PDC World Championship Darts 2009
I don't know if it's the same for everyone, but part of the appeal of video games for me is the chance to get as close as possible to doing something I'd never be able to do in real life. Be it winning the world cup in front of 90,000 screaming fans, saving the world from an alien threat or building an entire civilisation there's a game out there whose aim it is to satisfy my current egomaniacal whim. The flip side of that is that I have little interest in games that try to simulate things I can easily do in the real world, especially when said simulation works out to be more hassle to play and far less fun. Which brings us neatly to PDC Darts 2009.
To be honest my cynicism is slightly unfair, I mean it's true this is a computerised version of the same darts I could play in my spare room for free but the same accusation could be levelled at FIFA when compared to jumpers for goalposts in the local park. The key to computer game versions of sports we can all participate in for real is in the presentation, the atmosphere and the playability. So it's a shame PDC Darts fails on all those levels too.
While the Wiimote works perfectly well as the handle to a golf club or tennis racket and even manages to feel strangely appropriate when used as a bowling ball it's fair to say that as a dart it feels rubbish. Not only is it weighted all wrong but it's sheer size (compared to a dart), and the fact you obviously don't actually throw it, makes it impossible to get any genuine 'feel' for the throwing action required. Instead, as with so many gesture-based Wii games, it's all about learning what the game wants rather than doing what you'd actually do if you had a dart in your hand. In this case what the game wants is for you to aim a target at the area of the board you want to hit before holding down the A button and performing a strange thrusting jerk of a throwing motion releasing the A button at the point you'd release the dart.
Now, I'm no darts expert but from what I remember throwing an actual dart requires a far smoother more fluid motion while allowing far more subtlety of control than the overtly forceful yet imprecise jolt of the wrist the game seems to need to register a throw. Fatally there's a distinct feeling of randomness to proceedings which means it's never easy to tell what you did wrong, or what you did right from dart to dart. Things do get a little easier the more you practice, especially as you understand how to read the power gauge and it's fair to say that when played with a friend there's some fun to be had here, even if you're laughing at the game as much as with it.
While darts fans aren't exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to virtual renditions of their favourite sport even they'll find it hard to excuse the fact that this simply doesn't feel right at any point. Yes there's a nice array of ways to play (a full PDC career complete with official tournaments and order of merit as well as single events, practice, etc.), all the pub style games (Killer, Round the Clock, etc.) and multiplayer options (not online though) certainly have the potential to keep you playing. The problem is all the options and modes in the world aren't going to keep you playing when the darts action itself is so lacklustre.
Things don't get much better when you stop playing and look around at what else is on screen either since the game's graphics and presentation scream 'budget release' from the word go. To the developers credit they've understood that darts is one of the more showbiz of sports and there's a genuine attempt to generate some of the TV style razzmatazz we all expect. There's 18 professional players including people like Phil 'The Power' Taylor and Raymond Van Barneveld to play against, or as, and it's nice to know that their real life averages are used to calculate how they'll play when you're up against them. However, for all their effort it's like being forced to watch football on ITV; all the ingredients are there and the game's the same but it all feels a bit homemade compared to the slicker more impressive Sky Sports coverage.
It doesn't help that some of the on screen quirks seem just lazy, people in the crowd either floating six inches off the floor or sinking ankle deep into it and the dependence of TV style split screen during games when being able to see more of the board you're aiming at would have made so much more sense. Others are a tad more fundamental, most of the players seem to have strangely disfigured throwing arms for example and have only a few stock animations to share between them. The commentary, provided by Sid Waddell, is one of the few high spots in the audio-visual department which is a shame since the darts world is jam packed full of characters just waiting to burst onto screens.
The sad thing is, even if this had ended up being the most amazing darts game your mind can conceive there's still a good chance we'd still be sat here talking about how you can pick up a real board and arrows for about the same price as the game and how they'd never need their batteries replacing or a TV to play on. So, baring in mind the dodgy footing the idea of a darts game starts on, the fact that PDC Darts 2009 fails to even make the basics enjoyable simply renders the whole exercise even more pointless. There's possibly room in the market for a genuinely fantastic darts game, one with amazing online options, mega slick glossy production values and perhaps some kind of bundled custom-throwable controller. Unfortunately this simply isn't it and unless you're a darts obsessive there's so many better things to spend your money on.