Snooker was invented by British Army officers. Did you know that? I do, John Virgo told me a few times during my last tournament on WSC Real 11. Luckily for everyone involved, playing WSC is infinitely more enjoyable than listening to Mr Charisma’s commentary, and once you’ve come to terms with your in-game surroundings you’ve got quite a bit to look forward to.
Released alongside the start of the actual World Snooker Championships in Sheffield, WSC Real 11 lets you come face to face with some of the most famous names in the game while competing in each and every tournament from the 2010-11 season. If you choose to jump straight into the tournament mode, you create your player by using the player editor, which despite giving you a reasonable range of options is nowhere close to the level we’ve become accustomed to from the likes of EA and will leave you looking a little odd. Despite this, you’ll soon find that the other players are pretty well put together, and look reasonably convincing against their real life counterparts. It’s quite a shame that the first impressions of the game aren’t great; between the menus, character creator and a few other areas you don’t have much hope going into your first match, but get onto the table and things change for the better. Quite a lot.
Whether you decide to have a game of snooker, 8 or 9-ball pool or billiards Dark Energy have managed to create a fantastic physics engine that recreates the weight, movement and feel of the balls perfectly. Get to know the speed of the table and you’ll soon be learning how much spin to use, how powerful to hit the cue ball and just how likely it is that those tricky jump shots will actually work. The best part of it all is if you’re already a bit of a hot shot with a cue, you’ll feel right at home – every angle, every connection, every plant behaves exactly as it would if you were stood in your local snooker club. Well, unless you’re like me and end up with half your shots either missing entirely or flying off the table into a fat bloke’s pint.
The controls are simple to learn too, and even if you forget which button does what you can easily pop up a small window during the game with all of the relevant controls listed. There’s the option for a Hustle Kings style back-then-forward stick motion if you prefer, but by default a single button press takes your shot so you needn’t worry about miscuing making life harder for you. There is also a fantastic aiming and positional aid, giving you an approximate idea of where the ball will travel and end up which really helps you get to grips with the effects of applying different power or spin options. Probably just as well, as while you’re trying to qualify for the main tournaments during your season it’s not unlikely that you’ll lose a few matches until you gain enough experience to improve your character. Given the length of some matches these improvements can feel like slow going, but there’s an alternative if you want to improve your aim, spin and so on a bit quicker.
As well as the main snooker season, you can also dip into pool (pardon the pun) and run through a similar season with these shorter, quicker games, although once you get used to the smaller tables and slightly bigger balls going back to a snooker match is quite tricky. Improving your character is done by spending skills points earned by winning matches in whichever way you feel necessary. Like to put some curve on the ball? Then you can improve that skills more than others. Maybe you’re struggling with your positioning, in which case drop a few more skills points in that direction. It’s a fairly standard way to improve your created character, but still works really well to let you develop your own game.
I mentioned the player models looking reasonable earlier, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Movement is quite robotic at the best of times, with no emotion shown whatsoever and movement around the table feels quite stiff much of the time. Aside from the that, everything that matters on and around the table looks great, from the shiny balls on the table (although still nowhere near the super-shine seen on Hustle Kings) to the table and rooms you play in. Even the audience looks pretty reasonable, something usually overlooked in a sports game. You can also drop back to a top-down view at any time to get a better view on things, just in case the TV-style view isn’t quite clear enough, which is a relief when either the player or the cue block the camera entirely, making aiming impossible. But considering you’ll spend most of your time focusing on table-based goings on you can learn to put up with the plain menus, occasional camera issues and robo-players. What you can’t learn to live with though, under any circumstances at all, is the commentary.
John Virgo provides the voice work throughout and there’s no point beating around the bush, it’s awful. Truly, truly awful. Around the bizarre random comments about losing his pen, and how snooker was invented (by British Army officers in case you still weren’t aware) he makes out of place remarks about your positioning or timing, seemingly hell-bent on making you feel rubbish about not placing a shot like a pro. On top of that, the commentary and crowd noise sounds muffled as if someone’s turned the treble right down on the TV, so not only is there sound which is beyond rubbish, you can’t even hear it clearly. If you want to enjoy your games and try to stay reasonably focused, switch it off. It’s a real shame, but a real necessity.
There are some other nice touches, like being able to rewind to any shot in the frame and restart from that point, handy if you miss an easy shot which allows Stephen Hendry to come to the table and clear up in one go. Use of this is limited so you can’t use it after every shot, but it’s a good tool to have available. There’s plenty of multiplayer options too, with various game modes available for both local and online play, although the online stat tracking seemed to be a little thin on the ground. We also found some inconsistency with just how well the online matches worked, but on the whole if you want the odd game with someone not in the room, or to try out the online tournament options then it’s a good way to spend a chunk of time.
WSC Real 11 is an odd package. It’s a fantastic snooker and pool game with a brilliant physics package wrapped in a slightly shabbily presented box. Ignore the rough visuals (which to be fair are hugely improved over the previous WSC title) and appalling commentary and there’s a really good, engaging game underneath. It’s just a shame it doesn’t have the shine of other sport games on the market. Still, if you like a game or two of snooker, you can’t go wrong with this.