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A.P.I Review: Ultimate 8 Ball
Developer: Gremlin OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: THQ 1-16 Player Multi-tap
Game Type: Pool Sim Memory Card
Review Date: August 1999 Mouse & Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Playstation pool games are only just starting to evolve. Virtual Pool was the first to be released almost eighteen months ago and although the PC version is still regarded as one of the best game of this type, the Playstation port received only moderate success.

Genre

Ultimate 8 Ball features 10 three dimensional polygonal pool room environments, 18 animated characters and over 30 tables with accurate physics. It should help fill a gaping void in the lives of all of you that dream of recreating past bar glories in the comfort of your own living room.

Graphics

Usually pool games are fairly gloomy when it comes down to visuals... line up the cue, strike the ball with accuracy and revert to a top down view to watch and hope as the balls scatter. Gremlin Interactive have taken a standard pool table and a full rack of balls and actually come up with something slightly more interesting.

There are also a fair share of babes who will lean provocatively over the table, taking your mind off your balls for a few too many seconds. You will have to play against 18 wacky characters from around the world to become the pool champ. Each has their own style of play, personality and skill level that you will have to overcome.

Each shot may be viewed from a top down, or third person viewing angle. Virtually every camera position is catered for with the inclusion of a zoom and peek button that offers total camera control to the player. This leaves no excuses for a poor shot because you can actually move right in up tight behind the cue ball, or wander aimlessly around the table when checking out your angles.

The game speed is maintained at a silky-smooth rate at all times giving a high-class playing experience as the superb physics engine offers accurate ball movement. The pace of the ball seems to differ according to the playing surface. Some shots take an age to come to rest, while other balls struggle to run up against the cloth. You can even chip balls off the tables.

Regarding the tables.... Success in the Hustle mode gradually opens up a selection of wonderful pool tables of all shapes and sizes. There are three pocket triangular, four pocket kite, six pocket hexagonal, 'L' shaped and glass tables. Red, green, and blue baize. Solid and see-through surfaces. In fact there are 30 in all, varying in size and geometry, offering a wealth of interesting gameplay.

I only found one problem with the visuals, although it could be considered by some to be quite serious. Most of the tables have a flat, true playing surface. However, the baize runs up the sides, and slightly over, the edges of the table. Now because most of the playing venues are set in a dark and dingy environment I constantly found myself misjudging the pockets. At first I thought that the ball was rebounding off the side cushions at least an inch before it got there, but soon realized that it was connecting with this 'camouflaged lip'. Playing doubles accurately became extremely frustrating. The game is still playable, but this optical illusion is a bad error in design.

Sounds and Effects

Don't expect too much chatter about the sound effects in a pool game. The clatter as the pack is broken up and the rattle of ball going into pocket is accurate as one would expect. The background music changes with the scenery ranging from electronic vibes at the futuristic cafe venues to hard rock in the backstreet bars.

Playability

The entire gameplay would fall flat on the floor had the balls not reacted as they would in real life. Gremlin Interactive have been working tirelessly for over two years to create a full 3D maths, physics engine and the result of their success is fully evident in Ultimate 8 Ball. Once you get to grips with the unique control method it actually feels as if you are pushing a real pool ball around a real table. It is so important to create this effect and Gremlin have certainly succeeded where others have failed.

Before commencing play you may wish to take a mosey along to the School of Pool. Here you will discover the facilities which will improve your game, should your cue arm be a little rusty. There's a nice Interactive Tutorial for advanced shots, positional and basic potting. Each challenge may be explained, viewed or played. How many different sets of rules are there for pool games? Too many! To solve this problem Gremlin have included a dossier with fourteen sets of rules including local variations and sub options. Practice a rack on your own without fear of defeat with between one and fifteen balls while the School of Pool also includes the now customary selection of Trick Shots to play or watch.

Okay, it's time to stack 'em, rack 'em and smack 'em!

Quick Start allows you to start a match without setting the game options. Simply decide on the number of players and difficulty setting, then off you go.

Match is a single game against the player of your choice. Location and rules may be defined for this match which include number of games, table size, table style, points required, type of balls, call shot rule and number of balls in rack.

Tournament is a knockout competition where up to sixteen human or CPU players compete to determine the outright winner.

Hustle is a single player game where CPU players are ranked by their talent. Up to four players are initially available to play. Defeat one of them and you move up to the next difficulty mode until you finally earn the chance to take on Philly Joe, the reigning champion. Each new character and style of pool table that is unveiled becomes selectable in other modes.

Before beginning any mode of play you must first confirm which rules both players will adhere to. There's not just your standard 8-ball US rules either. 9-ball, 10-ball, 3-ball, 6-ball, Rotation, Bank, Speed Pool, One Pocket, Cut-Throat, and Killer Pool are just a few of the styles you'll have to learn. There is even a set of Ten Pin Bowling Pool rules. There are many variations in each location, which means you have to use every ounce of your skill to succeed, and maybe a few trick shots. The number of games required for a win may be set from a single game up to first to 50.

Ultimate 8 Ball may be played using standard, analog or mouse pad. When using the analog controller the left stick is used to aim and adjust, while the right stick moves the camera view. Lining up a shot could not be easier thanks to the intelligent use of the shoulder buttons. Holding down R1 (Next Ball) allows you to quickly target the position of each of the balls. Fine tune slows down the operating speed of the control system. You may also apply a little English or adjust the butt angle of your cue to perform swerves and jump shots.

Finally Gremlin have incorporated an idea from their golfing games to allow more precise cue action... a Power Bar. By holding down the Shoot button you may adjust a sliding bar to adjust the strength of your shot. A large black bar will result in a much stronger hit of the ball while a tiny slot allows you to carefully stroke the ball with precision. Once you let go of the Shoot button a colored power lever will constantly move up and down within the black bar. The further up the scale... the more powerful the shot. A further tap of the Shoot button determines the strength of your shot. This system allows unprecedented control over the cue ball resulting in extremely accurate gameplay.

Value for Money

Pool just got a lot more exciting. No Longer will you be limited to one mundane green table. You can tour the world, play many different styles of pool on many different shapes of table in the Hustler game. Ultimate 8 ball offers excellent VFM and should keep the average pool player going well into the night.

Opinion
TOM
GRAPHICS: 17/20 Ultimate 8-ball is a real treat for all of you pool aficionados out there. It offers an abundance of games (15!) that will challenge and amuse you.

The tables are colorful and varied from totally normal looking legal sized models to tables that could only be created and played in videogame land.

The graphics are nice and crisp and the animation cruises along at a speedy 60fps. I also like the fact that when you play against a computer opponent in the story mode, you actually see that character shooting the ball! I also liked the speedy gameplay and lack of transition time between the computers shot and mine.

Overall, pool games on the Playstation seem to just get better and better with each new title and this one ranks right up their with Backstreet Billiards. Each game has its own plus and minuses...now if someone would just combine the two!
If you enjoy pool games you will definitely want to check this one out. If your not sure, you may want to rent it for a party and see how it goes over...perhaps shooting each ball for a drink!
SOUND: 6/10
PLAYABILITY: 47/50
VALUE: 18/20
OVERALL 88%

 

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