Snooker 19 (available on Amazon) arrived with much fanfare in April 2019.
Boasting a lucrative license with World Snooker, a large pool of real-life players, venues and tournaments, and a thriving online community, the game clearly has a lot going for it – despite some rather obvious flaws.
In our Snooker 19 review, we’ll be taking a look at the good, bad and ugly of this popular snooker sim.
Officially Licensed By World Snooker
Developed by Lab42 and published by Ripstone Games, Snooker 19 does a commendable job of bringing the baize to life digitally.
The PlayStation 4 has seen a number of popular cue sport games, including Pool Nation and Pure Pool.
This game is different in that it is strictly a snooker simulation (no pool included), albeit one that is fully licensed with 128 face-scanned professionals. The character models range from realistic to hatchet job, but there can be no complaints when it comes to the variety of players included.
Want to dominate as Ronnie O’Sullivan or Judd Trump?
You can. All the top pros are included, as well as many long forgotten names still kicking around in the top 128.
If you ever wanted to turn back the clocks and give Jimmy White one last crack at a World Title, now is your chance to erase the memory of that black once and for all. Unfortunately, Stephen Hendry is now retired so there’s no chance to exact some payback from the 90s.
In addition to 128 real-life players, Snooker 19 is licensed with all of the correct venues and tournaments from the pro tour.
Whether it’s the World Championship at the Crucible, or the Masters at Alexandra Palace, each venue is faithfully replicated making for an authentic atmosphere.
Snooker 19 Gameplay
The meat and potatoes of any snooker simulation is the gameplay.
And it’s here where the developers face an unenviable task.
Snooker gameplay has traditionally been a delicate balancing act.
It’s difficult to replicate the physics of snooker balls. The possibilities from spin, power and various deflections add up to a real headache.
Lab42 has done a solid job in tackling this to make the game feel authentic.
Yes, it’s possible to banana the cueball with an unfathomable amount of side spin. And yes, a long pot off the rails is easier than a thin cut over the pocket. But unrealistic pots have always been a staple of snooker simulations and there’s enough that can go wrong for such ambitious attempts to at least feel dangerous.
The aiming system has three stages. You start from your standard television camera with a scope of aim that reflects where both the object ball and cue ball are heading. Change the power and the scope will change accordingly. Change the spin and the outcome changes again.
The second stage is a ‘down on the shot’ view. This offers the same scope of aim but through the eyes of the player as he stares down the barrel of his cue. From here you can pivot the camera up or down, to varying degrees of effectiveness. Lifting the camera upwards on a long pot will often succeed only in removing your target from sight completely.
Finally, once you’re happy with your shot choice, pulling back on the right trigger starts a power timer. Time the shot well and it will go where you aimed. Time the shot badly and all bets are off – especially if you are playing with any kind of side spin.
The aiming system is basic but reasonably effective.
It works well for 90% of your shots, but you will inevitably run in to a thin cut or a long thin snip that can be difficult to sight given the lack of decent camera options.
Balancing gameplay in a snooker simulation is notoriously difficult. The game is too easy if you provide a perfect set of aiming tools. But if you take them away, the user is unnecessarily handicapped. The feeling: “Well, I wouldn’t have missed THAT down the club“, gets frustrating.
There are modes of difficulty in the aiming system to make life easier or harder. Amateur gives you a much narrower scope of vision and is less reliant on good timing. The Master setting removes the aim scope completely.
Most games are played with Pro+ which finds a decent middle ground.
In all cases, though, straight shots are much easier than angled shots, irrespective of distance covered.
This can have a profound effect on strategy in Snooker 19.
Using the cushion becomes much more dangerous. You don’t want to leave yourself too low or high on the object ball. And likewise, a superb safety to baulk can be insufficient if the opponent has even the dodgiest of sights at a long straight pot.
What Works Well
Ball Physics Are Pretty Good
Excessive abuse of side spin aside, a lot of TLC has gone in to the ball physics.
Anybody looking to improve their actual snooker play will enhance their knowledge of angles and deflections after a few hours on Snooker 19. That for us is a testament to the solid job done here.
Break Building Feels Satisfying
There’s a real satisfaction in cleaning up, or fighting back from 60 behind to steal a frame on the black.
Break building requires a decent amount of planning, and you can tell – when playing online – those who have experience on the baize, from those who are spraying balls out of hope rather than expectation. Tactical play is rewarding. And so is a ton.
Computer AI Works Well
There are some exceptions.
Long pots off the cushion played at dead weight for perfect position are a prime example.
But in general, the computer AI feels about right. You can choose the difficulty level, with the hardest setting making for a test where the mantra is true that one mistake can cost you the frame.
The Aiming Lines Are Fairly Balanced
Some users have complained about the aiming lines not extending beyond cushions, but we would strongly dispute the need for this.
Being able to see exactly where a ball is due to land would remove the necessary judgment that separates the good players from the bad. It would also eliminate the merits of learning the angles for a snooker escape.
The aiming system in conjunction with the power bar provides a fairly balanced learning curve.
What Needs Improvement
The Camera Angles Are Limited and Restricting
The lack of camera angles can cause a real problem if you find yourself in one of the handful of positions around the table where your view is impaired.
