way to go. Inevitably, once he lost a match, the jeering in the room echoed those crazy crowds that follow the sport every week, underlining our feelings that this title is only fun with a group of friends.

Of course, our tepid interest in the sport can only go so far- but for those wanting a single player adventure, there’s plenty to work through. Ensuring that licences such as Sky Sports are in place, Rebellion are offering the usual career and customisation options that sports fans can reasonably expect from their games. Long gone are the ugly, Frankenstein-like creations from previous titles; now you’ll have greater options to make your drunken, overweight champion look ridiculous. Remarkably, graphics are as sharp on the Wii as they were last year on the 360, highlighting how the previous effort turned up looking like a circus unicyclist at the Tour de France. For your sake and ours, we hope that they can add some much needed flavour to a previously stale ‘career’ experience, preferably by utilising the Wii remote in order to produce the tension and drama of the real thing during engagements with the computer. With that said, players will have to overcome nerve-jittering vibrations if they are on for the coveted 180, as the developers avidly look for ways of making this product an acceptable user of the PDC brand.

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As we headed away from this exclusive showing, an air of indecision stuttered between us. On one hand, the fast-paced, simplistic multiplayer was great fun, and definitely suited to the Wii console over anything else. On the other, we were struggling to find a situation where the casual user will want to play this on their own, apart from practising new techniques in the local pub area. The abrupt response of Mr Hart to our 360-related question did fill us with hope however, as it’s clear that Rebellion have worked extremely hard to make this the best darts game yet, without the nagging temptation to make another potentially awful 360 crossover. Fuelled by a ruthless passion to do the sport justice, the company have to be commended for the hands on approach they have applied to the production of the new control scheme. Replicating the exactness and precision of the sport to a standard that has severely faltered before, watch out for our review soon, as we decide if the hard work has paid off, or if the PDC series is still unforgivably wide of the mark. In the meantime, check out our interview with Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor right here.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

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