Virtual Pool 2
Windows - 1997
Description of Virtual Pool 2
When Interplay recently released their followup to the very popular Virtual Pool game I wasted no time in sharking out a chance to grab a copy and give it a good shakedown for the GD Review. Being over the British side of the pond my personal taste is for snooker, but if there's a pool table in the pub on a night out I'm irresistibly drawn to it. Pool may not require the same skills as snooker, but it's great fun all the same. With Virtual Pool 2 we're one step closer to an ideal PC pool simulator. While there's some work to be done yet, this is by far the closest you'll get to the real thing date, bar the pint of beer and cigar smoke.
If you read our review of Virtual Pool 1 you'll see it was pretty well received. The new version is a Windows-only game using DirectX, and it's the visuals that stand out as the biggest improvement. Fire it up in 8-bit colour mode and Virtual Pool 2 will look similar to its predecessor, but switch to 16-bit mode and a whole new world opens up before you. The balls are shaded with table light specularities, the table itself is shaded, and the table rails are very nicely texture-mapped. Rather than a set of coloured blobs, we're now presented with something that looks photo-realistic.
The transition is welcome. The price is a jump in system requirements - on a lower end Pentium with a reasonable graphics card you can play 640x480 at 16-bit with no background. On my P166 MMX with a Mystique card I was able to get smooth play at 1024x768 at 16-bit, again with no background. With the room background on I had to drop to 800x600 to avoid any jerkiness. If you have a Pentium 2 you can go above 1024x768 for some extremely crisp and clear play, especially when you zoom in close. The only slight disappointment in the visuals is the cue itself (which hovers over the table as you make shots) as it doesn't look quite as smooth and slick as the cloth or the balls.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is that despite just buying a 3Dfx card (an Orchid Righteous) I prefer to play Virtual Pool 2 in non-3Dfx mode. Why? Well, for one I can't run my 3Dfx card above 800x600, and I also get some screen interference in the middle of the table - perhaps my Righteous drivers need updating. Another reason is that the 3Dfx only really beefs up the backgrounds in the game, of which there are three rooms to choose from. Yes, it does look good at 800x600 in 3Dfx mode with the backgrounds on, but I prefer to play at 1024x768 in blackness, perhaps because that's the way I'm used to playing snooker in good old "real life". But the real turn-off for 3Dfx is that if you play a foul shot in some of the pool variants the game will drop back out of 3Dfx mode to ask you what you want to do and from there you can't see the table to choose! A bit of an oversight that - how do you choose whether to play from hand or where you are if you can't see the table?
The bottom line though is the game looks superb. I've spotted only two graphic glitches in non-3Dfx mode - one was the cue passing through the top of a ball, the other was the cushion rail graphic appearing under the cushion, but both were very rare, and certainly don't spoil the game at all. The one extra realistic touch I would have liked to have seen added is in the way the balls are pocketed - when over the hole they vanish too quickly; they don't drop but they rather just disappear, albeit with a reassuring sound. Seeing the balls fall into the pockets, and maybe also hearing them rolling through the under-table tubes to the re-rack area, would be a welcome addition. A fairly minor point though.
Here I have to admit to a language problem. Being from England my pool-speak is different to American pool-speak. I eventually managed to weave my way though the "foreign" game manual (which is quite thick for "just" a pool game), but I'm going to write in my one native snooker tongue so here's a quick lingo guide:
- US => English
- Bank => Double
- Carom => (*)
- Combination => Plant
- Draw => Screw
- English => Side
- Follow => Topspin
- Draw => Screw
- Head string => Baulk line
- Inning => Visit
- Kiss => (*)
- Kitchen => Baulk
- Masse => Swerve
- Pocket => Pot
(*) - herein lies one way in which pool requires different skills. There's no word over here for what Americans call a carom or a kiss shot, simply because in snooker they're invariably very risky shots to play. In pool with the bigger pockets they're shots you need to learn and play to good effect.
