System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7; 1.0 GHz CPU or better; 512 MB memory; 200 MB of hard-drive space; DirectX 7.0 or better, 64 MB graphics card
Release date: Available now
I once said that I’m not a big fan of sports games, usually, other than racing games. But I forgot that I also like billiards and bowling, so I was very pleasantly surprised by Pool Pro Online 3. Using Namco’s new cross-platform UniteSDK, you can play solo or online in a game of 8-ball, 9-ball or snooker against players on the PC, iPhone or iPad, with a version for the Android coming up.
This is perhaps the most beautifully rendered version of pool that I’ve ever seen. You can play solo against the computer at one of four difficulty levels to start building up your scratch (the game’s equivalent of currency). You can then spend your scratch in the Pro Shop on your choice of 16 cue stick designs, 20 felt patterns and 10 locations. Sticks and felts start at about 1,000 scratch, but the more expensive ones can cost up to 7,500 for sticks or 12,500 for felts. New locations start at 50,000 and go up from there, so you’re going to want to play online and bet your scratch against other players to build it up more quickly. You can win big…or lose big.
The control interface is so simple, you’ll be playing in a matter of minutes. Click-and-drag the bottom bar to aim, or make larger adjustments by clicking on the table and dragging left or right. Unless you have it turned off in options, a white guide shows you where the cue ball will go, and if you’re properly aimed, a colored guide shows where the targeted ball will go. (The guides don’t show you the results of banking a ball off the rails, however.) A click on the cue ball in the upper left corner of the screen lets you adjust your english on the ball. Finally, click on the cue stick on the right-hand side of the screen and drag it back to set your power level, and let go to shoot. It’s that simple.
Other controls let you zoom in and out of the playfield, or switch from a behind-the-ball view to an overhead view, or access the pause menu. From the menu, you can view the current leaderboards, look for friends, add friends to your watchlist (by their login name), or see what achievements you’ve earned. Your information is stored in your account on Namco’s servers, so if you uninstall the game for any reason, your earned scratch, online statistics, and anything you’ve bought at the pro shop will still be available when you return.
So far, I’ve only found one bug in the game, and it might exist only in the press version I played. Under specific circumstances, it’s possible for the opponent to scratch. The game gives you “ball in hand,” like it should, but you cannot reposition the ball, or even to play the ball where it lies. When this happens (it’s very rare, and once you know what causes it, you can simply avoid it), you have no choice but to quit the game and start a new one. I also don’t know if this bug exists in online play, or single-player only.
Pro Pool Online 3 is a great purchase for pool fans everywhere. The ability to compete with your friends online, no matter what platform they’re using, quite frankly impressed me. The graphics are beautifully done, the learning curve is practically nonexistent, and, most importantly, the physics are the most realistic of any pool game I’ve ever played. The price is right, too, at just $9.99.