The most consistent and painful accusation levelled against darts is, of course, that it isn’t a real sport. Those with dissenting voices point directly to the less than Olympian levels of athleticism required to triumph in its highest echelons as their justification for placing the pastime in the derogatory ‘pub games’ category; and their argument is one that’s often hard to rebut. Especially when many pro players look as if they’d need an all-you-can-eat buffet waiting for them at the top and a defibrillator on standby at the bottom before they’d agree to attempt a flight of stairs.
Developers O-Games have long since dismissed such cheap stereotypes, however. Their series of PDC licenced games have become a niche success, especially on Nintendo’s Wii, thanks to their faithful recreation of darts fundamentals and entertaining swathe of alternative party games, rather than any, more glitzy superficialities. And this first foray onto the PlayStation 3 is another honest and hard-working effort full of their trademark accuracy and variety.
There’s no coincidence in the timing of this debut on the PS3, which falls, as it does, right in the sweet spot just after the release of the system’s new Move, motion control system, and just before the actual PDC World Darts Championships. Using the Move controller to play, you first pin-point the exact spot on the dartboard you want to aim for, then replicate a standard darts throw with the controller, releasing a button at the point in the motion you want to send your miniature arrow arcing towards its target. Obviously, the Move doesn’t have the same physical properties as an actual dart – it’s bigger, differently weighted and, initially, feels slightly ungainly in the hand – but after just a handful of practice throws you quickly start to grow accustom to its peculiarities and just how close it comes to the real thing.
It’s a system that’s a virtual carbon copy of the one used on the Wii with the Wii Remote, albeit with the PS3 and Move combo appearing to provide a slightly higher fidelity in replicating your minutiae of your movements. The results of which you can accurately analysis and refine thanks to on-screen power and aiming gauges that provide instant feedback on your efforts.
If you’re a non-Move owning PS3 dartist, PDC remains fully enjoyable using a standard controller instead, with you flicking one of the analog sticks backwards and forwards to throw in a manner that’s very similar to swinging a golf club in the Tiger Woods titles. The three levels of aiming assist available to both control schemes comprehensively cater for all abilities, with the lowest being wickedly precise and unforgiving, and the highest allowing you to consistently hit hundred-plus scores after only a few legs of your first career match on the PDC Pro Tour.
The Career itself certainly seems to have its priorities right. It disposes quickly with the unimportant parts of creating your own custom player by offering you only a rudimentary range of options, before focusing your attentions on the really vital matters of choosing a nickname, shirt and dart and then throwing you straight into the fray of the PDC Tour, where the likes of Wade, Van Barneveld and Taylor await.
From the warm British welcome of the UK Open in Bolton to the heat of the Desert Classic in Las Vegas, while the tour may be slightly light on events, it’s high on atmosphere, with each of the temples to tungsten accurately recreated. Although the animations could be better and the players have that slightly plastic, console-graphics-glaze to them, all the razzamatazz that accompanies modern day darts is here. Exploding fireworks and strutting glamour models accompany you as you walk to the oche, the rasping voice of Russ Gray calls the scores and the eccentric Sid Waddell describes the action – it’s just a shame that the commentary is instantly repetitive.
Matches on the tour are as long and gruelling as they are in real life, requiring a surprising combination of sustained concentration and physical execution that go a long way to contradicting those claims that darts isn’t demanding enough to be a sport. Away from the pressures of the tour however, PDC also comes with a much more relaxing set of multiplayer party games that are perfect fodder for couch play with a controller being passed back and forth.
All of the party games are recognised alternative forms of play – so there’s no throwing darts at cats on balloons whilst you ride bareback on Andy Fordham – and range from the simple Around the Clock, through the manically fun Knockout to the brain taxing Half It and Darts Cricket (U.K. or U.S. rules). Sadly, it’s not possible to play the party games online, where the multiplayer choices don’t stray beyond the standard darts rules set, and this may be part of reason why it can be hard to find an opponent some of the time.
Away from the rather lacklustre online experience however, O-Games have not only succeeded in once again producing a solid title, but one that does about as much a simulated darts game can. It does beg the question of what, exactly, a sequel could add, but with the party games providing perfect light relief to the serious shootouts of the Pro Tour, few darts fans will care about that for the moment. PDC World Championship Darts: Pro Tour is an accomplished PS3 debut for O-Games, and if nothing else it’s one of very few sports games that you can play without fear of someone whinging at you to go and get some proper exercise by trying the real thing instead.
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