Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Whiskey Reviews: International Playing With Your Balls In The Corner Pocket

Platform: PC
Release Date: 11 January 2013
Developer: Big Head Games
Publisher: KISS ltd
Where to get it: Steam
Price: Around £9.99

Snooker is one of those great British passtimes that's perhaps not as well appreciated as its more fun-loving cousin Pool. Snooker is a game of thinking two moves ahead, calculating angles and ball travel and executing the perfect shot to ensure you stay in the lead over your equally cunning opponent. It's kind of like if chess had big red balls and a stick.

International Snooker is all of those things and none of those things. It's like someone handed the task of creating a Snooker simulator to a bunch of aliens that don't understand what makes the sport great, or what makes a game good for that matter. I can't bring myself to hate the game, for every glaring flaw in every single aspect of the game I still can't get angry at it. It feels more like a dog with no legs that's bitten you, you should get angry but look at its adorable eyes, it's trying so hard despite everything wrong.
Actually no, fuck that. Today we're going to rip into International Snooker for the piece of shit that it is.

Right from the moment you boot up the game you're greeted by ugly menu screens and an options menu that doesn't respond to anything but the left click. Pausing the game with the escape key requires you to click one of the menu options to do anything rather than the standard of hitting escape to continue.
The options are sparse and I'm not even sure anything other than the resolution options did anything but playing in anything less than maximum resolution resulted in the dull grey boxes looking like Leatherface's razor blades and about as appealing.
Getting into a match doesn't make the UI any better either. There's no analogue controls other than turning your aim left and right and everything is accomplished through clicking buttons and moving sliders around. There's a slider for shot power, a circular slider for where to hit the ball, another slider for cue angle and a button that you have to press every couple of shots to manually chalk your cue. It sounds fine in theory but the dull little lifeless swish sound you have to endure without any animation whatsoever every time you click it makes you acutely aware that a second of your life has just ticked away and you'll never get it back.
The lack of analogue interaction has sucked all the soul out of playing. Clicking the big white circle that's supposed to represent the cue ball is just cold and impersonal in an age of analogue controllers and mice. Setting the power with a slider rather than actually making a shooting motion with the mouse or an analogue stick to set the power organically feels like you've got some kind of perfect shot cheat mode activated, especially if you have the shot guide turned on to show what directions the balls will go.

It's not just the UI that's bad, there are so many other problems with the presentation.
Pretty much everyone can picture the up-close texture of baize, the way it kind of has little lines in and manages to look both fluffy and smooth at the same time. Imagine the wonderful texture of it against your hand as you support the cue for a critical shot. Hold that image in your mind's eye, then chuck it out and imagine the look of soggy corrugated cardboard, the kind of cheap shitty cardboard that's practically see-through. International Snooker's tables look like they've been topped with a thin coating of Soylent Green.
Equally offensive is the announcer. A soft female voice of indeterminate Scottish or Irish descent that sounds like they've overdosed on valium and are reading out numbers while waiting for death. You know you're onto a winner with your announcer when the players can hear their equal parts desperation for a paycheck and boredom at reading a script of numbers. Listening to the announcer read our your score after every shot is like staring into the abyss of soul crushing depression, or living in Glasgow.
On a lighter tone the audience at least seems to have a bit of sass. Despite looking like a bunch of papier mache abominations they show a surprising amount of personality; remaining stoically silent while I scored 60 points shot after shot until at last a single member of the crowd had the audacity to clap. If the world of International Snooker were a real place I'm sure the clapee had been dragged off and quietly suffocated with Jim Davidson's ball sack. This would be fine and well if the developers hadn't gone out of their way to make sure the player feels like a twat by having the audience go wild when the AI pots a single red ball from an inch away.

I've already talked a lot about the graphics and sound so I'll keep this brief. This is a game where the carpets have a more detailed texture than the cue and a sandblasted ass cheek could produce a more convincing reflection than the balls. The texture of which is just a flat, matte colour that makes it look like the balls are sliding around rather than rolling.
Not chalking your cue every couple of shots results in an outright offensive sound effect that's like the suspension of a Robin Reliant giving way to the most depressing dogging session in recorded history in addition to your shot being less accurate and powerful. There's audio that indicates the chalk is wearing off but just like the rest it's so depressing and uninteresting that it tends to get lost in the big sucking pit of crappiness.

Overall International Snooker is a functional simulation of the game but not a good one. It's graphically passable but it's the kind of game you give to someone when you want to drive them into a spiral of depression, alcoholism, self destructive tendencies and finally a crippling, fatal drug addiction culminating in getting shanked in a Pool hall by Shady Joe because they tried to hustle him for money to feed their coke habit.
It's like an anti-snooker PSA in game form. It destroys any love for the sport you may have while eroding your will to live with every frame.

Score: 2 out of 10 Samaritans volunteers have been called by International Snooker players.

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