There are a handful of videogame genres that seem ripe for exploring Virtual Reality. First Person gaming, racing games – especially the hardcore simulation ones, and after playing a handful of games, I would add pool to that list.
Cherry Pop Games had crafted a visually stunning (near photo-realistic) game that looks gorgeous but still ends up feeling a bit sterile. That same hurdle exists with video pinball games. Case in point there. Playing pinball or pool in the real world feels totally different. In the realm of video games the experience of playing them feels remarkably similar.
This issue is endemic with any conversion of real world gaming conversions which all video game makers are faced with. Looking at what lies ahead on the technological horizon with virtual reality and Steam’s new gaming controller that provides haptic feedback, the company that jumps on these upcoming tools has the potential to ride the crest of even more immersive gaming experiences.
Cherry Pop has taken a step in that direction by adopting the Unreal 4 Graphics Engine. The graphical fidelity of this latest iteration of their pool game is very evident. The pool balls look like you could pluck right them out of the screen. The lighting effects really stand out on the lamp reflections that come off the balls. More subtle, but even more impressive, is how detailed the table is. The swirls of opposing grains of the felt can be seen across the whole entire table which lends that extra touch of realism to the table.
The game controls are primarily mouse controlled. You hold the left mouse button down and then pull back on the mouse until the power bar hits the mark you believe is proper for each shot. Then you move the mouse forward and then voila! The shot is made. It works well enough but is also the moment when the illusion is broken. There is no tactile feedback possible during the shot process. The feel of the cue sliding back and forth in your hand and the satisfying clunk when you tip of the cue hits the cue ball is sorely missed. This game seems like a natural to try out with the Steam Controller.
If you use all the aiming aids they show not only show the track of the cue ball but the resultant direction the target ball takes too. Obviously this is the rookie setting and takes a lot of the challenge out of the game. It’s a good starting point to get use to the game mechanics and controls. Once you are comfortable with taking shots, you should then experiment with the camera controls that give you the best possible viewing angles for making shots. It is going to take a fair bit of practice to pull off shots once you turn off the aiming visuals but it is doable. Cherry Pop has done an elegant job of making the controls as seamless and intuitive as possible.
“Cherry Pop has done an elegant job of making the controls as seamless and intuitive as possible.”
The all important game physics look spot on and visually the balls zip across the table as expected. It is also possible to put some English on the ball aka spin – a necessity for those trick shots. Options are provided for graphics and audio so that you can set up the best pool playing ambiance possible for yourself. You can also remap all the game controls to best suit your needs. Obviously the audio for this type of game is rather limited but the crack of the balls against one another and the cue tip striking the cue ball all sound right. If you need a more atmospheric pool environment, background music and/or crowd noise can also be adjusted.
Taking the lessons learned from their previous pool game – Pool Nation – that was playable on the PS3 and Xbox 360, Cherry Pop Games has launched the game on Steam in a Free to Play – Lite – version. Players will be able to pick up their virtual cues and rack up some games without having to worry or not the free version of the game will be kept in synch with the retail version of the game because updates will be applied to both. The playable version includes twelve game types including Snooker, 8 Ball, 9 Ball, trick shots and, of course, online play as well. League play is also supported and if you are more of a casual solo player there will be Daily Challenges, career modes, and a race against the clock Endurance mode.
Outside of the pool table view, the menu system for the game is a bit busy for my tastes. You have to navigate a fair bit of levels before you get to where you want to be. Online play worked well in my testing. Connections were stable and finding matches was pretty quick. A welcome addition is a spectate mode where you can watch other matches from the start or in-progress.
Technological limitations aside this is as good as virtual pool is likely to get. Pool enthusiasts should be pleased.
***A PC review code was provided by the publisher***
- Excellent physics
- Great graphics
- Lots of different playing modes
- Experience is sterile
- Busy menu