Review: Pure Pool's frustrations put you behind the 8-ball
Platform: PlayStation 4
A few years ago, VooFoo Studios defined how excellent a pool game could be with the Sony release Hustle Kings, which not only produced a flawless effort on the PlayStation 3, but also made billiards entertaining on-the-go with the PS Vita. Everything just clicked for this game, from control options to table types to various matches that you could play locally with friends or online via the PlayStation Network.
Which makes it all the more frustrating that the team's latest effort, Pure Pool, falls short. Why it broke away from Sony to produce a completely new billiards endeavor alongside Ripstone is one thing, but the fact it's missing so many comprehensive features that defined Hustle Kings is another. It's still a serviceable pool game, particularly to those who are finicky with their physics, but the little problems add up, eventually leaving this one feeling more like a scratch than a defining game-winner.
It plays like a winner, but only to an extent
First, let's talk about those physics, because those continue to be spot on. Pure Pool plays like a pro when it has to, letting you adjust everything from the power of your shot to the ability to add spin by hitting the ball to a certain degree. The aim lines also return, although there are some cases where they're so faint, you can barely see if your determined ball will go properly into a certain pocket. Also, it doesn't really help that Pure Pool ditched the overhead view of the game. That's really helpful when it comes to lining up shots and, better yet, seeing if they could possibly go in.
The overhead view is just one of the things missing from this release. There's no manual replay option to take a look at sweet shots you made, only a slo-mo feature when you're about to win (or lose) the game. There's also no little adjustments to be made to your game, such as what kind of chalk you'll use or even if you want to aim the stick a different way upon hitting it off a wall. You're just stuck with the default options.
The comprehensive choices from Hustle Kings have been scaled back so much with Pure Pool, you almost have to wonder if the game was rushed to launch. It's still playable, and you can still unlock a few things here and there, but it seems like a much smaller game than before. And at a higher price, at that.
Prepare to get your butt whipped
One big problem with Pure Pool is that the difficulty is unbalanced. Even as you're playing through the Amateur ranks, you'll see the AI opponent play through like they were "Fast" Eddie Felson, cleaning your clock on shots that would otherwise be deemed ridiculous. You still have ample opportunity to win, but don't be surprised if you get robbed because the other player was feeling lucky. It gets even worse in the master classes, as they rarely seem to miss.
What's bad about this is that you can't skip ahead like you could in Hustle Kings. This serves as a double negative, as you not only have to put up with whatever your opponent does in real time, but also get penalized on certain time goals in the game, because they're taking so long to line up their shots. It's frustrating, especially considering you could skip right past in Hustle Kings.
There is an online component where you can challenge fellow players, even if they're not available (thanks to a swift little DNA system that memorizes their style of play), and going at it locally isn't too bad either. Still, the majority of the game is through its Career mode, and VooFoo would be wise to fix the AI issues that plague this one. Otherwise, players are sure to be flocking back to the years-old Hustle Kings, and for good reason.
A good presentation, but you can't change the jukebox
With Real Pool, VooFoo has done a great job making the game look like pool, from the chalk that comes off your stick in the slo-mo shot to the physics of the balls on the table. It's as real as it gets, and the team continues to deliver in stride when it comes to showing you how good a pool game can look.
Unfortunately, the audio portion is strained. The sound effects are realistic enough with the "clack, clack" of balls, but outside of that, you're stuck listening to a rather generic music list that you can't really alter. There's not even an option to play your favorites from the PlayStation Music channel. Your best bet is to turn off the volume completely and just blare your favorites, as you'll have a far better time. Not everyone can play pool to casual lounge tunes.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for judging Pure Pool.
It feels like pool all right, although the aiming system and other little touches would make the game feel more complete.
Online is decent enough, but Career is hampered by a truly powerhouse AI that could use some serious work.
It looks pretty, but a few more diverse backdrops would've been useful.
Pretty much watered down by the lack of worthwhile tunes.
Online Multiplayer: 7/10
Not bad, but more options, like what Hustle Kings possessed, would've been appreciated.
Had Hustle Kings not existed, Pure Pool could've been considered an essential pool product, as it feels great while in practice mode and looks like a winner. Unfortunately, it's a huge step back from VooFoo's previous effort, and the inability to skip your AI's inhuman actions, shift around the jukebox selection or even get an overhead view of what's happening may be too hard for some pool sharks to take. Try it out first, if you can, before you consider buying the table.
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