Virtual Pool 3
Windows - 2001
Description of Virtual Pool 3
One of the Best
The Virtual Pool series has always featured some of the best recreational sports games around. The original was released a number of years ago now and was lauded by critics for capturing the essence of real pool and raising the bar for games of this type. There have been two subsequent releases, including the compilation Virtual Pool Hall set, which was released in February of this year.
Virtual Pool 3 is certainly an improvement over these previous releases. Its more realistic graphics, short-but-helpful training videos, a nifty career mode, new multiplayer additions, and lots of other tweaks make it the best in the series thus far. Still, the actual gameplay remains almost completely unchanged.
Granted, the original game was almost flawless in how it depicted billiards. Using the mouse as the primary control device, you can position the cue at almost any angle, adjust your view of the game, and smack the cue ball into the field with very little effort. The game has an extremely short learning curve. Amazingly, the series has always re-created the game of pool so well that your ability in real-life will probably carry over to the virtual game.
The question comes down to this: Is the new version really worth buying? How you answer depends on how much you like pool and whether you own one of the first three games. For pool fanatics, there are a lot of additions that will probably help improve your game and keep you happy when you can't get out to the local pool hall (we'll cover the updates in a moment). For those who have never tried a Virtual Pool game, it is easily one of the best simulations of any recreational sport and it puts most sports simulations of any sort to shame. Casual fans who own any of the predecessors might want to pass, however. As good as the gameplay is, things haven't changed that much in the past few years.
A New Face and New Options
The most significant addition to the series is Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee, the powerhouse pool phenom who has been ranked either number one or in the top ten for the past five years by the WPBA. It's no coincidence that Virtual Pool 3 was released while WPBA tournaments are underway (including the California Classic, which is running on ESPN2 as I write this) or that the public attention has turned to indoor sports as the long cold winter begins. Lee adds a sultry side to the game of pool since she is decked out in black leather and obviously enjoyed spicing things up in her many video segments. All of her training videos are short, but they might give you some good tips for playing the real game. Of course, you'll quickly realize that Lee's presence has nothing to do with the actual gameplay unless you happen to play through the entire career mode and challenge her to a game at the end.
Welcome to the Black Widow's lair. Career mode is where most veteran players will go first. Taking its cues (excuse the pun) from popular console games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, this setting allows you to advance through various tournaments. Along the way, you'll be able to upgrade your equipment, take on increasingly tougher opponents, and unlock new locations. This might sound okay, but there are a few things missing. For one, there doesn't seem to be any difference between the computer opponents other than minor variations in their abilities. If the game intends to be more realistic, then each of the opponents should have some kind of personality and character traits. While each location is distinct (from the grimy maintenance garage all the way to Jeanette Lee's own beach house), the players in each room all seem the same.
Each room has a boss that you must beat in order to advance, but you won't be able to tell the differences between any of them because they don't appear (players are once again represented by floating pool cues) or speak during the game. Essentially, the AI just gets gradually harder with each new room. Some players seem to have a unique playing style. Some tend to put way too much power into every shot (in single player, you can customize one of about 20 AI options). The more games you win, the more cash you will accumulate. You can upgrade your cue stick as well, and there is something compelling about hoarding a bunch of cash as you win. Still, the gameplay itself never actually changes as you advance.
Some of the action on the pool table has been tweaked. I noticed that some shots seemed to react differently than in previous releases, and my power shots would either work exceptionally well (sinking more balls than I was aiming for) or would send my target over the lip of the table. There seemed to be more animations that would kick in after shots, although this is one small area where the game still seems to be lacking: there's an animation for a fast moving ball, a slow moving ball, and a ball spinning wildly out of control -- but not much more. In previous releases, I sometimes thought the ball would stop too soon, but that problem has been solved here.
Straight pool for some big bucks. As was mentioned earlier, there are many options available for setting up your shot. In addition to controlling the view and angle, you can configure any english (spin) played on the shot, reposition on the cue ball to control your eventual shape, and enable a handy tracking option that shows you where your shot will go and what will happen to your target. Tracking is not a new feature, but it's easily the best option for learning the game. Of course, tracking makes the game way too easy and is only available when you're playing alone.
Whether you're in the Career or Quick Play modes, you can select from various game types that include straight pool, 9-ball, 8-ball, the more eclectic Cribbage and Bowlliards games, plus many more. Just about any game you've ever heard of is included here.
A Replacement for the Real Thing
Graphics have been tweaked, but they still have a somewhat cartoony look to them. What's missing is some texturing on the pool table itself, which appears too much like a one-color green mat. The balls themselves have nice coloring, lighting, and shadows, though there doesn't seem as if any changes have been made to the table or the balls in different lighting conditions. The noticeable improvements are in the new locations, which look just fine, if motionless. It might have been nice if the locations had been animated and if there were moving 3D characters in the background, but there's always the next release.
Other than Career Mode, there's a Quick Play single-player option that allows you to jump right into the action. Your player's score will be maintained separately from Career play, so any of the games you play in the single player mode won't affect your career.
The multiplayer mode that uses the GameSpy Arcade matching program is straightforward enough. There is a worldwide ranking system that allows you to compete for recognition, although once again there isn't any real difference between the gameplay in the career mode and what you'll find in multiplayer.
All in all, the Virtual Pool series is one of the best around. Whether you decide to upgrade your current version depends on how much you want to see the new training videos, start a career and advance through various AI difficulty settings, and use the new, free multiplayer component. As an entry point to the series, Virtual Pool 3 is an excellent choice that can even serve as a pretty good replacement for the real thing.
Review By GamesDomain
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