UK REVIEW--With this latest iteration, PDC World Championship Darts comes back to the PS3 in style. Pro Tour combines a comprehensive single-player career mode with competent online competitions and fun offline party games. Well-implemented motion controls and aiming assists make it instantly accessible, and while it's not much to look at, it captures the tension, excitement and over-the-top fun of PDC competition with aplomb. Its fine implementation of Move controls really adds to the game, and the wealth of traditional pub variations are likely to appeal to those who fancy picking up some arrows but feel the combination of alcohol and sharp objects is a little too risky.
The Move-enabled control scheme--itself modelled on the Wii scheme from last year's Nintendo-exclusive iteration--works admirably, and its success is borne from simplicity. You hold the Move controller pretty much as you would a dart, and you aim it by pressing the Move button once your reticle is where you want it. Then a simple throwing motion throws the dart, with the dart being released onscreen at the moment you let go of the Move button. If you perform the action without letting go of the button, the circular power bar still gauges the strength of your throw. While this isn't that useful after you've got the hang of the controls and the weight of a particular player's darts, it's invaluable for the novice player.
There is also the option to play the game with a standard controller, with a flick of the stick replacing a flick of the wrist to throw, but while these controls work well enough, the game loses a significant amount of charm in transition. Both schemes have gradated aiming assists that help you along the path from dart-chucking novice to world champion, but even at the higher assist levels it's challenging enough to make a 180, nine-dart leg, or Shanghai particularly satisfying.
Pro Tour offers a lengthy career mode that lets you start with a customised player and work your way through all the game's licensed tournaments. These all feature actual venues and the top PDC pros, though the Grand Slam of Darts is let down slightly because it's missing its main selling point--invited players from the BDO and other non-PDC organisations. This means that you can't pit yourself against the actual lineup from this year's Grand Slam. It's also a shame that games have to go on for the length of time they do. Given the improvements in accessibility for the casual player, the fact that getting through the later matches in tournaments can require upwards of 30 legs makes the lack of shorter match options unfortunate.
Included in the game for the first time is head-to-head online play. This is implemented in solid but unspectacular fashion, with no options beyond standard-rule-set games. As you take turns, connection quality isn't of great importance, and the online competition works well for those looking for simple head-to-head action. It's a shame this is limited to simple one-on-one matches, as party games with larger numbers of people could have worked well in this setup, though perhaps not as naturally as they do in the offline multiplayer.
The offline multiplayer's highlight is the range of pub-based party games. Rather than being set in one of the licensed arenas, they take place in a basic but convincing pub. Games include darts classics such as Shanghai, Killer, Around the Clock, and Cricket, and they can be played with multiple players passing a single controller between them. This makes for entertaining fun among friends, as the game usefully saves views, assist levels, and the like for each player, letting people of varying skill levels easily enjoy the game.
While a lack of licensed music hampers Pro Tour's attempts at generating authentic atmosphere, the delightfully absurd commentary from John Gwynne and Sid Waddell--which can be turned off independently of the scorer this time around, to the relief of those who get tired of the absurdity--does help. Though the commentary can get a little repetitive after a while, there is noticeably more variety than in last year's Wii version, with the interaction of the two commentators helping to stave off the inevitable muting once you've heard all the combinations of all the stock phrases one too many times. In tournaments, sound effects are unobtrusive most of the time--while the crowds aren't quite as boisterous as they may be in real life, this is probably a good thing given the complaints and adverse reaction of many players to crowd issues at the recent Grand Slam of Darts. The background noise in the pub that plays host to the party games is pleasing without being obtrusive, helping to reinforce an informal feel.
The atmosphere mirrors the inherent silliness of PDC tournament play and helps make sure the satisfaction doesn't end with hitting your doubles. Pro Tour's sound and graphics work well with the simple-but-effective gameplay to create as good a re-creation of this most noble of sports as we've seen on a console to date. That said, the game can be a little jarring visually at times. While player likenesses are relatively good, some animations are unnatural. The most notable of these is the way that the player models' arms and hands jiggle around as you try to aim your dart if you've chosen the default TV view, and sudden changes in facial expressions stick out too. These can be eliminated by simply choosing the preferable behind-the-hand camera, but is likely to be irksome for those wanting more-traditional TV-style presentation.
The different views are a manifestation of the attempt to marry the experience of playing darts with watching it on the TV, and this is a marriage that for the most part works well. Even in TV view you get the shakes--via rumble--and standard atmospheric sound effects are faded down and replaced with a rapid heartbeat as you go for a high-pressure shot. Thankfully the AI seems to suffer under pressure too, so these additional gameplay difficulties don't seem cheap--they just add to the atmosphere and make a successful out-shot or tournament win all the more satisfying.
While PDC isn't up to the standards set by the best sports titles out there, it's a good attempt at bringing the joy of darts to your living room. It's got enough content to keep serious fans of professional darts happy for some time, and the combination of accessible motion controls and plentiful local multiplayer party games broadens the appeal to anyone who might enjoy the occasional game down the pub and fancies doing so at home without the attendant risks to walls, furniture, or loved ones.