Pure Pool Review
As its plain title implies, Pure Pool contains no fancy trick competitions, no goofy avatars, no shot-power indicator and no cheating overhead camera to let players perfectly align hit after hit. At all times, your view remains realistically limited to a first-person perspective, and while players can stand up on their tiptoes, or even walk around the table by holding the square button, a lot of guesswork is required when lining up successful shots.
Unless, of course, you choose to play on the lowest difficulty setting, “Amateur,” which makes full path predictors visible -- both for the blank cue ball and for the numbered balls you're targeting. On “Pro” and “Master” difficulties, though, your own eyesight and angle judgment are the only tools you'll have for predicting ball collisions, as the spoilerific trajectory arrows become significantly shortened, making long-distance and sharp-angled shots a true test of skill. Escaping cue ball traps and sinking tricky side-pocket shots feels extremely satisfying on these settings, just as missing easy tap-in opportunities will have you shaking your fists and screaming curse words at the screen.
U.S. eight-ball (colloquially called “stripes and solids”) and international nine-ball are Pure Pool's primary styles of play. Community manager Emily Crees claims that U.K. eight-ball is “going in the first patch, which will be released soon.”
Players will probably be less familiar with Pure Pool's other two game styles, “Killer” and “Accumulator.” Killer starts each participant at three “lives,” with extra lives being awarded for sinking multiple balls in a single shot. One life is subtracted if a player fails to score a ball on his/her turn, and the first person to run out of lives will lose the match. In Accumulator, competitors must pot all 15 balls in numerical order, with each ball rewarding its numbered point value. Here, the person with the most total points wins the match.
In addition to Pure Pool's standard match play modes, four leaderboard-supported minigames will task players with clearing the table as quickly as possible, or knocking in a consecutive run of balls without a mishit. While these made-up minigames are strictly single-player events, the four traditional game types can all be played locally or online against one other person. Multiple friends can join the same online “League,” though these act as little more than a clubhouse leaderboard that tracks the all-time win/loss records for matches between members. Even when your friends aren't around, you can still compete against their “Player DNA,” which is a computer-controlled clone of their playing tendencies.
Pure Pool's long, tedious Career path promises “40-plus hours of content,” but it reaches that milestone by continuously recycling the same schedule of boring events. There are no tense elimination tournaments or any skillful trick shot competitions to be found, just a repetitive series of one-off exhibition matches against increasingly superhuman AI opponents, broken up by the occasional, brief minigame. Frustratingly, players are restricted from choosing the “Pro” or “Master” circuits until they complete the lengthy “Amateur” ladder, so if you don't like playing with the maximum amount of visual assists turned on, you will be stuck slogging through monotonous matches for several days before you can finally play with your preferred interface. Career mode's dull grind will only appeal to gamers who enjoy chasing after PSN trophies (45 total, including 1 platinum) and checking off the large list of 89 in-game “Accolades.”
Server instability has also hampered Pure Pool since its Tuesday launch. Whenever VooFoo Studios' servers become overloaded, online Quick Games stop working, and the in-game friends list appears empty, which prevents gamers from challenging PSN friends to a match or inviting people to join their online league. In the rare moments when everything has been up and running, Pure Pool's online matchmaking also seems to be pitting players who are using different levels of aim assist against each other, creating unfair multiplayer contests. If this is the case (VooFoo has not answered questions regarding its matchmaking system), it would be a weird oversight, considering that Pure Pool's fun minigames feature separate leaderboards for each difficulty setting, and the online League matches can also be restricted to a specific difficulty.
Like the noisy, smoky bars in which the sport is publicly played, Pure Pool provides a few minutes of fun before all of its surrounding offenses begin to annoy. The luster of Pure Pool's lifelike graphics and realistic physics is severely diminished by the title's frequent server outages and shallow, repetitive Career structure.
Costing just $13 ($9 for PlayStation Plus members), Pure Pool at least offers billiards enthusiasts plenty of value, especially considering that real-life tables retail for close to a thousand dollars, can be difficult to move in, and require a lifetime of maintenance.
According to Twitter, VooFoo Studios is already working on a title update to fix the game's networking issues. The developers also plan to add downloadable content to Pure Pool, judging by the empty “Extras” option on the main menu. If both of those promises come true, the game could eventually become something more than the relaxing -- albeit extremely buggy -- time waster it currently is.
Controls: Apart from the peculiar absence of jump shots, most standard pool techniques can be performed by using the face buttons to apply spin, the left joystick to alter your cue's angle and the right joystick to control shot power.
Visuals: Different stick decorations and table designs allow for a small degree of personalization. There is no avatar customization, since everything is viewed from a floating first-person perspective that never reveals your character's model. Flying chalk dust during slow-motion replays is a cool effect, until you realize that it always signifies a successful game-winning shot, destroying all sense of suspense -- these cutscenes, thankfully, can be disabled.
Audio: Background chatter from busy, out-of-focus bar patrons adds to the game's lounge room ambience. The calming light jazz soundtrack is well-composed, but with only 12 total songs, this small shuffle playlist quickly grows tiresome. Pure Pool is a perfect example of how the PlayStation 4 could benefit from custom .MP3 support, instead of forcing customers to subscribe to Sony's Music Unlimited service.