When the Playstation 2 launched last October, video gamers rejoiced with the prospect of playing on what would surely be the "must have" console system. As the games started coming out, hardcore gamers like myself were disappointed with the lack of A-list titles and with the repetitive genres. What I'm getting at is, does the PS2 really need two pool games?
Real Pool provides real world physics with a quasi-challenging tournament mode, capped off with a pretty ingenious puzzle mode. Throw in virtually every pool game available and you have a pretty decent game. That is, if you can bring yourself to get off the couch, go to a pool hall, and play pool for real.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The first thing I noticed about Real Pool was the gameplay. Pool players will understand what it means that this game has backspin, English, ball jumping, and foot spot, not to mention the other five dozen strange phrases that are associated with pool. What does that mean? Well, quite frankly it means there are a billion ways you can screw up your shot if you're not paying attention. Do you really need to master all these things? No. I did quite well by just using the backspin maneuver -- hit the cue ball low and it rolls back after hitting the desired ball.
Real Pool has four major modes. The first is Carom, which doesn't involve pocketing balls. Instead, the challenge lies in skillfully hitting balls around one of the five Carom tables. I found this to be quite dull and simply could not get interested in it. The second mode is Pocket. Here players can play regular pool games like 8-ball and 9-ball amongst others. These games all need to be played since the third mode, Tournament, requires them.
In Tournament mode, you select your name and go up against a crowd of pool players who all look like they belong in a fighting game. They all have that serious action look to them and I wasn't sure if I should play 8-ball or start warming up my favorite 3D fighter finishing move. Given their overall appearance, you could guess that the programmers neglected to research what real professional pool players look like. Each player chooses one of several games and you must beat them to move on. It should be noted that the players behave a lot like real pool players -- if they get hot, they will run the table and you might not even get to shoot. Likewise, if you do well and sink several balls in a row, chances are they will be frustrated and miss.
Finally, there is the puzzle mode. Over 25+ custom shaped tables that require the player to sink a certain number of balls in a predetermined number of shots. As the puzzles get harder, balls that cannot be sunk are strategically placed on the table, forcing you to really think out your shots. I personally spent several hours playing the puzzle tables as I found them to be the most unique facet of the game. Not to mention some of the tables are so challenging, I couldn't figure out how to beat them.
Graphics & Audio
Real Pool looks like real pool, only that's the problem. Not exactly eye-catching, even if the sticks look like wood and the balls behave with correct physics. As far as the graphics go, fine. Yes, you can spin around the table to see all angles, but we're talking the power of the PS2 here. For a pool game, everything looks just fine, but since it's pool, it's difficult to get excited about. As far as the music goes, it drove me nuts! I must say that I despised the muzak. It was painful to listen to and I had to turn the volume down for fear of an aneurysm.
My feeling about this game? Go out and play pool. Some games are meant to be played in real life -- bowling, pinball, and especially pool. Yes, the game's redeeming quality was the puzzle mode, but that's as far as it goes. A mildly amusing game to pass the time only if you've exhausted every other game in your library. To answer my original question: No, the PS2 does not need two pool games.
Download Real Pool
The "other" PS2 pool game due this year, Infogrames' Real Pool is, despite its tame looks, very addicting. It has 12 different kinds of pocket billiards, 3- and 4-ball pocketless games, computer opponents who can really hold their felt, and a ton of odd-shaped bonus tables to test your skills on. The ball movement and collision physics are fantastic, and with two-player support, there'll be little need to endure smoky pool halls come December when Real Pool gets cued up for release.