I’ve always found snooker to be one of the sports – and it is a sport, don’t @ me – best suited to video game adaptation. The logistics of having a full size table mean that a digital version is so more convenient and the individual nature of the sport means that it transfers really well. Way back on the Amiga, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker was my go-to for years, while the snooker add on to Hustle Kings has scratched my potting itch more recently. Having taken a break since the last version on Wii, Snooker 19 sees the return of official licensed tournaments and player likenesses, with new developers Lab42 aiming to offer a truly authentic snooker experience.
Lab 42 have clearly put a great deal of passion into this project, and are to be commended for the quality of the presentation. Graphically, the snooker itself looks photo realistic; indeed, at several points, my wife thought I was simply watching TV coverage of the World Championship when I was actually playing. That authenticity is helped a bit by having Eurosports’ commentary duo speaking in hushed tones over the match, but it’s a bit of a shame that the more iconic voices of BBC coverage aren’t involved.
Every ranked player in the world is available to select or challenge and the in-game likenesses are all pretty good. Unfortunately, the illusion is shattered somewhat when they move in a rather under-animated and robotic fashion. This isn’t a big deal since most of the time you don’t see the players, but it is a shame nonetheless.
In more positive news, the recreation of on the table action is superb. The cue ball responds exactly as it should and you quickly become able to pull off the kind of positional shots that would have John Virgo purring like a satisfied cat. Equally, when you make mistakes, you generally only have yourself to blame – surely one of the best signs of a well constructed simulation.
The only exceptions to this come from the slightly woolly shot power meter and the iffy camera angles. Each shot is played first from a traditional TV angle (with reversed controls annoyingly) and then from a cue-line one as you actually take your shot. These are both functional enough, but there’s no easy way to look more broadly around the table. A free-look camera is available, but was clumsy and awkward to navigate. This issue is compounded when the shot camera doesn’t always follow the object ball so that you can’t really see why you missed a pot or safety attempt. Issues with the camera are perhaps most apparent when you try to line up a shot using the cushions. The flattened out TV view isn’t accurate enough to line up and the cue view won’t include the ball that you are trying to aim at. Hopefully this can be patched as it proved a major annoyance.
There’s a curious feeling lack of extra features in Snooker 19. The effort put into the tournament presentation is hugely welcome, but there is no practice mode included. This is a major oversight as it means that you must try things out in matches where the punishment for mistakes is sitting through a lengthy break by your opponent. Thankfully the actual process of watching your opponent pot as many balls as they can is well handled and you can speed up the shots, a function that also offers up some potential for comic moments.
A similarly big miss is the absence of an instant replay function. The issues with the shot camera would be largely addressed if you could rewatch your shots from different angles to work out how you should have played them, or even sit back and bask in the glory of a perfectly judged cannon.
Alongside traditional 15 red ball snooker, Snooker 19 also offers 6 ball and Shootout modes. The former plays a little like pool, while the latter includes shot timers to avoid the Terry Griffiths approach of taking minutes between each shot. These are great alternatives to regular snooker and offer the potential for more frenetic games, but it might have been nice to have more fun trick shot modes or pool included.
Online play is largely fine, although I struggled to find games this early in release. Games between friends should work really well since the slower nature of the sport will alleviate any lag or streaming issues. Equally the lack of any perceivable player stats means that it shouldn’t be an issue if everybody plays as Ronnie O’Sullivan (his shocking exit from this year’s World Championship notwithstanding). Then again, this levelling out of player skill means that the difficulty feels particularly prescribed. Playing on Easy will mean your opponent making a mistake after hitting 30 points with harder difficulty settings moving upwards from that score. This sometimes involves taking on shots that would not be feasible in reality but on the whole the AI plays an authentic game of positional snooker.