Video games have induced many emotions inside me over the years but, I don’t think any of them felt as real as the shame I felt when the AI computer, on easy, sunk his final ball against me. As he stood there faceless and motionless with no distinguishing features but his blue and pink striped party hat, I couldn’t help but feel a little like he was mocking me. I had the last laugh however, because before restarted the game I spawned 20 bottles and began hurling them and chairs in his general direction before making my dignified exit.
Pool Nation VR Details:
These are the kind of experiences you can expect to have while playing Pool Nation VR, a billiards simulation developed by Cherry Pop Games launching today on Steam for the HTC Vive. This VR game places you in the middle of an upscale but casual pool hall surrounded by music, drinks and NPCs. You can play darts, billiards, or even juggle chairs with your friends in this multiplayer pool arena.
In Pool Nation VR, the Vive’s controllers give you the ability to do several things. Players can pick up objects by simply pulling the trigger when holding their controller near things like beer bottles, chairs and darts. You can also teleport to a location by pressing down on the top of the trackpad and pointing your controller in the area you would like to move, then release the the track pad to appear there. This same mechanic also works for the edges of the pool table; if you think you have a better shot on the other side of the table, you can simply use the teleport button and point to the edge that you want to shoot from, and you’ll be teleported to that location facing into the table. This makes moving around the table a breeze, and keeps each round of pool moving along quickly. The controller also has a ‘Clear Table’ button which removes any debris from the table that may have been thrown around by you or your opponent.
These controls all work well in allowing you to move fairly easily around the pool table to line up and make your shots. Getting the cue ball lined up perfectly with another ball and sinking it in a pocket has the satisfaction of the real thing. More advanced billiards players can even shoot lower or higher on the ball to control the spin. You can also control your power by how quickly or slowly you move your cue towards the cue ball, following through with the shot just like you would on a real pool table. The only minor critique I have with the gameplay is that I wish there were slightly more objects to throw around and interact with since I had so much fun throwing chairs and bottles around.
When it comes to actually playing billiards, rather than making a mess of broken bottles, I never felt cheated out of a potted ball due to poor physics, which is exactly what you need in a billiards simulation. This accuracy only adds to the game’s immersion and makes it that much more satisfying when you start hitting your groove and nailing shots.
I never got any motion sickness or experienced any discomfort. I felt at home walking around the pool table and lining up my shots to sink balls. It’s a simple game but it does exactly what I want it to—and that is to feel exactly like pool.
I usually play VR games with the Vive’s ‘Chaperone’ system set to developer mode, which pushes the safe-zone visualization all the way to the floor (rather than showing a blatant grid), but I couldn’t with this game. I continuously tried to walk around the table, completely focused on my shot, and would run right into a wall. This speaks to the level of immersion in Pool Nation VR. The only detractor to immersion that I found was not having a real table to lean against when shooting. However, the developer deals with this by letting the player lock their stick in place by holding the trigger of the hand that would be resting on the table. Once it is locked in place the player can focus on how much force to put on the ball. It feels fairly natural and is a pretty good substitution for resting on the table.
A big draw to this game is the multiplayer. You can challenge and interact with your friends in the virtual pool hall or join a random player with the matchmaking system. Each player has a level next to their name so you will be able to tell how experienced the other player is before the game starts. You can customize your avatar by changing the hat and pool cue to your liking to represent yourself when going up against others.
With a minimal player population prior to release, I unfortunately was not able to play against another human player, but luckily the developers included a single player mode where you play against an AI opponent. If the post-launch online experience differs in any important way from the experience of playing against an AI, we’ll be sure to update this review.
Pool Nation VR doesn’t want to be an all encompassing metaverse; it’s a place with a purpose: meet up with a friend, chat, and simply play pool. Inside this scope, it does it’s job impressively well, making it a welcome addition to the nascent social/multiplayer VR content space.
We partnered with AVA Direct to create the Exemplar Ultimate, our high-end VR hardware reference point against which we perform our tests and reviews. Exemplar is designed to push virtual reality experiences above and beyond what’s possible with systems built to lesser recommended VR specifications.