Snooker 19 Review

May 15, 2019
Xbox One
Also on: PC, PS4, Switch

Snooker is one of those sports that, unless you’re really into it, you might not understand how people can watch it. Then, one idle afternoon, you channel surf across it and decide to  watch out of curiosity only for a few hours to pass by in no time. Now you’re debating whether John Higgins should go for the risky plant or play the white ball up the table and try to snooker his opponent behind the green. When it comes to games, snooker’s history is somewhat sparse. The last one this reviewer routinely played was the excellent Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker series of games on the Amiga and PC respectively. Since then there have been a few games on each generation but Snooker 19 is this generation’s first and only title with an official license.

Built on the Unreal 4 engine, Snooker 19 certainly looks the part. There are lovely recreations of many of World Snooker’s locations, chief among them being the iconic Crucible Theatre in Sheffield where each year the World Championship is decided. In addition there’s been some glorious attention to detail in relation to tables and balls, from the reflection work going on when you’re viewing the balls up close and detailed wood grain on both the table and the cues. Up until one of the hundred and twenty-eight pros pop into frame you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at the real thing. Even the oddly coloured carpet looks right and to be honest, how many developers would pay attention to that?

Camera angles are very similar to its real-life counterpart

We mentioned ‘up until’ with regard to the pros as, despite advertising them as meticulously created some of them miss the mark when you compare them to say FIFA. These models also seem to move a little awkwardly and break the immersion the rest of the game does well to create. That being said, the developers aren’t backed by EA and a multi-million dollar budget that will be recouped by rabid snooker fans so what Lab42 has created in the player space isn’t too bad. It is a shame that you can’t create your own pro to guide to glory, instead you can either pick one of the well-known names of Snooker such as John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and so on, or one of the up-and-comers of the scene in the hope of crowning them Champion.

We decided to go with one of the unknowns and our journey, like any lowly ranked player of any sport, began in the qualifiers for the plethora of tournaments on offer. What we didn’t expect was how unrelenting the AI would be, even on normal. We could probably count on two hands the number of frames we’ve won but then snooker isn’t an easy game and it shouldn’t be an easy 147 every time you step up to table. Whilst you can enable a ball guide to help you line up shots it’s not guaranteed as the harder the shot, the more the line widens out so you have to judge things for yourself. You also have to time your hit with the right thumb-stick when completing your shot. Should you get this wrong your shot could go astray, the white could get a minor bump from the ball you hit or many other things besides. Time and patience is your friend and if you can take the time to line things up and position the white thereafter breaks can be built.

This speaks volumes for Snooker 19’s physics which, for a game like snooker, is very important indeed. The balls interact with each other as you’d expect with the minor variations on your hits coming from your cue time. This gives you the confidence to line up and execute a two-ball plant which, from experience, is very satisfying should you time things correctly. You also need to get a handle on the speed of the table as some run faster than others. It seems like a small thing but if you don’t get to grips with it you can lose the cue ball rather easily. Cushions seem to react the same no matter the venue or table which for predictability is rather nice. In addition bump balls from a miscue is a lovely little flourish that adds to the realism and suggests that Lab42 have really gone deep to make sure that, on the table, they’ve created a wonderful simulation of snooker.

We found ourselves sitting down quite often.

Since we could barely build a break over twenty, most games our AI opponent would often sense blood and pull off many difficult pots to properly put us into our place. Thankfully, though, they would also fail at shots to give us a way back in even if we weren’t skilled enough to grasp the opportunity. Whilst the AI is tough to beat it isn’t infallible and with plenty of practice — in full games as there’s no practice mode — we started to build bigger breaks, play better safeties and give them a run for their money. Some may find the camera angles tough to deal with and the free-look camera could be improved as it’s a bit clunky to use but, like all simulations, Snooker 19 wants you to learn and improve rather than lean on a crutch like the ball line. That being said the omission of a practice mode really inhibits your learning and while you can make your own via local multiplayer, something of more substance would’ve been quite useful.

As previously mentioned Snooker 19 pretty much nails the visual presentation of snooker and bar one really important aspect, it does a decent job of the audio side too. Ball hits have the familiar click and should you hit a shot at full power you get a rather satisfying thunk as the pocket devours that poor unsuspecting red. It’s disappointing, then, that the commentary is such a let down. Not only is it bland but there are many instances where what they’re saying is just completely wrong. For instance, just after potting the yellow in an effort to clear up the table and win, one of the commentators announced that the yellow was the frame ball as our opponent now needed snookers. As such we took a slightly more cavalier approach to the green in the hope of lining up on the brown. Suffice it to say we missed the shot by some margin but didn’t panic as our brain registered the commentary and was waiting to hear that the frame had been conceded. We then proceeded to be confused as Ding Junhui stepped up, cleared the table and won the frame by a comfortable twelve points. Whilst we could’ve worked things out for ourselves, this along with repetitive, rather uninsightful commentary gets slowly more annoying the longer frames and matches go on for.

No seriously, he’s hardly moved and we’re starting to get worried

When everything is said and done Snooker 19 can stand proud knowing that it’s a very competent simulation of snooker. With any luck this is the first of many to come from Lab42 and if this is their baseline then it’s a very strong foundation to build from. The visual presentation is of a very high standard with the jerky character animations being the  biggest issue to resolve here. Whilst player likenesses could do with some improvement they’re fairly accurate and do well to add to the authenticity. Really it’s the commentary that needs the most work from our perspective. If they want to keep it then more variation and a greater degree of accuracy in respect to its game awareness is sorely needed. However, they could remove commentary entirely and it wouldn’t be overly missed nor would it remove something integral to its enjoyment.

Snooker 19 delivers on many of the aspects of snooker that its most avid fans would want in a digital recreation of their beloved sport. Its shortcomings are easy to overlook and none of them suck any of the enjoyment out of core experience on offer here. Whilst some improvements are needed to make this a truly great game, what is required is something that could be earmarked for the future. Lab42 clearly has an affinity and love for the sport of snooker and hopefully it’ll be afforded the opportunity to come back to the table after the strong opening break they’ve achieved with Snooker 19.

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Snooker 19 has its shortcomings but none of them take enough away from making it a must for any avid snooker fan wishing to dream of making an appearance at the Crucible. Lab42 has started the frame off strongly and hopefully this is the start of a bright, snooker-filled future.
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.