|When I was a kid, my best friend's dad owned the
neighborhood barber shop and pool hall. At night the old man would close up shop and give
the keys to his son, who of course invited all his friends in to play pool. The pool hall
quickly became our hangout and the headquarters for all nocturnal teenage activity (licit
and illicit) in the area. Man, it was a great pool hall--it stunk of atmosphere and
Brylcreem and the cigars the old men smoked during the day. During the years I hung out
there, I had way too much fun and learned a lot about life, more or less. But I learned
virtually nothing about pool. No kidding, I'll bet I played ten thousand games of eight
ball, and in that time I got only marginally better at the damn game.
So I was interested when Virtual Pool 3 came in for
review, especially since it makes the claim right there on the box that it will
"improve your game or your money back." Well, I thought, that's a claim that
must be tested. If hours of actual eightball gameplay didn't do me (or any of my friends,
so far as I could tell) any good, how much could I learn from this mere pool game?
a lot, as it turns out. Virtual Pool 3 is an excellent pool simulator, and it comes with
tutorials and a great guide to pool by Jeanette "The Black Widow" Lee. In the
first half hour of playing Virtual Pool 3, I learned more about pool than in four years of
actually playing the stupid game. From applying English to combination shots to more
advanced trick shots, Virtual Pool tells you all you need to know about pool.
Pool 3 offers over 20 different pool variations, and the meat of the title is its career
game, in which you start with fifty bucks and a string of opponents with very limited pool
skills. Soon enough, you'll work you way into the big money matches against big-time
players, and it'll takes some serious practice to beat the heavyweights. As you gain money
and prestige, you'll also be able to purchase new equipment. Gameplay is very solid. Ball
physics are remarkably true-to-life, and learning to master English and thinking through
shots is essential to successful gameplay. Taking shots requires a combination of
keyboard/mouse controls that are sometimes a little too complex for such a simple game,
but which mostly work. And you can replay and track your shots from several moveable
Virtual Pool 3 is bundled with Gamespy
arcade, so multiplayer is easy to access and a blast to play. You can either begin an
online career and play to improve your rankings, or just drop in for a casual game. Either
way, the game plays very smoothly.
are very good, though they don't really model much more than pool balls and felt. Though
some have complained about the "floating cue" and have suggested player models
be included, I doubt that even that would remedy what is the game's weakest point--its
total lack of atmosphere and fun factor. I'm afraid that's a generic problem with all pool
games--taken out of its proper neighborhood poolhall setting, pool can be a very sterile
and academic exercise. (Try watching it on TV sometime). While playing Virtual Pool 3,
you'll sometimes feel like you're studying for a geometry exam. And yeah, I know this
makes for the kind of successful pool game I never got while hanging around the hall as a
kid. But it's not nearly as much fun.
Final call--Virtual Pool 3 is an excellent
pool sim, and an excellent pool trainer, and the multiplayer game is fun. If you want to
improve your game of pool, this is well worth your money. But if you're just some guy with
a casual interest in pool who's looking for a good time, I'd suggest running down to the
local pool hall instead.