Playing pool is a lot like doing physics problems – calculating angles, velocities and forces. Thus, physics are a key component to any Pool/Billiards game, and many other games seem to fall short in this area. Balls don’t roll as you’d expect and angles seem inaccurate, leading to frustration. Pool Nation, previously released on Xbox Live and PSN, touched down on Steam last month and largely solves the issues of other table game… games.
The single player component revolves primarily around tournaments where you take on AI challengers of ever increasing difficulty. Each match has an associated list of challenges, and completing them unlocks a variety of cosmetic changes like cues and balls. Standard games like 9 ball are present along with more interesting options like Golf, which challenges you to put specific balls into specific pockets. There’s also a time attack style mode, where balls spawn on the table and you have to sink as many as possible in the time limit. There are versus and online modes present too, but I had a hard time finding anyone to challenge online.
The game is much more impressive on a technical level. The physics feel pretty accurate – I’m chronically horrible at pool in real life, and frequently made similar mistakes in game. The control goes to a super fine level of granularity. Cue angle, strike point, spin, power – all are controllable with pinpoint precision. I played with both a keyboard and Xbox 360 controller, each offering a good experience, but the keyboard was definitely more precise. It looks nice too with lots of impressive reflections and general shininess. The game doesn’t show the players on screen – which is fine – but I think that seeing your opponent would have added an extra layer of immersion. I loved the music. it’s in the jazz realm – kind of like what you’d see in a Gran Turismo game – and gives the game a loungy feel.
But is it fun? In short stints I definitely enjoyed playing the game, but it isn’t the type of thing I’d want to play for hours at a time. Having said that, I think Pool Nation is the kind of experience that would be a hit at a house party.
If you’ve been searching far and wide for a Billiards simulator, and don’t have room for an actual table, Pool Nation is probably the solution. The physics are solid, the controls allow for extreme fine tuning of shots, and everything looks super shiny. A few more game types would be welcome, but for $10 Pool Nation is the gold standard in the category.
Editor’s Note: This review applies to the PC version of the game. See our PSN review HERE.