One of my earliest memories involves standing on the seat of my Incredible Hulk-themed mobile vehicle so that I could reach my father’s pool table. I grew up playing a lot of pool, but never enough to become what I would consider a good pool player. For me, pool was always a good way to relax and enjoy some friendly competition, and I feel the same can be said of its most recent virtual recreation, Pure Pool.
Arguably the most important aspect of a pool video game would have to be the physics, and Pure Pool earns high marks in this category by making each shot feels natural, and the balls behave pretty much how you would expect them to. You can also put english [spin] on the ball, which means better players will be able to realistically influence where the cue ball will end up after their turn.
Pool can be a little like chess sometimes, because you want to be thinking a few moves ahead. Before you make a shot, you want think about where the cue ball will end up for your next shot. If you think you might not make the shot you’re aiming for, it’s a good idea to try to leave the cue ball in a place that won’t help your opponent. Although you can’t do everything that is possible on a real table — masse shots and ball jumping come to mind — what is allowed within should be enough for most players.
While I have mixed feelings about the presentation, overall it’s pretty good. Pure Pool features a nice light jazz soundtrack that seems appropriate for the classy look of its virtual setting. A playlist option would have been nice, but Sony adding mp3 support to its console would’ve helped more, as this game would really benefit from being able to crank some 70s rock music.
The table itself looks excellent, with some nice texture work on its felt, and you can change the color at any time. There are even a handful of graphics that you can apply to the table, but I would have liked to have seen more artwork and fewer company logos in this area.
I also didn’t care for the overuse of visual blur effects in the backgrounds. When you’re looking at the table it feels fine, but when you actively try to look around the room, it looks extremely unnatural. My eyes are perfectly capable of blurring background details on their own, thank you, and I don’t know why developers continue to rely on these overused post-processing effects. It’s like lens flare in first-person shooters. My eyes are not camera lenses, damn it!
Speaking of cameras, the camera in Pure Pool leaves a bit to be desired. There are only two real camera views in the game. One angle is for shooting, and the other for standing up and getting a better view of the table. If you’re aiming for a pocket that’s just off screen and out of your view, you’ll have to stand up — which doesn’t allow you to aim — or use the PS4 touchpad to look to your left and right. There’s no way to simply pull the camera back a bit so that you can see more of the table. You can’t look around the table during your opponent’s turn in an online game, either.
For an example of the camera issues described above, take a look at the purple striped 12 ball in this image. Imagine that it’s the only other ball on the table, and imagine trying to shoot that ball off the rail and into the lower right corner pocket. You can’t see that pocket in this picture, but you could easily see it in your peripheral vision on a real table, and that’s a problem. Again, you can look at the pocket with the touch pad, but sometimes doing so makes it so that you can no longer see the the ball that you’re aiming for.
There are three difficulty levels in Pure Pool: Amateur, Pro and Master. Pretty much the only difference between the three is the shot indicator. Master players only get to see the spot where the cue ball will initially hit, while amateur players get a shot indicator that shows not only the path the cue ball will take, but also the path of the ball that they’re trying to hit. Of course, pool purists and those looking for an accurate simulation should turn off those settings immediately.
Something else you’ll probably want to turn off immediately are the notifications at the top of the screen that tell you when anyone online starts playing the game. Not just your friends, but literally anyone. The top of the screen is a never ending sea of random PSN IDs, and while I said you’ll want to turn it off, I’m sorry to tell you that it’s not an option. You’re stuck with it. It may be a bit ridiculous during the first week of the game’s release, but it does become quickly ignorable. I’ll also admit that community-wide player notifications could become extremely useful in the future, when far fewer people are still playing the game on a regular basis.
Online play is a big part of Pure Pool, but it’s not your only option. There are several tournaments with AI controlled opponents, and you can always enjoy some local play, but the game takes things a step further with its DNA feature. As your friends play Pure Pool, the game will keep a record of their behavior and skill level, which then allows you to challenge AI-controlled opponents designed to mimic their playing style. You can even play against the DNA profiles of the game’s developers.
In addition to the standard trophies, there’s also a fun accolades system that does a nice job of keeping track of your various accomplishments. Some of the more basic accolades include pocketing balls on a break, pocketing several balls in a row and making bank shots. On the other end of the scale, you have goals such as wining 1000 games, winning 100 games online, and winning a game against a legendary player. Somewhat unfortunately, there’s even a trophy for earning one of each accolade, which is going to be close to impossible whenever the online community eventually dies down.
As nice as some of Pure Pool‘s more advanced features are, a handful of fairly basic features are noticeably absent. A replay feature would have been a welcomed addition, and the same is true of an option to undo your last shot when practicing. Speaking of practice, there’s no way to move any ball other than the cue ball, so there’s no way to set-up a specific type of shot in order to hone your skills in a particular area. Going further, more game types would have also been appreciated, especially some that would have supported more than two players. As things are, you get 8 Ball, 9 Ball, Killer, Accumulator, and some single player only challenge events.
While I do wish that Pure Pool‘s developers had smoothed out some of its rough edges and included a richer feature set, it’s hard to argue with the value and quality of the gameplay provided. PS Plus members can pick up the game for the low cost of $9.09, and everyone else can download it for $12.99. It’s not perfect, but Pure Pool is still worth the cost of admission. Should the developers ever fix the camera issues, I would recommend the game without hesitation.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game, which was provided to us.