VooFoo Studios hopes Pure Pool will have you stacking your virtual pound coins
VooFoo Studios claim their pool simulation, Pure Pool, has the most convincing baize and balls the genre has ever seen, and they’re probably right.The game’s a definite looker, arguably showcasing more polish than was totally necessary, but the nitty gritty is how it actually plays. We’ve all been fooled by slick looking titles before, and in the sports genre, sometimes shinier balls doesn’t equal better.
For a game dubbed Pure Pool, it certainly has a lot of fine details that are bolted onto the base formula of balls on a slate bed.
As soon as the game loads you’re brought into the bar-room setting, and a major part of the game is its ambience. It seems like such a minor feature, but somehow they’ve actually got it right. There’s nothing ground-breaking in either aural or visual presentations, but they set the mood perfectly.
Beyond the outline of the pool table you can make out blurred figures milling around in the background socialising, the sounds of quiet chatter mixes in to lessen what could’ve been a very sterile stage. The gentle jazz music may make this all sound like a contrived mood, set-up like the looped crowd noises of other sports titles, but the best compliment I can pay the way Pure Pool implements these little additions is that they actually feel organic; I sank back into my chair, and didn’t notice they were there.
All round, the presentation is slick. It’s more than a shine from table lights, the background details can be seen mirrored in the balls too if you look close enough. There’s even a cinematic final Eight Ball shot for that moment of victory, complete with slo-mo chalk dust for a flourish.
Once you’ve chosen your game type - US 8 ball, 9 ball, Blackball, Killer or Accumulator - you can get on with the actual game, and something that may split opinion is the perspective chosen by the developers. Many pool games either give the option for multiple points of view, rising in height over the table, or go for one that equates to a semi-standing stance. Pure Pool doesn’t, it forces you to look down the cue like a Snooker player, and slightly more disconcertingly pushes you right up behind the cue ball so only five or six inches of maple is showing.
It takes a short while to acclimatise to, and as with all pool games it’s more an issue of getting in tune with the perspective so you can judge angles and fine clips. You can raise the butt of the cue, as if striking downwards, to offer a better view momentarily, or even walk around the table, but it’s strange not to have a higher perspective, particularly when one would come in handy for the Challenge events, which are often based on speed, where you just want to channel Fast Eddie and strike almost on the move, gaining a wider view of the table and where your next shot will be.
The Challenge events make a nice distraction, and if I’m honest it’s where I spent a lot of my time. The game taps into that therapeutic vibe of playing pool solo, and making up your own meta-games in a quiet pub, like seeing how many plants you can pull off, or always doubling the black. The Challenges are a bit more structured than that though, largely being based around timers.
Speed Pot is a standard against-the-clock mode, Checkpoint adds in a countdown that increases when balls are potted, and Royal Rumble is a clear-the-table event where more balls are added at intervals. The only non-speed round is Perfect Potter, which tasks you with never missing. They sound nice and simple, but you’ll quickly hit the wall of what you’re capable of without much practice, and they’ve got that nice "just one more go" appeal to them, as you try to silence that little voice in the back of your head that thinks you can make one more pot.
The game taps into that therapeutic vibe of playing pool solo
Perfect Potter is the best fit for the game, as the close perspective, and the game’s sometimes strange choice of auto-lining up the next shot for a ball that clearly has no chance of being your choice, make timed rounds a slight battle against some design decisions as much as your own skill. And this is very much a console game in design. The use of the thumbstick to act as a cue, no extra regulation for power, and a separate button to hold for fine aim are intuitive; it’s a title that feels almost born out of a control pad.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s got the stamp of console-centric design and shiny balls that it’s vacuous and easy though. The markers that initially greet you - showing where the cue ball will travel, as well as the direction of the object ball - are merely part of the difficulty setting. It’s not really explained (in fact, very little is explained), but the difficulty setting seems to largely affect your aiming rather than the opponents. So, take a step up and you’ll no longer be able to see a guide line for the object ball; move onto the highest difficulty, and you’ll have no indications of direction whatsoever, leaving it purely down to the naked eye.
