Game Review: International Snooker (PS Vita)

Game Review

International Snooker is a Snooker game available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS Vita. As a fan of Snooker, I was eagerly anticipating a Snooker game to arrive for the PlayStation Vita and I am glad to say that there is finally a dedicated Snooker game available for the PlayStation Vita.

There are two game modes which consist of career and quick play. The career game mode allows you to participate in various tournaments and events consisting of multiple rounds and spanning across an entire season. The earlier tournaments consist of five rounds including: a first round best of three frames match; the second and third rounds are a best of five frames match; the semi-final is a best of seven frames match; and the final is a best of nine frames match, which increases in length the further you are into the season. The players from the midway point of any given tournament onwards are definitely harder to defeat and are more likely to take each frame absolutely down to the wire with close contests from better accuracy of short, mid and long range potting and strong safety play.

Unfortunately, no licenses were secured for any of the official tournaments, player names, player likenesses, venue names or venue likenesses, although the professional Snooker referee Michaela Tabb has provided a voice-over for the referee. This means that all of the players, venues and tournaments are purposefully fictional events created for the game, although you can tell that some of the venues are inspired by their real life counterparts with the venue that is situated in Sheffield holding at least a resemblance of the classic Crucible Theatre.

The stats screen provides full coverage of pretty much every statistic that you could imagine or want to know about your overall performance across all of your matches. The stats screen includes a full breakdown of such varied stats as: shots taken; the percentage of balls potted; frames played; the percentage of frames won; matches played; the percentage of matches won; tournaments played; the percentage of tournaments won; unique tournaments won; the amount of 50+ breaks; the amount of century breaks; the amount of maximum 147 breaks; the amount of points scored in your average break; your highest break; whether you are 147 Club Member or not; total points scored; your favourite colour in regards to the colour that you have potted the most; your second favourite colour in regards to the colour that you have potted the second most; the total amount of time you have played International Snooker for; your total career earnings in regards to the amount of credits earned so far; your career best ranking and for what season that represented; how many quick play locations you have unlocked; the percentage of your foul ratio; and your overall ranking. As I said, the stats screen is rather detailed and it does not end there; as the stats screen also provides access to the awards and prize room.

The awards room allows you to view your accomplishments; no matter how small or how large in size, such as: potting the black, chalking your cue for the 500th time or winning the Australian Masters tournament. The awards room is expanded greatly with Facebook connectivity that allows you to tap the brag icon and post an accomplishment to Facebook with a humorous message of your choosing within a set number of characters, which provoked me into posting, “A break of 64 creamed my 1st round opponent into submission! :D” to my Facebook page, which arrived on my Facebook wall pretty quickly.

The prize room allows you to view all of the cups that you have successfully earned throughout your career. The prize room really offers a sense of a true achievement when you win a tournament as you start off with an empty trophy cabinet that is just waiting to be filled with your cups. While it isn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park to win any of the tournaments, let alone all of them; the prize room gives you an opportunity to house up to fifteen tournament cups alongside the 147 cup making for one amazing looking trophy cabinet shining in all of its true glory.

The quick play game mode has flexible options that allow you to adapt the experience to suit the amount of time that you have available to play. The quick play options include: choosing a difficulty level for your AI opponent ranging from the lowest difficulty at level one all the way through to the difficult to beat level eight; whether your opponent will be controlled by AI or a human; frames ranging from 1 through to 35; which player breaks first; a shot clock of 10, 15, 20 or 25 seconds with the option to not have a shot clock at all; and the number of reds available on the table ranging from 6 to 10 to 15. When you have earned 750 credits from the career mode to purchase them; there will be three pool game modes available including UK 8-Ball, US 8-Ball and 9-Ball, which really add a significant amount to not just the quick play game mode, but also the overall package of the game. Emphasis has definitely been placed on how differently a pool table behaves in comparison to a Snooker table. It would have been so easy for the pace of the table to be exactly the same, but that is clearly not the case here as it truly reflects how a pool table would behave in a real life pool match. This places you in a position were you have to learn everything about the table from scratch without any prior feeling for the pace of the table carried over from the quite realistic Snooker tables, which is very accurate to the real differences between Snooker and pool and provides for a much better gameplay experience.