It’s infuriating to break down halfway to a century because you didn’t have the necessary view to sight an angle.
Again, this is a balancing act. The lack of cameras is presumably by design to stiffen the learning curve.
But in that case, there’s no excuse for…
Walking Round The Table… Have I Forgotten How?
It’s possible to walk around the table, but the camera feels like it’s strapped to a tortoise on Valium.
It’s so slow that it takes a good 20 seconds to do a full lap of the table. In a timed game (40 seconds per shot in tournaments), it’s not possible to do one of the most basic of tasks: view the table.
The Safety Meta Is Overpowered
Thin safeties are the name of the game. And it’s not what you’d call an authentic simulation.
In real snooker, travelling the length of the table to snip a red 2 centimetres to either side would be fraught with danger.
- What if I overhit it?
- Or if I catch it too thick?
- What if I miss it completely?
Whilst these scenarios are possible, they rarely happen.
This leads to far too many games where the first 10 minutes involves taking it in turns to snip the pack without disturbing any of the other reds.
Tippy tappy, tippy tappy. Who will blink first?
It’s like playing Barcelona.
Until Peter Ebdon loses his patience, maxes out the power bar at 100%, and launches a diving scissor tackle straight at Leo Messi’s face the remains of the pack.
Random Game Freezes
It’s unclear why, but we’ve had several online games freeze midway through the frame. The player becomes unresponsive, the game stops responding and the only way to resolve the issue is to restart the game.
This bug has been widely reported but still persists.
Presumably this is an issue on the server side, but it’s annoying nonetheless…
(Our Snooker 19 review was carried out on PS4)
You’ve got four options:
- Career mode
- Exhibition mode
- Practice mode
- Online mode
There is very little variety in the game modes available, with the exception of shootout format (timed shots) and six-red snooker.
Ultimately, it’s a game of snooker – right? The variety is to be found in the fact that no two games of snooker are the same.
Whilst the lack of game modes is understandable, there has rightly been some criticism that Career Mode in Snooker 19 can feel… well, a bit one-dimensional.
You start by selecting either an established pro or a rising star, before embarking on the professional tour. Along the way you’ll enter qualifiers, play all the major events, and get the chance to earn prize money whilst kitting out your virtual trophy cabinet.
Two things Career Mode is sorely lacking…
1) Create A Pro — There’s no option to build your own player or insert yourself (even by name) in to the game. The professional tour must be played through the guise of an actual professional. One suspects the developers have misjudged the demand for this rather basic feature… and it’s a glaring omission.
2) Purpose — Besides accumulating trophies and prize money, there’s not much to engage with other than the snooker itself. Your ‘ability’ at the start of Career Mode remains the same throughout. There is little to upgrade other than your outfit.
The addition of a Create A Pro and the ability to unlock skills or improve abilities would give the game some purpose, but as things stand you are playing for virtual pride points.
Another quirk we disliked in Career Mode was the tendency to draw the world’s top 16 players in preliminary qualifying rounds for minor events.
Mate, you think Ronnie’s kicking around the back halls of the Indian Open prelims?
Playing Snooker 19 Online
The most engaging of the Snooker 19 game modes is undoubtedly online competition against other players.
You can play against a friend, a random online opponent, or enter any of the online tournaments held on a regular basis by developers Lab42.
Tournaments are non-bracketed and decided on a win-loss basis using ELO ratings. A typical match consists of a 40 minute time limit, with a 40 second shot timer. As your record improves, you’ll climb through the ranks arriving in either the Gold, Silver or Bronze tiers where you’ll be eligible to receive rewards at the end of each tournament.
Again, these rewards are mostly cosmetic. Fancy waistcoats, pimped out cues and so on. Visual bragging rights.
Online matches represent some of the best fun to be had on Snooker 19. You’ll form your own rivalries against certain players with a running tally of head-to-head records. In the pre-match loading screen you are confronted with the user’s number of online wins and their highest break.
Our biggest complaint?
Where Are The Stats?
More stats would add so much more to the experience.
Being able to see the number of wins a player has means nothing without also seeing their corresponding losses.
Along with highest break, we’d like to see number of 100s, number of 50s, a global ELO rating (world ranking?) and maybe even the user’s time per shot to separate the Ebdons from the Un-Noohs. These simple steps would add meaning to every frame and provide some context; some tangible progression.
Otherwise, if you already have 500 wins to your name and a 147 highest break, what else do you have to prove?
A complete overhaul of stat tracking would lift Snooker 19’s online experience from good to great.
And that’s the running trend of Snooker 19 in general.
But a bit out of position on the simple pots that would make it truly great.
The officially licensed Snooker 19 is available to buy on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
If you are mainly interested in online play, then it should be noted that the PS4 community is by far the largest and most active. Matches can be harder to find on the other consoles.
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Have you played Snooker 19? What did you think?
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Snooker 19 Review
Snooker 19 Review
Snooker 19 delivers an authentic snooker simulation with good physics and a huge selection of licensed venues, tournaments and players. It has a few rough edges (lack of camera angles, occasional glitches), and suffers from a lightweight career mode.
If you can look beyond these flaws, a hugely immersive snooker game awaits.