by Quinn Levandoski
reviewed on PC
Bringing Pool To VR
I’ve had a lot of fun with the limited VR library currently available on the Vive, but Pool Nation VR has quickly positioned itself as one of the best. It succeeds because it doesn’t use VR as a gimmick or a crutch. It isn’t a glorified tech demo. It is, first and foremost, a great pool sim, and the ability to walk around and feel “in” the room just adds to the experience. With tight controls, a high level of polish, and fun interaction options, Pool Nation VR is a great title for VR newcomers and “veterans” alike.
I’ve played quite a few other pool games, including Cherry Pop Games’ own Pool Nation FX, and the actual gameplay here is the best I’ve ever experienced, making success all the more satisfying. While there is a “ghost ball” that shows where the pool ball will go (which can be turned off in the settings for those looking for an even more authentic position), everything else feels natural. You’ve got to move your hands like you're actually holding a cue and hitting the cue ball in different spots results in the expected effects. The physics deserve major props, as without such realistic ball action the rest of the experience wouldn’t matter. The only warning as far as gameplay that I’d recommend you consider before diving in is your play space. There is a teleport option that works well to move you around the room, as well as a “grab” action that lets you re-orient the entire room, but if you have a small space things are going to be difficult. I play in a 15’ x 10’ area, and I still wished I had more space. It’s not really a fault of the game, just natural part of wanting to move around the pool table.
A New Experience On Pool
Technical proficiency can be a little hit or miss with early Vive titles. Unfortunately, unlike standard games, lag, framerate drops, or even the slightest tracking issues can either make a game completely unplayable or induce motion sickness within minutes, On the whole, Pool Nation VR is a very stable game. Subtle movement of my hands were registered lag-free, moved around the pool hall quickly and smoothly, and I never experienced any crashes or bugs. The only times I actually did notice any slowdown was occasionally with my cue when I wasn’t the one hitting. Those instances were fairly rare, however, and they didn’t impact the game in any meaningful way.
You can, of course, play against the AI, and they’re perfectly competent opponents. In fact, they might be a little too competent, as even on the lowest difficulty setting I was getting my butt kicked. Judging by my seemingly-average skill when playing online, I don’t think I’m that terrible, which leads me to wonder if there’s either a glitch in the difficulty settings or they expect people to be waaaaay better than they are. This shouldn’t be of much consequence, though, as Pool Nation VR absolutely shines when playing with another person. There’s an unrivaled sense of “place” that really does make you feel like you're standing in the same room as someone else. It’s actually borderline spooky sometimes. Like, I’ve obviously always known that there’s a person sitting on a computer somewhere every time I play a multiplayer game, but I’ve never watched them physically move. You can see their mannerisms. They can see yours. You can see them softly drumming their hands to the beat of music, adjusting their earphones, or shaking their head after missing an easy shot. It also supports automatic voice chat, and I was also lucky enough to play with a bunch of really cool people that I was joking around with by the end of a few matches. It’s very, very surreal, and now I don’t want to do multiplayer any other way. Despite only being able to see their hands, headset, and a hat (if they’ve equipped one), my opponents felt closer than anything I’ve ever experienced in a video game before.
Not only do your opponents create a sense of immersion, but the virtual pool hall itself does a lot to pull you in. Not only is everything crafted with a nice amount of detail (for a VR game, which are naturally much, much less graphically impressive right now that standard games do to the extra processing involved), from other patrons talking, to TV screens with video on them, etc., but you can even grab object like beer bottles, chairs, and darts, and chuck them at your opponent, the table, or just accross the room. I’m not going to lie, I spent about 15 minutes when I first started up the game for the first time just chucking things around the room.
Once I joined a game, did I feel childish trying to distract my opponent by chucking a bottle at his face? Sure. Was it a ton of fun? Absolutely. While it seems like it might detract from the game, it doesn’t, as none of these objects interact with the pool balls and everything is cleared with the press of a button. One thing I would like to see, and it’s really my only “what do I wish they did differently,” is a few different pool halls. You can unlock different cues, hats, and even pool tables, but there aren’t any different pool halls. I’d have loved to play in other locales, whether they be realistic or wild and crazy. Of course, given everything in the environment, that’s probably asking a bit much for a reasonable low-priced experience.
Proof VR Can Work
Though the HTC vive is incredible early in its life-cycle, it already has its first “killer-app.” With space-ship sims, first person shooters, adventure titles, and more already released, I didn’t think my favorite game would be a pool one, but it is. Pool Nation VR is a polished, fun game that does what every good early entry for a new device should do- showcases what it does that those coming before it couldn’t and does it well. Here’s to hoping that there are more like it to come.
Natural feeling controls, fantastic multiplayer, and immersive environment.
I wouldn’t mind a few more customization options, and the AI difficulty seems strange.