One of this month's Xbox Live Games With Gold is Pool Nation FX, a billiards simulation that, upon initial release, could've given the somewhat problematic Pure Pool a run for its money. After all, the original Pool Nation on Xbox 360 is a very good pool sim, loaded with options and innovative gameplay that really makes you feel like you're behind the 8-ball.
Which makes it all the more shocking to realize that this version, which should've been optimized to take advantage of the Xbox One hardware, is a complete mess. Gone is the innovation, and in its place is a buggy, loading time-laden game of pool, with the kind of physics that make you wonder if the game was made by an entirely different team…because it's clearly not the same game.
A Pretty Picture, At A Price
One area where Pool Nation has improved its game is with its visuals. Not only do you have some great-looking tables in the collection, but you also have the ability to view it from a top-down angle for more accurate shots – an option that Pure Pool is sorely missing.
In addition to that, some of the locations featured in FX are dazzling, from Hawaiian resorts to Japanese gardens where you can practice your pool shots. These locales are far more varied than other pool sims, and they really invite you to come in and shoot in their pool rooms. Plus, the slo-mo shots offer a bit of drama, especially if you're going up against a friend and really want to rub their nose in your success.
Sadly, the graphics come at a price. Pool Nation FX has painfully long load times, averaging about a minute at start-up, then 30 to 40 seconds in-between rounds of a tournament. Considering that AAA titles could produce better loading times with far more details, this is inexcusable. Plus the wait alone may have you running back to the much simpler Pure Pool, which was simply load and go. There's no excuse for this.
Questionable Physics Are A Scratch
The gameplay in Pool Nation FX should be in the same vein as the Xbox 360 original. I say should because, well, they're not. While the game does play okay, it's not nearly as top-tier as it should be.
First of all, the shooting can be inaccurate, especially when you're trying to line up power with your stick. There are times that it doesn't quite read that well, and as a result, your shot comes up short and your opponent will have the opportunity to walk all over you.
The stick's not the only problem here. The ball physics feel wrong at times, with balls either rolling too fast or coming up short to their target, despite a pre-set power gauge showing that it's set for the pocket (You can turn these off, by the way). It's as if you're playing pool on different surfaces, rather than one felt table. And it results in plenty of frustration.
Even with the different game options (including selections from the US and United Kingdom), Pool Nation FX suffers from too many inaccuracies and a poor control scheme. Even with the pre-set power shots, you're not guaranteed your best game – even if you're a pro. And that's one of the main reasons this port suffers so horrendously. In fact, one of the bigger ones.
Bring Your Friends, Or Maybe Not
Pool games can be fun when played against friends, because you want to prove your worth against someone else in a good round. However, between the physics problems and long loading times, there's already enough working against Pool Nation FX. To make matters worse, the game plays muddily online.
That's right, when you sign up for an online match on Xbox Live, the play somehow gets worse, with stuttering frame rates and even more problematic gameplay. In fact, we only made it through one match in our testing period, with the others ending either in forfeitures or someone simply saying, "The Xbox One is capable of more than this!" To which, of course, it is.
The local options against friends are okay, provided you can put up with the game's many flaws. However, playing against the AI can be an uneven mess. The single player career mode is such a headache because, right away, you're pitted against pros that rarely miss and as a result, you're playing rounds over and over again. Cherry Pop Studios should've thrown in a more gradual rating system where players weren't prone to getting their butts kicked when they made too many mistakes – and with the way the game is set up, you're going to make them.
Which is why you can't win with Pool Nation FX. What could've been a superb port of an Xbox 360 classic is instead a rushed, muddled one that goes nowhere fast. Even when something works your way, another problem emerges that gets in the way of your good time. Pure Pool had its share of issues, but at the very least, you could still play a good round of billiards. Here, you're lucky to get through a couple of rounds without wanting to throw down your virtual stick in frustration.
These are the criteria that are most important for reviewing Pool Nation FX.
Some great locales, but online issues and horrendous loading times get in the way too often.
Annoying music that can't be overplayed by your own tunes, outside of turning down the volume on your TV.
The physics need serious work, and the fact that the AI is so prone to wiping the floor with you isn't that hot.
Replay Value: 4/10
If the way-too-competitive AI doesn't burn you out, the bad online play and lacking gameplay certainly will.
Pool Nation FX is a gigantic fall from grace from the original, more inspired Xbox 360 release. Glitches, bad physics, terrible loading times and buggy online play are just a handful of problems with the game, and the highly skilled AI does nothing when it comes to making you feel accomplished with your wins. This game may be free for the month of April, but that doesn't necessarily mean you should jump in.