Anyway, the gameplay is also improved. In Virtual Pool 1 you could cue through other balls and the cushions. Not anymore. If you're tight against a rail or in a "Chinese snooker" (cueing over another ball) then you have to adjust for that, and you certainly won't be able to play a screw shot if you're tucked up and can only see the top half of the ball.
Controlling the cue is easy enough. To change your view you use the mouse to rotate around the cue ball. If you want to zoom in close or zoom right out you hold down the left mouse button while moving the mouse toward or away from you. If you want to view from another part of the table, e.g. to see whether one ball will pass another, you can use the 'V' key while moving the mouse. A nice feature is 'X' which when pressed gives you a quick overhead view, the virtual equivalent of raising you head for a quick check while down on a shot. To apply side, screw or topspin you use the 'E' key to allow the mouse to select where on the cue ball you want to strike - but get too ambitious and you can miscue! Then to play the shot you hold down 'S' while bringing your mouse back then forward, "simulating" a real pool cue swing. Very simple, and very effective.
To swerve the cue ball you can raise your cue butt and apply some side. If you strike down on the cue ball too hard though it will jump. So you can either deliberately jump a ball, or if you're not careful you can foul by hitting the cue ball or the object ball off the table. The jumps are very realistic - I had one ball bounce off two cushions before returning to the baize again. Judging jump shots takes a lot of practice, as do swerve shots, but then that's just like the real thing. Perhaps one point Virtual Pool 2 does fall down on is that, just like the original, it's far too easy to play what would be a very hard shot on a real table. You can play some most amazing screw or side shots, and while the physics seem very good the degree of difficulty isn't "right". Some PC golf games get around this by, for example, fluffing your shot for you should you try to use a wood in heavy rough. In Virtual Pool 2 if you want to screw twice the length of the table off a ball many feet away you can, every time. You can also get significant screw when very close to the object ball. Whether you think this is a good or bad feature will be a matter of personal taste. At least cueing over other balls is quite tricky now!
If you're a snooker player you have to adjust to the relatively huge pockets on a US pool table. You can afford to hit a cushion some distance from the pocket and still have the ball drop, but rather than using it as a "luxury" you should use it to allow you to get angles onto the next ball that you wouldn't be able to consider on a snooker table. Middle bag shots are still quite tricky, so you'll generally want to play to leave shots into corners. The tactical side of pool is as strong as the tactical element of snooker, but in different ways, and learning to adjust is fun. You can make things harder by tuning the table parameters - the table size is fixed but you can alter pocket cut and size, cloth speed and cushion speed, or you can simply select preset amateur, professional or championship tables.
It would be nice to think you can learn from the computer opponents you face in the game. While it seems some steps have been taken to reduce the outrageous shot decisions made by Virtual Pool 1 it's still quite obvious that the AI players do not pick the same shots a real player would go for, certainly not most of the time. Yes, the AI will take opportunities to plant the 9-ball in on a foul, and it will play some snookers, and it will use the push-out rule, but a noticeable slice of the shots it plays are, um, "interesting". The suspension of disbelief in playing AI players is often broken as you think "what the?" as the computer selects something bizarre. I suspect the game still "thinks" by looking at end results of shots, not how they should be made by a good player. A good player will play the cue ball along lines to both maximise the chance of position and to allow options should (s)he over or underhit the shot. The AI doesn't seem to "think" this way. It'll still give you a very good game, and if anything the top players are now not as perfect as the ones in the original, but it's not as realistic as one might hope. At least you do have 128 computer players of varying ability to choose from.
The accuracy of the ball physics seems good. I haven't played enough US pool on a full US pool table to know how accurate it is, but I found it quite easy to take good snooker knowledge and apply it in the Virtual Pool 2 world with success! The one doubt I have in my mind springs from playing Virtual Snooker, a game which had clear flaws in the ball physics - these were most pronounced in the cue ball "throw off" angle. To demonstrate the "bug" you could set up a half-ball in-off shot, and it would always throw wide (place the black ball on its spot, the white in the left middle pocket jaws and hit the black half ball on its right side - at medium pace you should go in-off into the right corner pocket, only you don't...). Given the heavier US pool balls I would expect slightly different characteristics, and from what I've played so far the game model certainly seems good enough. The box cover claims extra "physics" are taken into account for extra realism, and I'm quite impressed by what I've seen.
