Review: Virtual Pool 4 (Steam)

Holy cow, has it really been that long? It’s been close to two decades since I played Virtual Pool regularly. By regularly I mean, little, but often, and for years. To be clear I’m not a massive pool fan, being in the UK I see snooker far more often,  I find it relaxing, pleasant to watch and,  if I’m honest, I like to doze off to it occasionally.  But, you know, sometimes you just want to knock a few balls around, pull off some cool shots, hear that satisfying click & clunk of an old pub table. Virtual Pool met that simple occasional need, it was clearly the best pool sim around and it has remained my personal benchmark for a modern pool games ever since.

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There were two chief reasons for this: first, VP was incredibly quick & easy to control with the mouse & keyboard. Spin the camera and aim with the mouse, hold down S on the keyboard, cue back and forth with the mouse. It’s so simple, it feels entirely natural, you can whizz round the table and you can easily pull off the most subtle, gentle shots when required.

Secondly, the physics were spot on. Perhaps in this day & age accurate physics in a pool sim are quite rightly a given rather than a sales-blurb-bullet-point, but they nailed reality back when slightly more ‘abstract’ or ‘good-enough’ models were still the norm. Celeris has long claimed that Virtual Pool can improve your real pool skills, and it’s hard not to believe them, especially with the large amount of video tutorials included in the game.

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Thankfully VP4 feels exactly the same now as it did back then, fast, fluid & very satisfying to play.

Virtual Pool has always included a tonne of game & rule variations, along with snooker and assorted billiards. Some of these other game types can be great fun to play, some would be fun with the right tweaks to the rule sets – which brings me to my major gripe with VP4, something that I don’t remember being a problem all those years ago. Although many settings can be changed they often remain rather inflexible: I can’t play a game of Straight Pool to 30 points, for example, the options leaping from 25 to 50 – doubling the length of your game with nothing in between. Some of these crude settings quite frankly kill any desire to play certain game types.

My greatest dissapointment of all though, something I used to love  – playing snooker on a championship pool table – is no longer possible. I would implore Celeris to remove these restrictions. Snooker, with less reds, on a nice sized pool table = snooker for normal people.

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Away from the table the presentation can look horrendously dated with ugly menus in a 4:3 aspect. VP is desperately in need of a massive visual overhaul by someone who can deliver a modern clean design.

Not that modernity has escaped completely however, online play exists via Celeris’ website and has a solid loyal community. At the time of writing buying VP4 gets you offline play that’s good for forever, and one year’s worth of online play.  Yes, that does mean there is currently a subscription model for online, although Celeris has indicated that depending upon the success of the Steam release this may well change.

Serious pool players are going to have less of a problem with subs than the general casual populace, the community itself is indeed an asset consisting as it does of friendly users with a strong sense of sportsmanship. Generally I find myself sympathising with the position Celeris find themselves in, being small & long-established but with the Steam release exposing them and VP to the masses. The ideal situation for most would of course be that online is free and utilises steamworks.

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How people are going to react to that price tag of $30/£19 and the sub, man – I just don’t know.  It’s probably cheaper now than it was all those years back, given the inflation busting nature of game prices, but Steam itself has changed our benchmarks for value. All of VP’s competitors are cheaper, all have a modern visual sheen, all have perfectly fine physics. None of them however have the comprehensive roster of game types and more importantly none of them have the control, the feel, that VP does.

So Virtual Pool 4 is still the best pool sim out there then, even with its current crop of issues. And if all those issues could be resolved : price (online & off), flexibility, presentation – I’d have no zero qualms about recommending VP4. As it is, if you’re curious, do yourself a favour and grab the demo from Celeris’ site, because the way VP controls you may well be willing to forgive everything else just as I do.

What I wouldn’t give to play snooker on a small table again though.

 

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