You wouldn’t believe it, but the current generation of consoles has never had a proper snooker game and, thinking back, I can’t even remember the last time that this incredibly skilful game was represented digitally. That has all changed though, thanks to Ripstone Studios’ Snooker 19, which is out now on consoles and PC.
Despite a lack of additional fluff, Snooker 19 aims to present the complete package and impress aficionados of the sport. I think that’s a smart decision given that snooker games have always had a relatively niche audience. The best received ones were those that appealed to actual fans of the sport, as opposed to the ones that looked to draw in casual fans.
With that said, Snooker 19 does an exceptional job of being playable by a wide range of players, thanks mainly to the superbly balanced aiming system and the way that it can be scaled based on personal skill level. As a mild snooker fan who tends to enjoy snooker games when implemented well, I often consider the aiming system to be the whole game — after all, what are you really doing aside from fine tuning each shot to achieve the best possible outcome?
Snooker 19 offers several ways for players to experience the game, with a career mode that will be the main focus for most offline play. There are two ways to experience this mode, as either a veteran professional or as an up and coming player. Despite my exhaustive testing, I can’t see any difference between how Ronnie O’Sullivan plays compared to Elliot Slessor when controlled by the player, so this is down to pure personal choice.
Whoever you choose to play as, the campaign mode features all (and I do mean all) of the major tournaments and quite a few of the less well known ones. These include both traditional fifteen red snooker, as well as variants such as six red and so on. Most of the major competitions include qualifiers as well, so you do get the sense of building up to the bigger tournaments and it’s possible to choose between short, medium and long game length, which affects the number of frames needed to win.
As a slight downside, I found it odd that even in the very first matches as a young gun, I was generally paired with players inside the top ten, including sometimes O’Sullivan himself. I feel that it’s likely the game does this to increase the interest level, but I’m honestly doubtful as to whether such high ranking players would appear in relatively inconsequential qualifying competitions so regularly.
Another slight ripple in the space time continuum that I think is also present to preserve gameplay is the tendency for exceptional players to make mistakes. Snooker 19 has various difficulty levels that affect the opponents play, so on medium (my default setting) I can still rely on a leading player making the occasional unforced error.
Personally, I’d have preferred to see more “less talented” players appearing more often and simply playing at a lower level during the earlier competitions. Then have the more skilled players make fewer mistakes, but appearing later in the season once the player had gained more experience and a better understanding of how Snooker 19’s systems work. That said, this is a nitpick really, and what Snooker 19 does exceptionally well is create a sense of occasion in each and every game. Being on the brink of beating a Mark Williams or similarly ranked player can cause heart palpitations when lining up the final shot.
All of this is presented beautifully. The snooker table has never, ever been presented more accurately, more crisply or to such a high level of visual fidelity. Various locations are represented, but it’s the clean, straight edged table that demands your full attention. When lining up a shot initially, the game provides a top down view with the aiming lines giving somewhere between no insight and a lot of insight into where the cue ball and the first ball it hits will go.
Hit the A button the camera will snap to a view from behind the cue, allowing the player to fine tune their shot (which is often needed due to the way that the aiming lines sit flat on the table, hiding them behind the cushion.) It’s only at this point that the player gets a true sense of the size of a snooker table, with the behind cue camera often seeming a million miles from the pocket.
The final part of each shot (following another tap of the A button) is the power selection. Many snooker (and pool) games in the past made this into an unsatisfying mini game, but not so Snooker 19, which balances the need for skill and accuracy with a bit of sensible reality. Simply put, the player will pull back on the right analogue stick and the bar will begin to fill. Based on the chosen power level and the difficulty of the shot, the player will need to then push forward on the same stick to stop the bar and hit the ball — if the shot ends up in the blue zone, all will usually be well.
I’ve spent most of my time with Snooker 19 using the Amateur and Pro aiming systems (leaving Master and Off largely alone) and the differences between them are subtle, but greater than you’d think. For starters, the Amateur mode shows a lot longer range, whilst Pro and especially Master modes force the player to rely on their experience of shot power and the angle that the ball(s) will continue to roll at after their initial trajectory is set. Master is very difficult to come to terms with, whilst at my level, Off is still impossible to succeed with.
There are several ways to play online, with perhaps the most exciting being a kind of mass online tournament split into smaller heats that actually link together like a real tournament. These tournaments are advertised on the front screen and offer a real long term challenge for the purist player. Frankly, I think this inclusion is spectacular given the size of Ripstone Studios and must be applauded as an approach for others to look up to.
Snooker 19 is, without a doubt, the best snooker game currently available and the best snooker game that I’ve ever played. It’s the first game of its kind that kept me engaged beyond the initial passing fancy stage and it is a game that I can see myself playing until the next one — maybe Snooker 28 — comes out. There are hundreds of cups to win and many online games to be played, and all of it looks real world perfect. Snooker 19 is a must for any serious or even casual fans of the sport and I highly recommend it.