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.
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.
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.
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.
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.