There are a lot of things we love about the game of darts. There's the fact that it's the only ‘sport’ where it’s essential to have a pint on the go while you play, that you only really have to move one of your limbs during a game and the belief that actually given a few months dedicated training and a chance to hone your physique, you might just be able to make it as a pro. Should you decide to embark on the latter however, you'd soon become familiar with the gentlemen who lent his name to this game, as 12 times world champion Phil 'The Power' Taylor is something of a modern legend, brushing aside all comers en route to winning every conceivable trophy going. Will he be as successful in the digital realm, though?
Well first impressions are certainly good. The menus are slick, the sound’s not too shabby, the dartboards look fine and there's a big picture of 'The Power' for you to see, who you'll ultimately be going up against. Of course, with digital darts the control system is everything. Make it too easy and there's no challenge, too tough or unrealistic and you won't be bothered to learn. Like baby bear's porridge, Phil Taylor Darts gets it just right, providing a system that presents a challenge that’s not beyond mastering, but always has an element of uncertainty. Throwing is a 3-step process; first you move a 3D dart around to set up an approximate aim (the treble 20 bar is always a good option!), pressing fire then brings up 2 moving gages which modify the horizontal and vertical aspects of your aim. Stop the moving bars on the middle of the gauge and you'll throw the dart where you originally aimed. Miss on the gauges and it'll go above or below, left or right of the target. When you select the vertical position you can keep your finger on the button and modify the arc of the throw, sending it upwards or downwards. All the while a small dot suggests the likely finishing point.
Whilst it may sound a little over-complicated and confusing, it's certainly more involved than most of the other darts sims out there and in practice is actually quite instinctive. What's more, it definitely serves the function of providing a welcome ongoing challenge, especially as the gauges move more rapidly to reflect the higher pressure as you progress to the latter stages.
We say “as you progress” but perhaps we should say “if”. You see, the attention that was expended on controls does not appear to have been lavished quite as enthusiastically on the tournaments. Whilst there are a good variety to chose from (including the British Open, World Championships and the Las Vegas Classic) and the computer-controlled opponents are well pitched, varying from pub level up to international competition and, ultimately, 'The Power' himself, in reality there's precious little variation between them. The scenery behind the dartboard never changes and there's no crowd reaction or score announcements. In fact, the only thing that does change is the amount of games (divided into legs and sets) that you have to win. Even this crucial information is hidden away in a sub-menu that you actively have to seek out to see how you're doing. Combine this with the fact that you have to watch all of your opponent’s throws (without ever seeing your opponent, other than a name on a scoreboard) and the undeniable fact that the control system is more drawn out than most, and what initially appeared to be a series of short reaction and timing challenges is transformed into an endurance sapping darts marathon. It could be argued that this is an accurate simulation of what it feels to be a darts player and, if so, then our dreams of turning pro look likely to stay just that.
Fortunately you don't have to struggle through the tournaments to get the best out of the game as there's a cornucopia of shorter darts challenges via the 'quick game' menu. Just about every variation of darts from reaching 301 and ‘round the clock’ to cricket, golf and killer variations are available to play against up to 3 other friends or AI characters (which can be pitched at any level from pub to 'The Power'). All of which ensures that the game itself gets pretty close to the bullseye but can’t quite manage to be super, smashing or great.