Whenever a sports game is released, there’s always a group of people that will utter the same sentence with the same charisma of school children reciting a sentence off of a blackboard - “why not just play the real thing?”. While said people become increasingly irritating with each new utterance of the same rhetorical question, they usually have a point. Barring disabilities and lack of facilities, there’s no reason you can’t play the real thing, but it’s always easier (and more accessible) than playing real sports. And lets not forget the biggest boon for the lazy people among us: virtual sports require little physical activity.
With that said, at least titles such as FIFA allow gamers and football fans alike to control their favourite players like puppets and make them part of their own custom dream teams. In the world of pool though, none of the above is particularly relevant. It’s not physically demanding, it’s a head-to-head sport and it doesn’t feature any world-renowned sportsmen. Sorry pool players.
Yet, hitting a digitally gleaming ball with a digitally-chalked cue somehow has more allure than you’d think. Especially if you like pool.
For those that don’t know how the game is played, a short tutorial will play the second you boot up the simulator, explaining the basics, i.e. hit ball with stick, pot all the balls of your type - striped or spotted - into one of six pockets until you’re left with just the black ball to pot. Every match you play takes place in what can only be described as an upper class, snooty nightclub where nobody apparently cares about how good your pool skills are. Atmosphere amounts to some slow percussion music coupled with out-of-focus silhouettes of people flitting around in the bar area around you. It’s not particularly great, but at least VooFoo Studios actually attempted to give each game you play a backdrop to look at.
More importantly, the mechanics of the game seem remarkably tight. The power of each shot you make is determined by how far back you pull the right stick. Shunting it forward will simulate the striking of the ball with the cue, and watermark lines on the table will give you an idea of the trajectory the ball will take. For those that want to make some fine adjustments to each shot, each face button on the PS4 controller will adjust spin, precision and camera angles to ensure you have the exact shot you want.
Just like the real version of the game you’ll play down the pub though, each successive play will get increasingly boring, and end up resulting in you acting like a tit by testing how hard you can smash the balls. Unfortunately, unlike its real-world counterpart, getting drunk to make playing more fun isn’t an option here. Instead, alcohol has been substituted with some different mini-games for the sake of diversity.
Time trials, speed potting and high score challenges all sit alongside the game’s main career mode, and while they’re all perfectly serviceable game types, it’s Pure Pool’s multiplayer that really stops the repetitive nature of the game from sticking its claws in. At any point of play, you can peruse a list of players currently online and challenge them to a match of 8- or 9-ball pool. If the other player accepts, you’re placed in a battle to the death (note: for dramatic effect, you don’t die a glorious death if you lose, unfortunately) centred around ball-potting.
As remarkably good as Pure Pool is, we’re not sure it’s going to have much of an audience. The mechanics, multiplayer options and visuals are all sound, but sports titles are generally seen as games that one plays when the real thing isn’t an option. You only have to visit your nearest local to find a pool table, and while VooFoo are due credit for making a rather boring sport enjoyable, only pool fans are likely to make the purchase. Considering the demographic of such people, there’s a very real chance that the game’s target audience will probably prefer to play the real thing than the digital version. For what it is though, Pure Pool can’t be faulted on what it set out to achieve.