UK REVIEW--It has been two years since the last official World Snooker Championship game on consoles, and in the interim, developer Dark Energy Digital has significantly upped its game for WSC Real 2011. There are graphical enhancements, new online game modes, and a rewind system to help you correct your mistakes rather than being punished for them. The new features have certainly improved the franchise, and while there isn't much competition in this genre, it's a game that snooker fans should check out.
The main single-player mode in WSC Real 11 is Season, in which you create a new snooker player and start at the bottom of the world rankings. You can change your player's facial appearance and outfit, but the options available are limited, and the results tend to look a little like zombies. Once you've created your slightly undead-looking character you can take to the tables in qualifying rounds for all of the real tournaments from the 2010/11 snooker season. Early in Season mode, you may frequently lose matches and find it tough to progress to the later rounds of tournaments, but even when you lose you still earn experience, which can be used to upgrade your character. Eventually, you get further into each tournament and start playing against famous faces from the world of snooker, such as cover star Ronnie O'Sullivan and Graeme Dott. Depending on your understanding of snooker, competing for the top places in tournaments can feel very slow because there is no option to change the AI difficulty to improve your results. WSC Real 2011 is a game that really wants you to learn how to be a better player, so while the early stages of Season mode can be frustrating, every win is incredibly rewarding.
In addition to Season mode, you can play a separate season of 8-ball pool in 8 Ball mode. Season mode is time consuming due to the length of real-world snooker frames, so 8 Ball offers a much faster alternative. You play as the same character from Season mode and still earn experience. Therefore, playing the pool season continues to make you a better player for the more complex snooker season, while thankfully not feeling like a grind. There's also a Quick Play mode and a Versus mode for local multiplayer, in addition to the online multiplayer. To help you practice your game, there's Free Play, which lets you take shots without an opponent, and Tutorial, which teaches you the controls. Unfortunately, Tutorial mode does little to help you understand snooker's complex rules. There are detailed rules listed in text in the options menu, but the game doesn't make learning the sport engaging for newcomers.
Once you're in a match, WSC Real 11 can be played in two different ways using the standard controller. The first method involves setting power and spin for shots using sliders, and then pressing the A button to play the shot. This is a very simple way for newcomers to get used to picking the correct shots, especially when it's combined with the excellent aiming aid and positional aid. The aiming aid shows you the approximate path of the cue ball and the first ball that the cue ball will come into contact with. The positional aid shows approximately where the cue ball will come to rest after the shot is played. These tools help you learn the nuances of aiming a perfect pot, while still preparing the position of the cue ball for a subsequent shot, or safety. The aids can also be turned off for experienced players looking for a more authentic experience. Snooker fans may also prefer the second, manual option for taking shots. This uses movement of the right analogue stick to simulate your cue action, making for a far more engaging style of gameplay compared to setting shot parameters on sliders and executing with a simple button press. It works very well if you put in the time needed to get used to playing your shots manually. Sadly, there's no Kinect support in WSC Real 11, which is a disappointment considering how well cue action could translate to motion control.
As soon as you've taken your shot, WSC Real 11's fantastic physics engine makes sure that all of the balls on the table behave in exactly the right way. Hit a pot shot too hard, and the ball ricochets off the cushions and comes back out. Get the spin or chip angle slightly wrong, and your spectacular effort quickly looks foolish. It can be punishing at first, particularly for snooker newcomers, but over time it becomes more rewarding. Accomplished players will discover the ability to perform trick shots once they're comfortable with the game. For those who are less familiar with the sport, there's a rewind feature to help you recover from mistakes. The rewind feature is good as it lets you retake up to three shots per match, which helps avoid the frustration of missing an easy pot only to watch the AI take to the table and pull off an incredible break. Sports games have often been criticized for including this type of feature, but in a realistic game such as WSC Real 11, it's a welcome fallback for the entry-level player. Those more skilled with the sport can simply choose to not use it if they want a more true-to-life experience.
Take your snooker game online, and you'll find a good selection of game modes, which mostly function lag-free. There are player and ranked matches for snooker and 8- or 9-ball pool. There are also tournaments where you start in qualifying rounds and progress through further knockout rounds if you beat your online opponent. If you lose, you must start again from the qualifying rounds. The tournaments add much-needed persistence to the online modes as there is nothing in the way of stat tracking beyond a ratio of games won or lost. In addition to the competitive online modes, there are leaderboards which rank you in each of the modes, though they don't add much more to the overall experience as they also track only wins and losses rather than a wide variety of gameplay statistics.
The graphics in WSC Real 11 have undergone big changes since the last console version in the series, and the improvement is dramatic. The low-resolution players and crowds are gone, replaced by recognizable professional players, lifelike audiences, and realistic lighting which are a nice contrast to the odd-looking created avatars. Unfortunately, though the player likenesses are impressive, they still show very little emotion, and the animations are a little robotic. There are also some clipping issues where your cue can often be seen passing straight through your character. Most disappointing of all, though, is that in some situations your view of the table can be obscured by your character's head or the cue, depending on the angle of the shot. These basic issues hold back the otherwise terrific graphical improvements and often force you to play certain shots from the overhead view in order to see the table properly.
Sound is by far the game's weakest area. The original menu music is generic at best, and the commentary from John Virgo is some of the worst you will hear in any sports game. Rather than comment on how the match is developing, Virgo frequently talks aimlessly about the early history of the sport with little enthusiasm. Comments also seem to be made entirely at random, rather than based on gameplay. On certain occasions, he comments that it's difficult to decide his man of the match, before even a single shot has been played. Some of the commentary is particularly bizarre, completely breaking the fourth wall with comments like, "I'm sure I can hear someone pressing buttons every time a shot is played." Virgo even criticizes you for playing the game "wrong" and talks aimlessly about how he likes to "practice at home with WSC on the games console." Thankfully you can turn down the frequency of the TV commentary and you will almost certainly want to turn it off entirely.
WSC may be the only option for snooker fans on the current generation of consoles, but thankfully it's an enjoyable experience, with realistic cue and ball physics and a wide selection of features and game modes. There are some notable problems which prevent it from being a great game, such as the graphics bugs and abysmal commentary, but it can be very satisfying if you put in the time required to understand the nuances of the sport. WSC Real 11 is a fun game for anyone interested in snooker and is a definite improvement over previous WSC titles.