Pure Pool: review

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Straight to business. First and foremost, the question that needs answering before all others is: Does it simulate the game of pool well? The answer is yes; the answer, in fact, is that this game reproduces what goes on on a pool table just about perfectly. The ball physics (oo-er missus, etc.) couldn’t have been done any better, with each and every shot giving you the same results as a real game of pool would (provided the balls and baize were in good condition). Just as importantly, judging and delivering power (by pulling back then pushing forward the right analogue stick) has been fine-tuned brilliantly. If there’s a shot you can make in real life, you can replicate it exactly in Pure Pool.

You can also apply top, back, or side spin to any degree you wish which, again, results in the cue ball behaving just as you’d expect. That means of course that not only does gently nudging the cue ball gives you a better chance of making those tricky side pocket shots, hammering it with the strength of a drunken bear too close to the cushions can (and often will) result in at least one ball flying off the table and/or bouncing back out of the pocket. This is always funny.

Looking at the wider picture, for all of the commendable realism in the physics, players have no physical presence. You never see your arms or hands, nor do you see anything of your opponents (bar little square avatars); making it something like an environment where poltergeists are piling coins on the side of the table and playing pool for all of eternity. The music is an uncomfortable mix of jazz and muzak and, if you turn it off (which we almost guarantee you will eventually), the unsettlingly otherworldly atmosphere is dialled up to eleven. Although pool players are entirely invisible, look in the background and you can just make out motion-captured patrons of the moodily-lit bar in the shadows. Add into the mix an impenetrable susurrus punctuated by the occasional clinking of glasses, and the whole thing really does feel like some sort of wine bar of the damned.

The final boss.

But, back to the game itself; and once you start to look further than the fundamentals, that’s when things start to go wrong. Firstly, in the broadest sense there simply aren’t enough options when it comes to what, exactly, you can play. You get 8 ball, 9 ball, killer, accumulator, and… that’s it. A few other challenges come up in the course of the single player mode but there’s no billiards, no snooker, no trick shots, not even the red/yellow pool balls that the UK pool-playing public are accustomed to. Speaking of which, anybody who’s spent hours playing pool in the country’s pubs with friends and family will know that there’s a legion of unofficial rules regarding what is allowed when one player fouls. There is, sadly, no option to adjust the rules to your liking. Nor can you set up your own challenges or trick shots. There is an XP system, but all levelling up grants is bragging rights and, occasionally, a new cue indistinguishable from the last.

The games may not offer huge variety, but you do get many hours worth of offline play, with tournaments against opponents that offer a decent challenge. That said, they’ll sometimes make uncharacteristically bad shots for no apparent reason – and, infuriatingly, they’ll often take ages to line up even the simplest of shots. An option to skip or fast-forward the turn of the AI would have been extremely welcome. Even worse, we once waited a full five minutes for an AI opponent to take their shot, which they never did; forcing us to quit mid-game.

What will grate for many is the hand-holding ghost lines on-screen, that show you exactly where the cue ball and coloured ball will go before you take a shot. Granted, the lines become less useful the further away you take your shot, but the fact that they’re compulsory for single player tournaments is frustrating. Also frustrating is the fact that, although you can disable the training lines when playing online (this isn’t explained though – set your skill to ‘master’ before joining a match), there’s absolutely no way of knowing whether or not your opponent has done the same. There’s no lobby system in place, and no way of choosing ‘lines on only’ or ‘lines off only’ when searching for an opponent. These lines don’t appear when watching your opponent play regardless of whether or not they’re using them – so unless you make an agreement with a friend (and trust them to stick to it), you can never be sure if one of you is playing with an unfair advantage.

Um… just like a real game of pool?

Speaking of online play… what a mess. At release the online mode was completely broken, connecting to a match being virtually impossible. Things have improved since, but it’s still scrappy at best. One day, things might work almost perfectly; the next, a quarter of joining attempts might fail. The connection might break part-way through a game, or – at best – you may simply find that each time your turn comes around, you’re unable to move for 5-10 seconds. These issues apply equally to friends and random players. Incidentally, you can download “DNA” that aims to replicate any player offline via AI, though the success of this interesting idea is debatable. You can, at least, share a controller with a friend for (relatively) stress-free local play – though this doesn’t get round the fact that camera control isn’t sufficient for complicated double shots that will travel the length of the table.

The complaints are minor niggles, but this many niggles add up to a noggle. At half the price it would be easier to recommend; as it is, bear in mind that eight quid will get you a good pool game here – but definitely not a great one.

critical score 6

 

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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