BARCELONA--Developed by Blade Interactive, World Snooker Championship 2007 attempts to re-create a variety of cue sports in video game form. In fact, the snooker name really seems to do the package an injustice, as both pool and billiards are as much a part of the experience as the more difficult game of snooker. Regardless, this year's X06 offered the first playable version of the game, so we wasted no time unpacking our virtual cue at the Barcelona event.
World Championship Snooker's control system should be familiar to sports game enthusiasts, and it has a lot in common with the Tiger Woods games. Basically, the left analogue stick lets you aim the direction of your cue, while the right stick is used to pull back and dictate the power of the shot. You don't have to use the analogue controls for shot power though--if you want to have digital precision you can set it using the A button. More-advanced snooker techniques, such as swerve and making the ball jump, are covered with the X and B buttons. X lets you adjust where you hit the cue ball, while holding B and using the left stick lets you increase the angle of the cue up to 80 degrees.
Luckily, a lengthy tutorial mode builds up to these more-advanced moves after covering the basics. In the main game itself you can turn on assistance lines to help you work out the angles, which will let you see where the target ball and the cue ball will end up after the shot. While this is immediately helpful for pocketing balls, it will eventually help you to plan where the white ball is going to end up for your next shot. These lines also show you the effects of swerve on the ball, so you can experiment with trick shots, and its invaluable when you need to get out of a snooker situation. The only problem is that at this stage of development, the analogue control doesn't feel precise enough for difficult long-distance shots.
Speaking of difficult shots, the game looks set to offer a comprehensive number of trick shots in a dedicated feature of the game. Having said that, none of them had been opened up on the X06 demo, so we'll have to wait until we can play through the career mode and unlock them for ourselves in the full game. Also lacking in the X06 showing was the ability to play over Xbox Live, which will be implemented in the full game.
The one area of the game that we were able to try out was the career mode, which was comprehensive to say the least. You can create your own player from scratch, choosing his ethnicity and then moulding his body, hair, and facial details. When you're done, you can finish him off with the customary snooker player's waistcoat. As you progress through the career mode, you then build up your character by spending points on new abilities, gradually taking him from rank amateur to world championship contender.
While the game is graphically a little rough around the edges, a lot of care and attention have gone into re-creating authentic TV-style presentation. The scores at the bottom of the screen will be instantly familiar to those who watch the real championship on BBC TV, and if you spend time pondering your shot, a picture-in-picture image of your man looking contemplative will appear onscreen. The difference between the environments is quite marked too, with the snooker halls being very serious and quiet, while the pool halls are more sociable environments. There are also plenty of details that will appeal to snooker fans, such as the authentic Riley tables and cues.
When you're playing a few rounds of snooker, the game makes it as easy as possible to play your shot. The default camera view is the one that you'd see if you were playing the shot in real life, but you can also get right down as if your chin were on the cue or take a top-down view to judge angles. There's also a really neat coaching function, which will advise you on how to take the shot that you're currently facing. Not only that, but the coach will show you how the shot could be played aggressively, neutrally, or defensively, with a video simulation showing how the shot could end up panning out.
At this point, the game needs a little bit of polishing, but there's a considerable amount of promise here. The snooker title really doesn't do justice to the comprehensiveness of the package, although the official world championship license is something that's bound to appeal to hardcore snooker fans. With a little bit of time before the planned January 2007 release, expect more information on the game as it runs into the final stages of development.