International Snooker is immediately accessible even without looking at the controls and it shows in how easy it is to break build as I scored a break of 48 and won the frame in only my second frame in the quick play game mode with a break of 64 that followed only a few frames later during the second frame of my first round tournament match. At the end of every frame, you have the opportunity to save replays of your best and highest breaks, which you can watch back at any time from the main menu.

I was 55 points behind in the first frame of my opening round match of the first tournament with only 35 points remaining on the table and I laid a Snooker that was so potent that the AI failed to hit the single remaining red on the table in three attempts; resulting in the frame being awarded to me due to the miss rule.

There are sixteen locations from around the world with only three available for selection in the quick play game mode at the start with the other thirteen unlockable through winning various events and tournaments. There are different atmospheres for each location, for example Rileys Sports Bar will have lots of noise and chatter, while an arena will have an eerie silence during the time it takes to plan and play a shot and the occasional cough with applause and shouts of support for a good shot and a reaction to a near miss.

The in-game shop allows you to purchase various items with your in-game currency called credits which you earn from winning matches and progressing through tournaments in the career mode. The items available for purchase include: a graphite cue for 500 credits which provides you with an extra ten percent power over ash or maple cues; a vintage pro cue for 750 credits which provides you with an extra twenty percentage power over ash and maple cues; a pack of coloured power chalk for 750 credits which provides a total of six colours of chalks that increase the spin and swerve on the cue ball; auto chalk for 500 credits resulting in your cue always being automatically chalked and ready for every shot; access to the exclusive 147 Club, which is usually unlocked for achieving a maximum break, but can be purchased for 5,000 credits; and three pool modes including UK 8-Ball, US 8-Ball and 9-Ball can be purchased for a total of 750 credits.

The difficulty level is flexible based upon the choices you make from the options menu, such as whether to have guides for the potting angles set to off, short, medium or long; purchasing auto chalk from the in-game shop for 500 credits and enabling it, so your cue is guaranteed to be automatically chalked and ready for every shot; and the speed of the cloth set to slow, medium or fast.

While AI player levels two through seven naturally increase in difficulty; the differences between the easiest AI player at level one and the hardest AI player at level eight in the quick play game mode is that they are more likely to make the most of their opportunities with larger breaks possible by a higher accuracy of long potting and a better shot selection. However, this means that AI player level eight actually plays like an experienced human opponent would and that means that unanticipated mistakes still creep in from time to time due to the pressure of wanting to not allow your opponent back in. If anything this is realistic to the world of Snooker and refreshing for a game to reflect when it could have been so easy to have the hardest level of AI able to pot every ball on the table as though it was under no pressure. After all, if everyone had no nerves running through their veins while playing Snooker, then why would some of the best players in the history of Snooker miss pots at some of the most inappropriate times? The most infamous examples include Steve Davis’ missed black in the last frame during the final of the 1985 World Snooker Championship against Dennis Taylor and Stephen Hendry’s miss on the black ball over the centre pocket against Mark Williams in the last frame during the final of the 1998 Masters. They both have one thing in common in regards to the fact that they were both either tournament winning or losing shots.

The ball physics are realistic and behave as you would expect them to on a real Snooker table with multiple balls being lined up accurately via the appropriate angles and pace for plants, flicking off one ball onto another and all of the physics that you would expect to see from a real life Snooker match.

There are only two camera angles during each of the matches, although there are far more camera angles in replays. I would have liked to have seen more of the camera angles from the replays in the gameplay itself, as the two camera angles available during match play do not represent television coverage, but the replays are certainly closer to the presentation that you would expect from a television broadcast of Snooker.

It is worth noting that while International Snooker is not cross buy; you do get 50% off the price of the other version of the game, so if you buy the Vita version then it will unlock a bundle option on the PlayStation Store for you to purchase the PS3 version for 50% off and vice versa.

