World Championship Snooker 2003
Snooker is a ‘sport’ for the dirty minded, like me. How the commentators get away with such remarks as ‘wiping the cue’, ‘kissing the pink’, ‘nudging the black’, and ‘hugging the cushion’ is outstanding. It’s just a matter of time until John Virgo screams into his mic ‘they’re ****ing in the showers!. It was also a matter of time until we saw a decent polygonal structure, otherwise known as a videogame, of the gentleman’s sport. Previous efforts saw Jimmy Whites’ Whirlwind Snooker on the Mega Drive, which only allowed 3 frame matches and was a fairly boring affair. Our Jimmy struck again (twice in fact) on the PSOne with Cueball, an interestingly average title where we could play quick games of snooker, pool, various arcade machines and darts. Below par graphics and cumbersome controls seemed to end all hope of a decent cue-em-up but the Whitester came back on PS2 with Cueball 2. Longer games of snooker and pool didn’t hide the bad controls and unfair AI which would beat you several times on the trot.
In between Cueball games came World Championship Snooker from Codemasters. Featuring all the major titles and players as well as a cool create-a-player mode WCS wowed us all with the roundest balls (see? I told you this was a dirty sport) ever seen in a videogame. Add to that commentary from Dennis ‘I have the biggest glasses known to mankind’ Taylor and John ‘Big Break’ Virgo, a fantastic tutorial which taught newcomers the basics and pros new skills and a trick shot school Codies had given us all what we had craved for since dreaming of beating Alex Higgins in the Embassy Final. Sales went through the roof as people flocked to knock Mark Williams off the top spot and re-create those stunning trick shots from Big Break last Saturday night.
The level of detail was immense. Matches took place in vast halls bathed in grandfather clocks and massive portraits, arenas packed full of paying spectators and even old snooker clubs. You could watch the players move around the table, see the referee place balls pack into the correct positions, players would frown at mistakes and crowds would gasp at near-misses. This was gaming heaven, the sparkling jewel in the crown.
And that was before the PS2 debut from World Championship Snooker 2002. Balls were rounder, players looked far more lifelike, competitions updated and an improved tutorial. Trick shot mode was made far more complex and deeper if you will. It was almost another side of the game. making itself the benchmark title in the genre it would take a lot to beat, and this made improving the best snooker game a lot harder.
Another year and another stack of new games. FIFA, LMA, NBA, NFL, NHL, Knockout Kings you name it and it had 2003 next to it. So imagine our surprise that Codies released Snooker 2003 to refresh a rather one-sided genre. First impressions are quite shocking in the respect that Codemasters have fiddled with the player and arena graphics considerably. Not for the good though, as players now walk like a chicken is stuffed deep up there and look as if the weapons of mass destruction are behind our view. Startled and surprised expressions really kill the flow of matches, and you’ll soon find yourself turning off the animation, which in turn takes away the live T.V atmosphere so faithfully created in previous versions. What does remain are the roundest balls ever (see what I mean about this digusting sport?). Complete with that circle of light on the top of the ball, these coloured spears move convincingly. Hitting a red against the cushion drastically reduces the speed on the shot, applying spin amounts to Virgo-like trick shots and the way the ball drops slowly into the rack below the table when pocketed is remarkable.
Venturing out into the career mode which has left many fans hooked on the last version sees a great improvement. Events now take place on dates and you have to plan which to take part in. Winning matches and tournaments increases your stand in the World Rankings and gives you much needed cash to spend in a virtual shop. Items are purely cosmetic but you can at last choose which cue to use, jacket to wear and match that bow tie with the shoes. Tournaments each have various settings which keeps the challenge fresh and taking part more pleasurable. There are tons of events to play in and watch, including the Embassy Championship. Each events is complete with the correct location and crowds move, whisper and cough. Where the main course fails is the create-a-player option. Whilst the basic premise has been kept from before the sickening motion capture leaves the player choosing a face that looks most normal rather than making a fantasy character. As before this takes away the exhilarating experience which allowed us to plot our player against the best in the world. Now we are throwing our deformed drug addict into an arena with other less-fortunate foes.
A great distraction from the ‘sensible’ world of snooker is the fantastic pool mode. Those with mates wanting instant action can now play 8 or 9 ball games on various coloured cloths. Much more direct than the tactical thinking in snooker this is a much worthy addition which Sir Jimmy failed on before. Never again will your friends point and laugh when you pull out a snooker game after a night out, instead they’ll be begging for it.
The one mode that could be released as a stand-alone game is trick shot. Taking hints from the bearded Big Break Virgo, you can chip the cue ball over various obstacles, apply spin like no-one has before and basically perform every trick that is illegal in matches. Of course the benefits of laying trick shots is you become more comfortable on the table and most importantly you learn how to spin without boundaries. This helps out considerably when you have to conquer a snooker mid-way through an important match and also makes you look good.
Whilst no booming soundtrack in an attempt to liven up the game, sound effects and commentary are of the highest standard. Hear the click as balls make contact with eachother, swear in utter disgust as an audience member clears his throat and dance in joy as Dennis Taylor complements your last shot. It is just a real shame that the graphics and animation of players has been screwed up because we could easily be looking at one of the top games of the year.
Despite this loss in atmosphere World Championhip Snooker 2003 is a game of the highest standard. In typical Codmasters style an interesting lisence is made into a fantastic experience and really builds on the flawless title that was last years snooker benchmark title. No-one and nothing comes close to re-creating the tactical thinking and tense atmosphere of WCS2003, which could well mean yet another year goes to the Codies. Well done all involved.