Impressions: Pure Pool

By Adam Smith on August 12th, 2014 at 1:00 pm.

Adam didn't add alt-text messages to this post.

Does anyone expect a pool game to try anything radical? Sure, it’d be interesting if there were tiny little people running around on the table, in danger of being squished by the balls, and I wouldn’t be particularly adverse to some sort of power up that changed the cue ball into a Pac-Manstrosity that devoured anything it struck and pooped out pills and ashes – but pool is pool. Making a good pool game involves recreating the rules, mixing in some decent ball physics and (possibly) figuring out an interesting way to present a career mode. Pure Pool is not content to simply do what others have done, but its ambition is the cause of its downfall.

The recently released game from the creators of the lovely PS3 ball-pocketer Hustle Kings has a couple of tricks up its sleeve, but they’re the sort that end with a foot-long rent in the felt and the target ball crashing into the landlord’s pint pot, spilling his first stout of the evening. It’s entirely possible that Pure Pool has perfected the basics – the rules, the physics – but its deviations from the norm do more harm than good.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Pure Pool attempts to emulate a realistic experience by cutting out top-down angles and movable cameras, instead forcing players to line up shots from the eyeline of their avatar. It’s first-person pool, just like down at the pub last weekend, and the limited moment and control make the game as obscure as an absinthe-fuelled angle of incidence.

I suppose he doesn't think they're important.

By default, players assume the position of cue on cushion, staring down the barrel at the balls, ready to strike. Angles can be fine-tuned and the striking position can be set, to add spin and other trickery, but there is no magical button to provide a bird’s or barfly’s view of the situation. The most Pure Pool can manage is a weary shuffle around the table’s edge, as of a drunk who must remain within leaning distance at all times lest the floor shuffles sideways.

In theory, this approach could provide a realistic approach, forcing the player to work out angles from a believable perspective rather than via out of body experiences – in practice, taking a shot feels cumbersome and, for the first time, I’ve found a digital recreation of pool far more difficult than the actual game. With time, the first-person view might become a decent approximation of the physical sense of standing over a table and holding a cue, but in the few hours that I’ve played, it’s only served to frustrate.

I suppose he doesn't care that some of you check each of these for special fancy extras.

There are too many factors missing and the viewpoint alone cannot simulate the real experience. Primarily, the measurement of three dimensional space on a screen is very different to the measurement of distance and angles in the real world. The weight of the body and cue, as well as the awareness of the room around the table all contribute to the making of a shot. Top-down views aren’t a way to step outside reality, they are a crude method of capturing the entire model that all of the senses contribute toward.

Pure Pool’s enforced perspective is the fatal flaw that runs through the entire experience. No matter how accomplished the single player career was or how efficient the online matchmaking, the whole thing would be a bit like playing a racing game from the perspective of the exhaust pipe. Even if new camera angles are in the pipeline – and the developers have hinted that may be the case – the overall structure of the game is lacking.

Online play may improve but in the week since release I’ve had more failed matches than successful ones. The single player mode is dragged down by AI that spends more time pondering its shots than Peter Ebdon does picking a brand of bonce-buffer before major tournaments. That makes progressing through the tournaments that make up a career rather arduous and along with some slowdown and screen-tearing, made the game feel like an Early Access release.

I suppose he had 'better things' to do.

Even the menus managed to irritate me. Actually, I say that as if menus don’t get on my wick all the time. Fact is, I spend so much time flicking through options and game modes during a working day that I’m easily flustered by user interface and menu design. Pure Pool does a couple of things that seem to be intentionally in place to make me tear my hair out. First of all, everything is nested, with something as simple as volume levels hidden at the bottom of player profiles rather than in a front-row ‘settings’ branch.

And there’s no ‘quit’ option on the main menu, even though there’s room for a ‘players’ section that I’ve never felt obliged to use. Quitting involves entering the menu and then pressing a specific gamepad/keyboard button rather than navigating to an option. It feels like two different systems in play at the same time, and I shouldn’t be as bothered by it as I am but those menus are the cherry on top of the Pure Poo Pie.

I suppose he's a monster.

Apparently a patch is due but even if the game becomes more stable and pacey, the basic function of slamming balls together doesn’t satisfy. It’s possible that some people will be won over by the first-person take on pool and I admire the attempt at something different, but it only served to obscure whatever qualities the game might have. Balls seemed to be sticky and the tables seemed as slow as a possum. Pool Nation’s shiny spheres remain my top choice, although dare I ever try the online Virtual Pool 4? Perhaps. But not yet, for today I escape to the land of sausages and tiny beers.

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29 Comments »

  1. ade_mcc says:

    If they want to recreate the ‘real pool experience’, then the pool table should be a bit too close to the wall for some shots to be possible. The chalk should be hidden somewhere (if not missing altogether), and sometimes you’ll have to wait for someone to squeeze past. (in my pub anyway). Oh, and want to play again? Not if someone else has put their 50p down first.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      You’re forgetting making allowances for the slight slope towards one end of the table, and adding a bit more power to get over that lumpy repair job where Bert shanked his shot and tore the felt a new one

      • ade_mcc says:

        So perhaps a ‘number-of-beer-mats’ per leg option in the settings?

