Review: Pool Nation
Pool Nation comes to the PlayStation 3 nearly seven months after its initial release on Xbox Live Arcade. Not even before I had achieved 100% of the stars in my first 9-ball tour did I find it hard to resist calling this the best game of pool I’ve played on any video game system. Cherry Pop Games is asking for only $8.49 to own this marvel. There is a lot of unlockable love including a colorful cast of goofy characters with interesting descriptions, if reading is something you happen to enjoy. As for the rest of it, and the one thing I nitpick about…you’ll need to keep reading.
The first thing I noticed was the very clean and snappy user interface. It has an Xbox 360 look about it, a sort of floating pseudo-3D overlay that will shift to different angles from one screen to another. The whole UI is ultra-fast. The game’s only loading process was when going into any game for the first time while it loads that location, or level backdrop, into system memory. As long as I played my next matches in that location, there was virtually no loading. When I can get from the main menu and into a game in a second or two, that’s truly amazing to me…dare I say next gen?
The in-game controls are equally as snappy as the menu controls. Performing some of the more difficult trick shots was so quick and easy to do that I find myself doing it about once every three shots. So there is an early sense that the game is on the easy side of the difficulty spectrum. There is an aiming aid that will draw a line from the cue ball to the first point of contact. There is a setting for this with aptly named Novice, Veteran, Pro, and Off options. In fact, you can control just about everything this game has to offer from within settings, all but the button mapping.
Pool Nation is presented in native 720p rather than true HD 1080p, and while the camera is pulled away from the table, which it is 100% of the time in single player, everything looked a little hazy. But while playing some online multiplayer with Andrew, I discovered that while waiting for my turn I could move the camera around the table and the room freely with what felt like first-person shooter controls. Looking out the window, I realized there was an animated cityscape, not just a four-walled generic billiard room. Bringing the camera down to the baize shows off the fabric’s texture and the pristine sphericality of the pool balls. Cherry Pop Games spared no expense in the reflections off any shiny surface, including beneath the table where strangely I could see a clear reflection of the ceiling.
Aside from the inappropriate reflections, some of the HUD graphics had that artifact-y look that Blu-ray movie reviewers mention when picking apart a hi-def encode of a new release. While playing Endurance mode, one such HUD graphic appears indicating a number of things. This compressed HUD graphic sticks out from the rest of the HD visuals, but still nothing to throw a shoe at. You might say I’m being nitpicky in the visuals department, but this is really the only negative in the entire game to speak of.
Billiards is one of those social sports, and I think the multiplayer deserves first billing. Pool Nation has eight game types: 9-ball, 8-ball, 3-ball, Straight, Rotation, Golf, Speed, and Killer. There is 2-player local multiplayer across all game types while the 8-player online multiplayer hides some of them. In Ranked Match, the Golf and Speed game types are missing. In Player Match, only Golf does not appear as an option. I’m not sure why Golf is not playable online. In Tournaments, only 8-ball and 9-ball are playable.
After I played through all the game types in the online mode, I found that they all play fairly quickly. In fact, 3-ball takes about 1 minute to play start to finish. One of the options is to play multiple rounds and 3-ball is fun but limited. Once both players are a master at sinking all three balls in just three shots from the break, there is no point. This is where setting the difficulty comes into play. While there is no actual “difficulty” setting, just changing the aiming line from Amateur to Professional or higher makes lining up long shots very challenging. I found Killer to be similar to 3-ball due to the three lives each player gets. We found the longest lasting game type to be Straight, where the first player to pot 30 balls wins. Each shot must be called and a new rack appears when one ball remains.
Overall, there is plenty to do offline such as unlocking all 16 pool cues, 12 ball sets, 101 decals (DLC tab is not accessible yet), and characters scattered throughout the offline Tour mode. There are four tournaments within both 9-ball and 8-ball games, where all 12 locations can be unlocked. Unlocking some 42 stars in each unique location for completing predetermined challenges can be quite lengthy. All the wins and losses are tracked, recorded and displayed in the Rankings mode from the main menu, where all the other online leaderboards can be found as well.
Endurance mode is my favorite mode. It can be found right from the main menu and feels like a first-person shooter while playing billiards. I was able to whip the camera around while the balls were rolling toward their destination so that I could set up my next shot even before the aiming line appeared. I was basically potting as many balls as quickly as possible, while more added to the table at an increasing rate. This rate can be decreased by hitting streaks which engages a point multiplier. Every time I missed a shot, an extra ball was added to the table. Once there were 24 balls on the table at once, the game ended.
Pool Nation offers tons of game modes for offline and online, including online tournaments and local multiplayer. I discovered that I could play music off my PS3’s hard drive which muted the game’s smooth piano track and satisfied my two kids into a crazy dance routine I dare not describe. Lots of unlockables help set a proactive pace that made me want to keep playing. Pool Nation also has a very smooth difficulty progression, beginning everyone off at a very easy level before the AI ramps things up in the later rounds of the tours. This is definitely a must buy for anyone who enjoys the game of billiards or is looking for an alternative online experience, one without potty mouthed little boys. Although it does support in-game voice chat.
Editor’s Note: Not one “ball” joke in this entire review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Snappy user interface
- Snappy gameplay and controls
- Lengthy single player tour mode
- Loads of unlockables
- Varied offline and online multiplayer game types
- Online 9-ball and 8-ball tournaments
- Simple tutorials explaining how to play
What I Dislike:
- Some game types missing from online multiplayer, no online Golf
- Hazy 720p graphics when playing at a normal camera position
- Some HUD elements appear compressed with noticeable artifacting (they're blocky)
- Ceiling reflections shown from under the table