|Ultimate 8 Ball is an ambitious project designed to bring a realistic and
challenging pool game into the video game arena. You can choose between fourteen different
games-- ranging from traditional Eight Ball to the somewhat exotic Bank Pool and the
challenging Speed Pool-- as you test your skills against fifteen different computer
opponents on your way to becoming the ultimate pool guru. After finishing my first round
of Ultimate 8 Ball I sat back to reflect on the first thoughts on the experience:
"Yep. It's a pool game." My second thought was: "All things considered,
it's a pretty good pool game."
Ultimate 8 Ball is a very precise and challenging game, so before embarking on an actual tournament or hustle game you'll want to check into the school of pool for a tutorial and a few pointers. The School of Pool is divided into three separate tutorials: Basic Potting, Positional Potting and Advanced Shots. The school is very thorough in what it covers, but it suffers from a few problems that really limit its effectiveness. Before attempting a shot you can read an explanation of it and then see a computer opponent execute the shot. Unfortunately, when the computer takes the shot it often gives you a terriable angle which prevents you from seeing anything except the back of the cue stick. At other times it mysteriously shows the shot from a perspective that can't be reached at any other time in the game. These drawbacks combine to make the shot demonstration an ineffective learning tool. When attempting the shot for yourself you can choose to line it up with the naked eye or you can turn the Training Lines on. The Training Lines show you exactly how everry ball on the table is going to react to your shot, so once they're properly aligned it's impossible to miss the pocket. This is interesting at first, but, since you can't miss while they're turned on, they have minimal value as a learning tool and are best suited for goofing off and attempting trick shots.
During the regular game play you have the option of turning on Sight Lines that give you a cross hair which will enable you to pinpoint exactly where you will strike the ball you're aiming at. This is an excellent tool for learning the ropes, but inexplicably you are unable to turn them on during the tutorial or practice mode. Alternately you can practice with the Training Lines, but you cannot use them in the regular game. This is a frustrating situation that severely detracts from the effectiveness of the tutorial and makes it difficult to use.
During regular gameplay you can choose between single matches, multi-opponent tournaments and hustle games. While in the hustle mode you begin by competing against weaker opponents, and as you continue to win you gradually unlock stronger players, new venues, and alternate tables to play on. THQ did an excellent job of providing very distinct playing styles for the fifteen different opponents you face. Each opponent has their own style of shooting, shots they're good at, and games they prefer. This is a nice touch that adds a lot of depth and character to the title. In a game about playing pool, depth and personality is something that isn't easy to achieve.
Ultimately, however, in a game like this playability is going to make or break the title. The first thing you should understand is that getting good enough to play at the top level isn't just challenging; it's hard. Learning to consistently judge the correct angle and force required to sink the ball is difficult. Learning to do this and leave the cue ball in a position to make your next shot will require lots of practice and patience. The above-mentioned shortcomings with the tutorial and practice modes only compound the problem. If you want to truly master this game, you had better br prepared to commit a significant time investment.
Overall the graphics are great, with a few exceptions. The game uses rich vibrant colors that give it a detailed and visually stimulating atmosphere. The ball movement is highly detailed, realistic and precise. You can pivot your visual field in a complete three hundred and sixty degrees around the cue ball and the effect is very smooth. On the downside, with the exception of the overhead shot, you cannot leave the perspective of the cue ball to see the table from other angles. Being able to rotate the table would have been a nice feature that would have made it easier for beginners to get a feel for the angles involved in the shot. The game also suffers from a graphic glitch that arises when the cue ball is resting too close to one of the side rails of the table. When this happens the cue stick projects straight up in the air and it seems as if your character is somehow managing to hold it directly between his eyes. This effect significantly obscures your field of vision, and although you can rotate the perspective vertically to avoid seeing only the cue stick, this will often mean that you must choose between seeing the ball you are aiming at and the pocket you are trying to put it in -- a very frustrating situation that will usually result in a missed shot.
The multiplayer mode allows up to sixteen human or computer players to compete in either match play or a tournament. You have the full range of fourteen different games to choose from as well as table sizes and location. Having two or more human players competing is one of the more enjoyable modes of this game as it provides a great opportunity to do some serious trash talking with your friends. If everyone competing is at approximately the same skill level, this is also a great way to get some experience at sinking shots. You can take as long as you need to finish the game without getting wiped out by the CPU opponents after only knocking in one ball.
This game has to be viewed with your particular background in mind when debating whether or not to give it a shot. The bottom line with Ultimate 8 Ball is that pool enthusiasts will find a wealth of challenge, depth, and variety in the different types of games available that will keep the game interesting for a long time. Those of us with only a passing interest in pool will likely find that the game requires too much work for too little pay off and it just isn't worth the time.