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Hard mode can be the “play as a woman” option where a bunch of pissed people leer at your arse as you bend over the table each time.

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        phuzz says:

        My local pub table a few years ago had a crack in the slate, which was invisible beneath the baize. It was only after many games that you could detect it and use it to pull off seemingly impossible shots where the ball would change direction to run along the (invisible) crack.

  2. Spacewalk says:

    My first pool love was the Virtual Pool demo so it’s going to be hard to top, something that this doesn’t sound like it does.

  3. Prolar Bear says:

    “slamming balls together doesn’t satisfy”

    “Balls seemed to be sticky”

    And in the game.

  4. Ross Angus says:

    12th August 2014: The day the Alt Text Wars began.

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    distantlurker says:

    God I love Kölsch.

    & those tiny beers are bottomless Adam, they will keep on filling that 20cl glass until you turn it upside down, put a mat on top, or run away screaming Spien! Bufafo!

    Oh on that note, don’t ever *ever* whistle the Wolfenstein theme tune while touring the Dom. I can attest to how badly this generally ends :blush: (I had no idea, honestly!)

  6. SkittleDiddler says:

    Pool Nation roolz, Pure Pool droolz. Foolz.

  7. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Small beers? Germany is surely the home of very large beers?! Is this some unique Gamescon nonsense? Either way, Prost!

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      Bluerps says:

      For a moment, I was confused about that too. But, as distantlurker already mentioned above, Mr Smith is talking about Kölsch, which is traditionally served in 0.2L glasses.

  8. SpacemanSpliff says:

    That idea about the tiny people being squished by the balls is solid gold. Acid Pool 2015!

  9. Magnusm1 says:

    You are a monster.

  10. N'Al says:

    I’m not sure why a (near) top-down view of the table is considered an ‘out-of-body experience’ here? You only really look down the cue when you’re actually taking the shot, but before that you survey the scene from up on high, so to speak, surely? How high, now that all depends on your build, but it’s not like you’re constantly glued to the side of your cue, is it? I don’t see how not allowing a top-down view is any more ‘realistic’ in a pool game.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Exactly, you regularly lean right over the top of the balls to judge whether one will pass another, if they are touching, look at the angle etc.
      The issue I mainly have with pool games, is it’s more fun to just go and play pool. There is nothing really stopping somebody from doing that. I can’t go and do a bit of war IRL, I can’t go and drive race cars competitively, or fight dragons. I can go down the pub and play pool however.

      • ikehaiku says:

        “There is nothing really stopping somebody from doing that.”

        Actually, there is: money, and skills. And time.
        For someone like me who can maybe pocket a ball once every 6 shots, the cost of playing an actual frame of pool is way heavier than the enjoyment I might get out of it.
        Hell, even if it were free: I can grab of ball and play some footy whenever I want, but after 3 missed passes and one ridiculous shot…well, I’m glad I’m able to win a World Cup in FIFA with a gamepad :-)

    • rockman29 says:

      There is a button to look at the table from all angles, you can look from high/low and it has very low restriction. You can skate around the table basically.

      It works really well, maybe they didn’t mention it in the review, but this option is there. Quick button to snap in and out of this mode as well, smooth camera between shots and global view too.

  11. willy359 says:

    Guess I’ll stick with Pool Nation until a good Oculus Rift pool game comes out. Maybe with a Wiimote taped to a broom handle. Hell, I’d buy an Oculus Rift just for that. Elite would be a nice extra.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Oculus Rift + Wiimote taped to a broom handle sounds great until the unseen person entering the room loses an eyeball I guess xD.

    • oldgamer4 says:

      Like I say on all these pool-related posts, just go get Virtual Pool 4. It’s the closest thing to playing actual pool (yet still languishing in Steam Greenlight in need of votes – due to the makers’ apparent lack of marketing prowess and it not looking like a rollercoaster/nightclub, as seems to be the fashion in the genre).

  12. rockman29 says:

    Yea it’s a very casual kind of game. The menus are not the greatest either, and it needs more options.

    For some reason you can’t turn off the little visual cue where the white ball will hit your target. It’s very unobtrusive and looks nice, but it should be turned off in Pro mode.

    But the physics are awesome and game play and look really good, that’s it’s saving grace. It’s still a fun game. Good game to relax with, the controls are great on PS4 too.

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    tigerfort says:

    Personally, I wasn’t interested in this article at all, I only clicked through for the alt-texts. Sorry Adam. You Monster.

  14. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    I logged in to post that he is a monster for not including alt text in pictures… and whenever there isn’t alt text in pictures in any of your articles you are all monsters because they are funny…. don’t be monsters

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