Down your local pub, you may be lucky enough to buy your Stella and check the old pool table to see if the line of 20p coins on the side are diminished enough to get your place in the queue to have a game with your mates.
While supping your well earned alcoholic beverage, it can only be assumed your skills are lessened as you sup to your hearts desire to the bottom of the glass, only to find it is your round next.
Pool has a darker side to it though. Hustling people out of money is one such aspect where you think you are playing against a complete amateur, so when the opponent, this the absurdly bad player from Mars suggests a little wager during the game. Now with the odd few pints downed your desire to say yes and gamble is all too easy and you see this man from another planet become Superman in a very brief few moments. Not only have you purchased the last round, but you have also lost your weeks wages.
Pool Shark II takes on this darker side of pool in the single player making pool much more then just beating your opponent with style. Instead you have to work out how good your opponent actually is before risking to accept his wager, or yourself advancing the amount for a win. It is nice to see something refreshing like this used in what could have been just another pool game with enhanced graphics. Instead though the hustling mode makes you think before placing or accepting the wager making the game feel more tactical then ever before on the Xbox console.
With a lot of games, features are advertised as something that you wanted, but never had until the release of their new, brand spanking, dazzle in your face, title. Execution in this hustle feature though is absolutely awful. I will give you an example:
Playing the US style 9-ball pool which means in very simple terms, as long as you hit the target ball first, you can actually if clever enough pot the 9-ball as well therefore winning the game. There is a lot of skill in this, but the hustle mode will cheat you very easily, but not I am afraid to say realistically. This was about my third game on this title, the opponent played seemingly average, bravely (well actually not so bravely seeing I was winning 5-1 and just needed one more game to win) accepted the advance in the wager. What seemed only a flitting few moments I was trounced into the ground by a whirlwind comeback by the computer controlled opponent. I literally didn’t have a chance no matter how well I played. To add to my frustration 2 of the games the computer opponent won were off the break! Yes that is correct, not once but twice, with one shot on his turn to break, he potted the key 9-ball and it was over. Once is a fluke, but twice is taking the … well I am sure you can imagine the rest of that sentence.
So the computer is a pain in the backside and unrealistic in its hustling mode. So you look forward to the fact that online, the hustling mode has a chance against a real human opponent. Oh what’s that! There is no hustling mode online you say? Erm that is a shame! Something that could have saved the game online has been dashed again!
The game engine is strikingly familiar as it is the Codemasters published World Snooker 2004 engine. This is no bad thing. The engine is very refined, and brilliantly Pool Shark II has taken it much further. Aiming is exactly the same as you would expect, and the physics are perfection. The graphics are sheer loveliness in glass bottle. Clever locations with some smashing visuals and atmosphere taking you around the world in all sorts of locations where you would expect to see a pool table. The characters look really good, however the female cast lacks a certain bounce that me and others sorely missed. Maybe too much playing Dead or Alive 3 has given us pleasure in so many ways! I am sure you know what I am referring to? What you want telling anyway? Well you know.. To carry the pub analogy further, her jugs! That help? If you are still confused, I suggest you ask one of our staff, they are just about naughty enough to have some insight into my mad mind!
Atmospherically the game has some superb features. In one of the locations you are in a truckers stop off where alcohol and pool are entrenched in grease and oil. Listen as trucks pull up outside and pull away while you attempt to win the day and the cash. Looking around you see the other people enjoying their stay and you realize that a lot of attention to detail has been made. However underneath this gloss there are problems. The novelty factor of big rigs outside driving in and out soon becomes overly repetitive. Instead of a treat every now and then, it is a constant grinding to your sensitive ear drums. Then there is the character voices. Interesting again, but after every shot they have to say something! Why oh why after every shot? Surely someone said at some point during development that this was a bad idea?
For a game that is so well polished in gameplay (generally ignoring the hustle mode) and graphically a very smart piece of work, I am left feeling very dissatisfied, and really I should be leaping to a what should have been an excellent game. The hustle mode really does mess about with the gameplay and this has spoilt the enjoyment. Even the jukebox to play those tracks off your hard drive doesn’t work properly. You select the music you want from your hard drive, hear the first track and then reverts back to the game music. grrr..
Normally with an online title, you can get something familiar to fun online, however there are very few people online playing the game. I only managed a game when one of my Xbox Live friends logged into the game. My I loaded that game so fast, I could have broken the drive. As of writing this review, only 16 people, yes that is not a misprint, 16 people only have played a ranked game! Not exactly a wealth of online gaming.
We should be very excited about this game. There are some really impressive touches, but the execution is so bad and frustrating anything positive soon becomes a negative that will destroy your faith in pool games. Novelty does not last long. This game should have been so much better, the ingredients are there already, but unfortunately someone has made some bad decisions and it has upset the polish of a now average pool title.