It’s a neat system for getting acclimatised, and even as someone who’s spent more than a fair amount of time with pool games - both real and simulated - the markers were handy to judge how the game gauges things like spin. On that note, I can’t complain about any oddities. normally there are a few anomalies, but I didn’t register anything that looked either out of the realms of possibility for an experienced player or stretching the laws of physics. The balls, cushions and table play as you’d expect; even if seeing a green baize without drink stains on is a little disconcerting for pub players.
There are a few modes to keep you interested. In the short term you can jump into a quick game with the AI or another player online. I had one or two disconnections, but it’s hard to tell if that’s down to people quitting, the stability of Live at the moment, or the game itself. The majority of the time though it was a mere five-to-ten seconds of waiting and then into a game.
If, however, you only like to play with friends, well VooFoo have taken a leaf out of the Forza book, emulating the Dravatar, but without the snazzy name. Here, the game will monitor your playing style and make your "Player DNA" available to download for friends who wish to play against a facsimile of you whilst you’re otherwise engaged. From my limited experience of this, it works, but a couple of shots that were pulled off left me suspicious of its ability to replicate playing styles entirely accurately, as a procession of ham-fisted shots were followed by the kind of snooker escape that would have Ronnie O’ Sullivan scratching his head.
The players in the Pro camp are not to be taken lightly
For those looking for something meatier offline, the Career mode mixes in the challenge ethos with the standard progression of beating a series of increasingly difficult opponents. You unlock further tournaments by way of stars, which are gained through various criteria along the way to winning, such as not fouling, or coming back from three balls down. You should gain enough to avoid having to falsely change playing style or fouling to allow an opponent the lead, which is handy as the final players in each tournament are significantly harder than those preceding them.
The players in the Pro camp are not to be taken lightly, they know all the tricks, but rather than just being machines that don’t miss they’ll actually engage you tactically, trying to snooker you or knock balls into awkward positions.
This does raise perhaps the only glaring omission from the game, there’s no “skip to next turn” button. When you’re locked in a battle with someone of equal skill, you can take the pauses when you’re away from the baize, but when you’re up against the Pot-o-tron 3000, a walking potting machine that can keep you off the table for a minute or so, it can grate to just sit there. It wouldn’t be so galling to take if the AI didn’t pretend to line up shots like a human, constantly readjusting the shot line, when we all know what the shot to take is, and how it’ll be taken. In a roundabout way, at that moment the AI almost becomes recognisably real - the wannabe hustler, he’s got a stack of pound coins, no day job, he never misses and he’ll take his sweet time over every shot.
Even this couldn’t stop me from appreciating Pure Pool though. The experience point system doesn't mean much, as the unlockables aren’t of any great note, but it’s nice to chip away whilst enjoying yourself, and the manner in which you do so feels fun. You receive Accolades for almost anything beyond a solitary pot, meaning consecutive pots into a certain pocket, or doubling the eight ball all matter in some small way. Which takes you back to that pool feel; you can play competitively, or you can almost make your own rules, and challenge yourself. It’s strange just how easy it is to get sucked into the Free Play mode, without realising that it’s just pool, and the only reason you're still there is that the physics, presentation and general atmosphere make it an easy place to be.
Doubled the black
- Solid physics
- Looks fantastic
- Great ambience
- Multitude of modes
In off the black
- No "skip to next turn" button
- Perspective may split opinion
Pure Pool Xbox One ReviewPure Pool delivers in all the right areas. The physics are good, the graphics are slick, and there are enough modes to make this budget offering a fantastic prospect for those who like the real game of pool. It’s got a good blend of the competitive and the solitary pursuit of fun, all centred on the simple act of potting balls.
It may not be as pure as the name indicates it to be, it needs additions to keep you interested, but it creates a mood that somehow just works. It should seem like a cliched bar with light jazz, but the ambience sets the scene really well, and the background chatter washes over you in an organic fashion. In a weird way it’s aiming to be both a sports game and a chillout room in your Xbox One, and I think it succeeds.
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