The controls feel simplistic as they are easy to grasp with an appropriate mixture of the face buttons and touch screen. When you have your hand on the table for your shots; the face button controls consist of: pressing square to apply chalk to your cue; O to view a replay of the most recent shot; X to take your shot; R to change the camera angle; L to change between applying side and swerve to the cue ball with up, left, right and down on the d-pad used to apply spin and swerve and raising the cue with up and down on the d-pad to raise the cue or lower the cue; moving the direction of the left analogue stick to the left and right perfects the aim of the cue ball, while moving the left analogue stick up and down when in the close up camera angle adjusts the camera to a higher or lower position; moving the direction of the right analogue stick up and down to increase and decrease the pace of your shot for positional play; start to pause the game to view the options menu, concede the frame, leave play or resume play; and select to be presented with a full breakdown of the controls. When moving the cue ball to appropriately position it within the D after an opponent has committed a foul, changing the direction of the left analogue stick to the left, right, up and down and pressing X to confirm the positioning of the cue ball.

When your AI opponent has their hand on the table for their shots; the face button controls consist of: pressing the square button to increase the speed the AI player takes for their shots, which can be increased up to twice the normal speed by pressing square twice more and O to view a replay of your opponents’ most recent shot and O again to exit the replay. The touch screen is used as an alternative method for some of the controls that are assigned to the face buttons. When you have your hand on the table for your shots; the touch screen controls consist of: tapping and dragging your finger along the screen to perfect the aim of the cue ball; tapping anywhere within the power metre on the centre right of the screen to increase and decrease the pace of your shot for positional play; tapping the cue ball on the bottom right of the screen to take your shot; tapping the cue ball icon and dragging across to the left, right, up or down to apply spin and swerve to the cue ball or tapping on the cue icon and dragging up or down to raise the cue as they are both situated on the top left of the screen; tapping on the question mark icon for a full breakdown of the controls to the left centre of the screen; tapping on the camera icon below the question mark icon to change the camera angle; tapping on the chalk icon to the bottom left of the screen to apply chalk to the cue; tapping the pause icon to the bottom centre of the screen to pause the game. When moving the cue ball to appropriately position it within the D after an opponent has committed a foul, tapping and dragging your finger along the screen and tapping the tick icon to the bottom right of the screen to confirm the positioning of the cue ball. When your AI opponent has their hand on the table for their shots; the touch screen controls consist of: tapping on the play icon to the top right of the screen to increase the speed of your AI opponents’ shots and tapping the replay icon to view a replay of your opponents’ most recent shot and tapping the X icon in the top right of the screen to exit the replay.

There are positives and negatives with International Snooker’s graphics. The Snooker balls and the Snooker tables look great, as do the surroundings, although there are unfortunately no player animations as you only get to see the cue; there are no referee animations; and the people in the audience don’t have much graphical detail or texture on them. However, the areas of the graphics that matter the most do look great and most Snooker and pool games do not have any player or referee animations and those very same games would suffer the same lack of graphical detail in the audience, so when comparing against most other sports games; there isn’t really anything to complain about.

The presentation of the game is solid with a great touch screen based user interface across various menus such as the main menu, options menu and in-game shop, which also incorporates the ability for navigation via the directional pad and face buttons, although it lacks the same navigational support for the left and right analogue sticks. The background of the menu screens are rather appropriate as they show a camera angle that is panning around a Snooker table with all of the balls perfectly spotted and ready to break off at the start of a match.

The voice over of the referee is provided by Michaela Tabb who has refereed many professional Snooker matches with her voice over consisting of informing the players of the current score line; the current frame; who is breaking off; the current break score; the amount of points scored at the end of a break; the miss rule; when a foul has been committed and more besides. The music is a riff based upon the music used for BBC’s television coverage of the sport. The audience will behave differently depending upon the environment they are situated in resulting in there being lots of background noise and chatter in Rileys Sports Bar, but total silence in a professional tournament during the time it takes to plan and execute a shot with the exception of the odd cough here and there, alongside applause and shouts of support for a good shot and a reaction to a near miss or a ball hitting the jaws of a pocket, although the audience can on occasion fail to applaud or react to something that you would expect them to, such as the potting of the frame winning ball and the confirmation of a player having won a particular frame or match. The difference in atmosphere and applause creates a perfect build of tension with the audio unfortunately missing only one key layer of atmosphere and that is due to the exclusion of any television style commentary.

