April 17, 2007 - Bars are a good spot to find three things: beer, women and pool tables. Eidos is bringing the latter two to the PlayStation Portable by way of Pocket Pool, a billiards title that combines the leisurely game with half-naked women. But don't run out and pick up a 12-pack just yet...
The mechanics of pool work much like they do in practically any other billiards title on the market. You line up your shot, set the power and cue placement and swing away. We've seen it before, and there's honestly not much that can be done to the basic game of pool itself that would change this much. What matters most then in any billiards game is how well the physics and presentation work, and what sort of game options you have.
As far as game options go, Pocket Pool has a decent selection. From 8 or 9 ball to straight pool to snooker to killer (a.k.a. cutthroat), most classic pool games are here for the playing. Unfortunately, you can't make up your own game on the fly, and there aren't any trick shot options to partake in. When practically every other pool title on the market has a trick shot mode, you'd expect to see it here as well, and that just isn't the case.
It's pool, but with pictures of women. Yay.
The actual mechanics when it comes to playing a game are quite standard. By default, your cue ball has a highlighted targeting beam that shows where it'll hit another ball, though you can optionally turn on a one-bounce beam as well, showing you where the cue ball will go after it strikes a ball or a table wall. It won't, however, show you what will happen to the ball you strike, so you'll have to line up everything by eyesight.
A number of camera modes are available to help you do this, though aside from the down-the-cue and overhead cameras, they're worthless. One issue that we have with this is that you can't zoom in on the target ball to get a good look at its lie, which is especially important when it's right up against a bumper. There's also an issue with dialing-in your aim. You can only use the D-Pad for aiming, and it can be hard to perfectly line up a shot with a ton of green between you, the ball and the pocket.
The physics are also quite suspect. By default, the game is set to the "slow" ball speed, which means that when a ball comes in contact with another, it will stop practically dead in its tracks. This is entirely unrealistic and not much fun. On the other end of the spectrum, the "fast" setting plays like the felt is made of ice. "Medium" is a decent in-between, but you need to set it before each and every game you play. Why is there no main options screen where you would choose this as a default?
Balls also bounce in odd manners from time to time, firing off at right angles from the table bumpers. A ball that should careen off at a 45 degree angle may fire straight out from the side and totally screw up a shot. We had one shot where a ball narrowly missed dropping into a pocket and bounced between its angled sections. But rather than bouncing a few times before stopping right near the hole, the ball actually shot out of the hole at a completely unrealistic angle and left our ball in the middle of the table. Argh.
In addition to these faults, there are a number of other presentation issues with Pocket Pool. Icons that represent your player's head and the angle of your shot (who cares?) fill up the lower left and right-hand corners. These fade out when you move the cue, but quickly come back in and prevent you from really staring down a shot. You can press Select to turn them off, but you need to turn them back on again to gain access to the power and cue position meters, so you'll constantly have to toggle them on and off.
When you go to save, the game always asks you if you want to delete files from your Memory Stick, even if you have gigs of free space. It also always asks you to name the file before you pick the save slot, even if you intend to keep the same name in the end. As you haven't picked the slot yet, it always starts with a generic name that you need to replace if you're keeping multiple saves.
As far as multiplayer goes, you're able to play over WiFi, but you aren't able to play a hot-seat game on one system. Why? No game of pool has players going at the same time, so why isn't this an option? Simply unforgivable.
And lastly, the unlockables... By winning games, you can unlock new sets of balls, new tables, extra sticks and so forth, as well as gallery images and videos of second-rate, trashy models. The gallery images viewer is about as basic as possible, not allowing you to zoom or rotate images, and the movie player simply starts or stops. The video quality is reasonable, but the videos are boring as hell. Imagine the slowest shots possible with no nudity to be found anywhere and you'll have an idea of what we're talking about.
Pocket Pool is a poor billiards game through and through. The bonus stuff (read: pictures of half-naked women) that the game is built around isn't worth the time it takes to earn them, and the pool itself has numerous problems. Stick to real pool halls, where you'll at least have a chance at scoring an actual phone number.