Not to be confused with a game about swimming, Pool Nation is all about banging balls in pockets and having fun while you do so. Released in its original form back in 2013 on Steam and old-gen consoles, this title has finally found its way onto the PS4 and it's this version we'll be looking at. From what we played, it's a pretty fun title with a lot of modes to explore, but it comes with a few bugbears that we're going to explore now.
While there are Online, Versus and a really cool Endurance mode, we started off in Career. You basically travel the world playing through qualifiers and rounds until you reach a final, win it, and move on to the next country. It all sounds a bit too easy, and at times it is.
The AI players you come up against at the start are appalling. If they pot one ball, the next shot will never go down. They can miss the easiest pots leaving you to wonder if it was even possible to miss it in the first place. As the game progresses, you play higher level characters, but they're still not that great. We found ourselves winning too easily, one time after an AI player missed for no good reason.
That combined with an assisted aiming system that allowed you to see exactly where the ball was heading, and a top down view, made it way too easy to dominate frames. The only way we lost one was by fouling and potting the black too early. There were overly simplistic aiming modes, and you can even turn them off completely if you want to make it a little harder, but it still feels a bit too easy.
However, we still found ourselves having lots of fun when clearing the table. The ball physics and the sound effects when the balls are hit are all spot on. This is the part of the experience that makes it enjoyable to play and, frankly, it's what kept us coming back. The cueing action also felt good, but somehow not quite as tight as the movement in Snooker 19. It doesn't take away from the experience, though.
The amount of things you can buy with in-game currency also made the experience more complete. You can get new sets of balls, cues and locations, and these unlocks really gave us a sense of purpose when it came to earning money through both career and online play.
The tables, balls and environments you play in all look great. One thing we'd say is that while you travel the world, you're always in a pool hall, so don't expect to see much of Japan or Hawaii. The halls themselves look really well designed, though, with people, posters and vibrant colours that really set the mood. The electronic music changes from location to location and gives the game the right atmosphere to help you settle into your ball potting duties.
The only graphical thing we didn't like was that every time you potted a ball, there was a slow down effect as it was going into the pocket. It removed any element of doubt over whether the ball was going in. We liked the effect, but it was massively overused and took away some fun from the experience. Otherwise, the title menu looks fresh and engaging, but could only be navigated by the stick and not the D-pad, which we found a little annoying.
There is great variety when it comes to the modes and game types that are there for you to get your teeth into. 8 Ball, UK Pool, 3 ball and Golf (where you have to pot in a designated pocket) are all included, and that's not even the whole list. We were delighted to see that snooker was there as well, although it wasn't the main focus of the title.
Online options let you play other people for in-game currency, or even take part in leagues. A welcome additional was the the offline two-player mode, so you can also play a friend on the same screen at home. However, the most fun we had was with Endurance. You basically have to keep potting balls, and all the while more balls are added to the table. When the number of the balls on the table reaches 24, it's game over. This was so much fun, and the drama was increased by each new ball floating like a ghost of future present over the location where they were about to spawn.
Alas, our time with the game saw us experience a bunch of glitches. We're hopeful they will be fixed by the time you read this, but the version we played had a few problems (especially in the trophy department - where they would pop for no reason, or wouldn't pop at all). A patch seemed to sort that out, but then the balls started going through the cushions in snooker mode. We're sure this can all be fixed, but it could have been tested a bit more pre-launch.
We reviewed Snooker 19 earlier in the year, and it seems that our complaints there are the opposite of ours here. Snooker 19's AI was very difficult, and there was a lack of game modes, but here it's the opposite - it's too easy and there are loads of things to do. Still, Pool Nation is quite a lot of fun with its variety of game modes, and it's a great shout if you're looking for something to while away the time on a rainy day and you've got a friend to play with. The glitches, which may or may not be an issue by the time you play it, should have been fixed before launch, and the AI needs a bit of work, however, it's good if you're looking for something light and fun, although it might not appeal to more hardcore fans of the sport.
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