It’s the game of the game. Quiet please, frame one, JimDeadlock to break.
Type: Single-player, Multi-player
Release date: 17 April, 2019
My Gaming History On The Baize
I first started playing computer games at the end of the last century in the now-defunct Yahoo Games rooms that used to run on Java applets. My game of choice was Pool, and I clocked up 30,000+ matches, ran a league with hundreds of members and spent so much time there that when I switched off my computer I could still see the outline of the table burned into my screen. My current Rust habit (which is approaching 1,000 hours) is a casual drop in the ocean compared to my old Pool days. During the couple of decades since then I’ve never found a decent replacement to recapture the ball control physics that made it such a competitive game. There have been one or two low-budget efforts on Steam, but they just don’t cut it.
Oh, and I should also mention that snooker and Formula 1 are my spectator sports of choice. This review was delayed while I was busy watching the World Championship.
There’s a short tutorial to learn the controls and then you’re straight into the match play. There’s no practice table option, although personally I don’t think I would ever use it, even if it was available. You get all the practice you need while playing career matches.
The most important thing with games like this is the controls, and I’m pleased to report that here they are easy to learn and very intuitive. You first line up the shot from a top-down view, setting the power, cue ball spin and lining up the direction, then you left-click to go down on the shot which allows you to make a fine line adjustment before taking the shot (or you can get up off the shot if you change your mind).
The rules and physics of the game are all done perfectly. For example, it won’t let you dig down on the ball if you’re tight on the cushion, and if you put some side on it changes the path of the object ball (if you have the visual aids on).
There are four gameplay modes: quick match vs AI; single-player career mode; unranked online match vs humans; online tournament (with leaderboards).
Sound & Vision
You can choose which professional you want to play as. There’s customisation for clothing and cue design but no option to create your own character, provoking rage among some Steam reviewers. I would like to ask them, if they were playing a AAA sports game like FIFA, would they want to create their own anonymous character instead of Ronaldo or Messi? No, I thought not.
Much of the negative criticism on Steam has been related to the graphics of the off-table features. Not enough cutscenes, not enough camera shots of the crowd, poor rendering of the players’ faces, they say… Well, while I do agree that the faces are not very lifelike compared to some other AAA games, they are still recognisable. Apart from that, 99% of the time you’re concentrating on the table, so any other peripheral stuff is pointless and irrelevant. In my opinion the devs quite rightly devoted their time to getting the table right instead of wasting unnecessary man-hours making the scenery look pretty. This isn’t an open-world adventure game where you’re out to admire the flowers. You get 100% immersion at the table, and that’s all that matters.
There’s commentary – a limited number of responses, as you’d expect, but plenty to satisfy the general atmosphere. The commentator sounds like someone I recognise – is it Neal Foulds? If the devs did decide to flesh out the peripherals of the game, I would argue that extra commentary would be the way to go, rather than graphics – get John Virgo on the job! Where’s the cue ball going?!!
In career mode you choose your match length, difficulty (opponent strength) and level of visual aids you want at the start of your career. Once you’ve selected your settings you are then locked in for the duration of your career, there’s no switching up the difficulty mid-career. In amateur mode you have all the aiming graphics that allow you to line up the shot, predict the cue ball position and even see the curved path of the ball when you put side on. As you move up the settings you get fewer aids until you reach the ultimate mode – no visuals at all, just the cue!
For a giggle, I tried a match on hard with no aids. It was a farce. I couldn’t pot anything. Not that I had many chances, since I only got one or two shots before I had to sit there watching Mark Williams clear up with a century break. It was back to Easy with Amateur aids for me after that.
Even with full blown aids (sorry) it’s still not as easy as you might think. The more angle, the wider your arc gets, and the cue ball prediction is really only good for direction, not pace. As for escaping snookers off the cushions, the aids don’t help you with that even on Amateur, so I’ve found that particularly tricky to get to grips with.
The key to the game is getting used to the cue ball pace (as in the real-life game, of course). Once you’ve got that sussed you’ll be making the big breaks. Until then, your cue ball will be all over the place and you’ll be playing a lot of long shots.
On the flip side, the AI is an absolute master of pace no matter what difficulty you choose. Every shot is perfectly positioned to the millimetre, and you’ll nearly always find yourself tight on the baulk cushion when the AI plays a safety. I haven’t noticed any difference between the AI players – Ronnie is no tougher than any of the newcomers – but I think this makes sense because it would defeat the purpose of setting your difficulty at the start of the game if you ended up being thrashed mercilessly by Selby anyway.
The difference between Easy/Medium/Hard is simply how often the AI misses a shot. He will play perfect snooker with some amazing shots, then all of a sudden miss an easy one for no apparent reason. It seems a bit unnatural but in the end it doesn’t really matter because you still get your shot regardless. On Easy (which I’ve been playing almost exclusively) I’ve found that the AI always gives you a fighting chance, and I suspect that his misses are based on the current score rather than the shot difficulty (this would make sense programming-wise).
There’s a striking difference between playing the AI in career mode, and playing a human online. You can predict the difficult shots the human might miss, and it feels much more natural. With that said, the humans I’ve played so far had many hours clocked on their Steam profiles and wiped the floor with me! I will have my revenge though.
There are many complaints about the price on Steam reviews. If this was a generic snooker game then I would probably agree, but you have to bear in mind that it’s officially licensed and uses images of all the professional players you know and love throughout. That doesn’t come cheap. These celebrity sportsmen all have to be paid, and that’s where your money is going. When you compare the price to some of these AAA football games it seems a lot cheaper, doesn’t it? Apart from anything else, it’s not like this game has any competition on Steam. It’s more or less alone in its genre. Take it or leave it.
There’s a nice collection of achievements to keep you going for a long time, and full controller support – although you must be “snooker loopy nuts (are we)” if you want to do it that way. Keyboard/mouse is the best method.
The store page says there is Steam Cloud support, but beware, I reinstalled Windows and was dismayed to discover that my career progress was wiped.
Title Pic, And Open Letter To Mark Williams
None of this section has any relevance to the game really, skip it if you like…
I want to congratulate the PR department on their obvious knowledge of the game and amazing predictions regarding the images used on the store page and in-game.
First of all, Mark Williams was cheesed off about not appearing in the title image on the store page. Well, Mark, sorry to break it to you but you were the 2018 champ and this game relates to 2019. I think deep down you knew you had no chance, with your comments about lightning striking twice and naked cartwheels etc.
Lo and behold, there is the accurately-predicted 2019 champion with his hand almost touching the trophy. Not only that, but the in-game image (see below) is even more perfect, with both finalists Trump and Higgins right there at the front, with Ronnie and Selby pushed to the back! Good call!!
For me, Snooker 19 has been a LONG TIME COMING, but now it’s here I think it was well worth the 20 year wait. I love it! The controls and gameplay are perfect. All your favourite players are in it. You can play humans online if you want, or hone your skills and try for the achievements by yourself.
Thankfully I have 1,600+ other games in my Steam library (including Rust!) to distract me, otherwise I would be seriously worried about relapsing into my old baize addiction.