It's a widely accepted axiom that pool playing ability is directly linked to the amount of liquor a player has imbibed. Drink just the right amount (three beers for me) and you're Eddie Charlton. Upset that delicate balance by drinking too quickly and your prowess sinks like the 8-ball off a break. Which begs the question -- do you need virtual beers to play Virtual Pool well?
Thanks to an extremely realistic physics engine, Virtual Pool: Tournament Edition for the Xbox can help get you out of the pub and wean you off the 'beer as pool steroids' mentality. But while virtual drinks aren't a prerequisite to play virtual pool well, you may need some real ones to get you past the rather lacklustre and staid presentation -- a bit of practice with this game will get your pool eye in and to keep it there, but you'll need dedication to keep going.
Virtual Pool: Tournament Edition has an extremely wide variety of pool games to sink your teeth to, including the most widely known games plus some strange derivations we've never heard off. The list includes Snooker, 8-Ball Pub, 10-Ball, 6-Ball, 8-Ball, Rotation, Bank Pool, 3-Ball, Basic Pocket Billiards, 15-Ball, Cribbage, Honolulu, Bowlliards, Cowboy, 8-Ball US2, 8-Ball US Bar, 3-Cushion Billiards and 1-Cushion Billiards. Whatever your flavour, it should be here, although we couldn't help but wish for the ability to create custom settings where you could choose your own rules.
Each of these different games can be played one-off in Arcade Mode, or you can choose one to play in the game's Career Mode. Career Mode is the meat and potatoes of the game, and involves you playing for money against computer opponents of varying skill. There are six different pool 'hangouts' to conquer, with each one having a 'boss' player you'll need to defeat before the next hangout becomes open to you. At the end of your quest is pool shark Curly, who appears in cutscenes throughout the game. You can also buy new pool cues in career mode, which can either improve your breaking speed, increase your ball jumping ability or just entice computer opponents to bet larger amounts when playing.
Career Mode, like the rest of Virtual Pool, suffers from generally poor presentation. While the actual tables and balls look realistic, the environments around them are fairly standard ones that you'll soon get bored off. There's little personality in the game, with all of your computer opponents (apart from Curly) only being represented by a passport-sized photo along with a brief bio. And even these don't really match -- the picture for a French exchange student looked more like Madge from Neighbours than a young global jetsetter. It doesn't help either than there's no character models playing the actual shots -- all you see is a floating pool cue being manipulated by an unseen player.
But Career Mode's biggest let down is its lack of variety, as once you've chosen a type of pool game to play, you're stuck with that same one throughout the entire campaign. There's no opportunity to switch at any stage, so make sure you're happy with your initial selection before starting.
Presentation aside, it's the realistic physics that earns the 'Virtual' tag for this pool game. The balls all move and react to shots in exactly the same way you'd expect them to, which means average pool players can actually improve their real world game with enough time in front of the Xbox. Virtual Pool allows you a full 360 degree view of the table, and lets you zoom in right down to ball level at any angle.
Controls can take some getting used to however. Players shoot by pressing down the A button and using the left joystick -- how far you pull back and how fast you push forward determines the speed and power of the shot. This can get a little finicky, and you'll be a few pool games in before you start mastering some more subtle shots. Aiming can also be sensitive -- you'll need fine control of the left joystick to get your angles just right.
Virtual Pool: Tournament Edition certainly carries its 'virtual' tag well, as it's an ultra-realistic rendition with believable real world physics. You may still need those drinks to get past the dull presentation, though.
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