If you do doubt the game, it seems Interplay are offering your money back if playing Virtual Pool 2 doesn't improve your real game - for details on this offer check their home page, but this is the sort of offer I wish more game companies would make. It also makes up for the intrusive uninterruptable trailer for "Star Trek Vulcan Fury" when you install the game, and the similarly intrusive attempts to force you to register the game, even if you have no Internet connection installed.
In padding out the game, Virtual Pool 2 offers more variants to try. You can now play straight pool, 8-ball (4 variants), 9-ball, rotation, 3-ball, 6-ball, 10-ball, bank pool or one pocket. I'll admit I don't know the rules inside out for all these (by far) so I can't comment on how accurately they're implemented, but each is fun to play, with the exception of bank pool which is as exciting as having your toenails plucked out one by one. The games you'll likely see most of are 8-ball, 9-ball, rotation and straight. One little thing I miss here is related to the English variant of "pub" pool - it's there OK but an option to play with the now standard "red and yellow" balls would have been nice.
The straight pool variant requires (or "asks") that you nominate pockets and balls - you do this by hitting "CTRL-C" then clicking on an object ball and pocket on the overhead view. Alternatively you can just ignore this (as the AI players often seem to - maybe Virtual Pool 3 will have spoken calls by opponents?) and pocket what you like where you like. If you're playing another human player though the system is there to call the shots properly and call fouls when they occur.
You can play against any one of the dozens of computer opponents in a one off game or use the new tournament system to play a tournament with up to 16 players in it. Sadly it seems only one human player can enter, but the thought is there I guess. You can tweak opponent difficulty, choose to have handicaps, and choose the frames or points to play over. Coupled with this you also have unique player rankings, ranging from 1000 upwards.
As you play opponents your rankings can go up or down with every frame depending on whether you win or lose, and by an amount based on the difference in your rankings. And since each variant requires different abilities, each has its own ranking, so you might reach 1500 at "pub" 8-ball and be only 1350 at 9-ball. This neat little idea is a good way to keep players coming back for more, but it does mean the best way to boost your rating quickly is to play the best players - big gains if you win, no real loss if you lose!
This game would be good enough were it just shipped as a plain game, but it also comes with a good wedge of video clips too. One half of these are lessons from Mike Sigel in how to think and shoot pool, and as a pretty decent snooker player I was learning some interesting new insights from these - I think anyone would benefit from watching them through. Also included are the Lou Butera trick shots featured in the original game, so you now have an excellent little collection of clips to play. The good news is that rather than being just clips to watch you can also jump in and play any of the shots being shown in the videos on the Virtual Pool 2 game engine, be it a simple lesson in potting or one of the amazingly fiendish trick shots. And if that isn't enough, you can also design and save your own trick-shots to impress your friends.
I have no hesitation in recommending Virtual Pool 2 to anyone interested in pool or snooker. It looks good, it plays damn good, there's variety in the game types offered, new tournament modes and player rankings, and it is, as I said at the start, another big step towards being the ideal virtual pool game. There are some minor quibbles you could make, but they really don't spoil the enjoyment. It's certainly worth picking up if you already own the original, such is the nature of the changes. And that's probably its best recommendation - it's more than just a simple upgrade from the first game. In fact, there's no other pool game out there that comes close to the fun or realism of Virtual Pool 2, and for that it gets our Silver Award, and it's only a whisker from Gold.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
WASTELAND 2021-02-14 0 point
Of course this won't work on Win10/Win8/Win7/Vista! It's only work on Win 95/98/XP. You need virtual machine if you want to play it on modern OS. But it worth it.
Joshi4486 2018-09-12 1 point
I cant get either version working on Windows 10... Any suggestions?
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