The trophy list includes thirteen trophies with nine bronze trophies, three silver trophies and one gold trophy. The trophies are mostly earned naturally through playing the game, although they are not necessarily easy and may require playing through the career mode on multiple occasions to earn the silver trophy for winning the Chinese tournament. There are a few easy bronze trophies and a few trophies that you can attempt and work towards simultaneously as you will earn the Banger bronze trophy just for potting any ball that you are meant to be going for (such as a red ball) with 100% power on the power metre; you will earn the Pot Black bronze trophy just for potting the black ball for the first time during a break and can go for it in the same shot that you go for the Banger bronze trophy or immediately after it to make it that much easier and time efficient; you can earn the Two In A Bed silver trophy for a lucky fluke of potting two balls from the same shot, which will most likely happen at some point without you even attempting it, but be wary of a potential opportunity by assessing the positioning of the reds from the overhead camera angle; you can earn a bronze trophy for just winning five complete quick play matches with fifteen reds on the table (as any less than the full amount will not work) against an AI level one opponent; the same goes for winning twenty-five complete quick play matches against an AI level one opponent; and while you are going for all of those bronze trophies, you can also familiarise yourself with and learn the art of break building for the Half A Ton bronze trophy for scoring a 50 break, the One Ton silver trophy for scoring a century break and best and hardest of all the gold trophy for achieving a 147 break. High breaks and perfecting the pace of the ball and your angles will certainly help you to progress further in tournaments, which will also help you to reach 1,000 credits in prize money a lot faster for you to earn the Bull Market bronze trophy as well as The Dynasty silver trophy for winning the Chinese tournament in career mode. Another three bronze trophies can be earned by purchasing the three pool game modes from the in-game shop for 750 credits and clearing the spots in one sitting from the break in US 8 Ball for the Measles bronze trophy; clearing the table in one sitting from the break in UK 8 Ball for the Greedy bronze trophy; and clearing the stripes in one sitting from the break in US 8 Ball for the Zebra bronze trophy. I would estimate depending upon skill that it would take between five to ten hours to 100% the trophy list, although that would depend upon how easy you find break building to make breaks of 50, 100 and a 147 as well as beating the harder opponents to win tournaments and earn more prize money to have enough credits to purchase the three pool game modes.

I am reliably informed that the online multiplayer component for the PlayStation Vita version is exactly the same in regards to such details as the graphical fidelity and frame rate as its PS3 counterpart, although the biggest problem of all is actually finding anyone to play against online for the Vita version. This may sway some people into buying the PS3 version instead, but for those of you that want a portable Snooker experience and know a friend that owns the game, then the Vita version is the one for you. The online leaderboards focus on the top 25 world rankings, top friends rankings and my ranking with the overall score based upon the ranking points you have earned from career matches you have participated in during the single player career mode; the skill level you have accomplished; and the country you represent with each leaderboard containing each players’ rank; name (PSN ID); overall score; skill level; and country.

International Snooker has a tremendous amount of replayability; not just because it is a sport with unpredictable results, but because it has such a wealth of content. If you know someone in your friends list who owns the game to play against, then online multiplayer will regularly have you coming back for more as will the superb quick play and career modes in single player; while the online leaderboards provides a global extension of the career rankings system; a prize room to view all of your shining cups from your tournament victories throughout your career; and an in-game shop with cues, chalk and three pool game modes available for purchase. The three pool game modes add the icing on the cake as they expand the quick play single player mode even further and provide added appeal to fans of pool as it essentially dedicates an entire area to pool that feels like an entirely new game with the notable difference to the pacing of the tables that adds a real authenticity to the game of pool.

Overall, I am looking forward to the potential prospect of a sequel to International Snooker with some official licenses for the names and likenesses of players, tournaments and venues, alongside commentary. If you are a fan of Snooker, then International Snooker is well worth the purchase at £9.99 with 50% off the PS3 version, although if you are looking for an online Snooker experience, then the lack of activity may change your mind into thinking the PS3 version is the better purchase, but if you want a portable Snooker experience and know someone that has the game, then you can’t get much better than the Vita version of International Snooker.

Jason Bonnar

At A Glance

  • Title: International Snooker
  • Publisher: Big Head Games
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: 50% off PS3 version
  • Cross Play: No
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 1,229Mb
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