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Review by: David Laprad
Published: January 26, 2001
Pool is a beautiful game. I love entering a billiards hall, stopping for a moment and breathing in the atmosphere. There’s something calming in seeing the tables through the dull light and hearing the quiet tapping of balls. Just as enticing is the art of the sport, with its complex mechanics and clever strategies. I also get a great deal of pleasure from watching someone who is accomplished and understands the intricacies of the game compete. It has been a challenge for PC developers to produce an accurate representation of billiards for a number of reasons, including the aforementioned mechanics and the immaterial sense of atmosphere that is so difficult to capture. Despite this, one design studio has managed to remain at the cutting edge of pool simulations since the mid 1990′s: Celeris with their Virtual Pool series. Part 3 has just hit stores, so it’s time for another glance at this classic franchise.
For those needing a brief primer, the Virtual Pool series has earned the praise of both fans and critics with its uncompromising approach to realism and ease-of-use. The prior installments each contained their own innovations, but the heart and substance of the franchise has never changed: bring 8 Ball, 9 Ball and more to the PC with the same sense of exactitude as one would find on a real pool table. Another goal has been to imbue the titles with enough depth to appeal to hardcore users while allowing newcomers and casual users to load up a fast match without memorizing fistfuls of commands. The latest installment continues the tradition of offering ongoing innovation wrapped up in more features, enhanced realism and– believe it or not–an even greater spirit of fun.
The moment Virtual Pool 3 loads, the first major addition becomes apparent: Jeannete Lee, one of the most notable competitors in her field. Sports games have long used top athletes to bring attention to their products, but in this case, Lee also contributes a helping hand with a series of training videos designed for amateurs. A Korean American, Lee has won numerous tournaments and was rated the number one female competitor in the world in 1996. Her presence in VP3 exudes an apparent passion for the sport, even if she does stumble across some of her lines in the videos. Beating this acute master in the Career mode is the ultimate goal–and it does not prove simple.
Attentive readers who are also long-time fans of this series will notice something interesting in that last sentence: the mention of a Career mode. That’s right, Celeris has, at long last, implemented a Career mode, giving us the motivation to improve our abilities and the chance to do something other than load endless single matches. The Career mode is launched in one of two places–The Garage or the Hawg Pen–against a less than talented group of competitors. Better not laugh at their game, though, because these are the sorts of venues most people avoid because of their reputed bad element. Starting out with 50 dollars, the idea is to beat all comers and earn enough cash to compete against the local boss, Big T. And so it progresses, with fancier locations opening up with each successive triumph until the user earns ten grand, which is enough to challenge Lee. In-between matches, users can visit a billiards shop and purchase new cues and cases based on actual sponsored products.
Careful readers will notice another interesting word from the last paragraph: “locations.” Celeris has revamped the graphics engine powering this series and included eight detailed environments that range in taste from the aforementioned garage to the palatial Monte Carlo casino private room and Lee’s beach house. The visual enhancements are more than aesthetic; the interface has also been rebuilt from the ground up to offer users more options for controlling the camera and the on-table action. I will discuss both the locations and the interface more in our criteria section, but for now, it is enough to write that Celeris has put considerable effort into ensuring that VP3 is the most attractive and powerful pool simulation around.
Celeris has also made strides toward creating the most comprehensive PC pool game to date. Inside the eight venues, users will be able to compete in 18 different modes. These include the requisite renditions of 8 Ball, 9 Ball and so on, as well as some unique variations, such as Bowlliards, which is pool with a bowling scoring format. Multiple rule sets are included where applicable, so users who prefer Midwest to APA rules when competing in 8 Ball will find their needs addressed. Also included is a lo-o-o-ng list of computer-controlled opponents who represent a broad range of talent from novice to professional. Although these characters are integrated into the Career mode, Celeris has also implemented a single match mode in which users can create a character and select from this stable of competitors. This single match mode sports another of VP3‘s new features: a Ghost Ball that helps users line up their shots. So, new content aside, does Celeris offer the same caliber of product that made Virtual Pool the best-selling PC pool series to date?
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