By Matt Carey
Video game iterations of pool have always been a hit and miss affair. I mean, pool is a staple diet for those that like to go and sink a few bevies with their mates on a Friday night, so when a digital representation is created it is always missing the beer and the banter. Ok, you could still drink a beer on your own and have a chat with the dog, but that is just sad. Without a social element, pool becomes a lesson in programming realistic physics more than anything else. So, Dark Energy Digital have tried to alleviate the problem with Inferno Pool.
To get it out of the way first, I should note that the bog-standard pool game-modes that you would expect are included, namely 8 and 9 ball. These are as basic as you would imagine and there is no real customisation. Well, apart from the obligatory aiming options. The actual playing of game is simple enough; the controls are easy to master and all the mathematical mumbo jumbo behind the scenes does what it should. So the ball moves properly, which is good.
But you’re wondering why this is called Inferno Pool, so I shall explain. Inferno would indicate the presence of fire, obviously, and the main gimmick match has plenty of it. The match itself is played against multiple opponents. Each player has their own table with the aim of the game to clear your table before anyone else. Now this sounds simple enough, but the ‘fun’ comes from what you do with the potted balls. Once a sink a ball, you then have the choice to either send it onto an opponent’s table or save it and send multiple balls at once. The ‘inferno’ comes from the pockets. Every time you sink a ball, flames inexplicably burst out of the pockets. Worth the effort, I don’t think.
Unfortunately, the mode isn’t much fun. There is no time for strategy as the aggressive nature of the mode means that you have to play as quickly as possible. In the end, the matches develop into lining up the shots with no real care or attention, just in the hope that you will get your balls down quickly. Then you keep missing, your opponents don’t, and you suddenly have more balls to wallop. If you try and slow things down too much you find yourself in the same boat. So you have to be very quick, and very accurate. Not easy.
In an effort to pad things out, there is also Endurance mode. Things start simple enough as you set about clearing the table. However, as time progresses, another ball gets added. Then another. And so on. Eventually, things become so crowded on the table things get a little tricky. I actually like the concept behind this mode. Much like the previous mode, there is a fine line between speed and strategy that must be adhered to. However, things are more forgiving here. Because the balls coming at you are at timed intervals, there is a lot more order to the game-play than ‘Inferno’. One ball coming every so often is certainly a lot more manageable than multiple balls at random times.
For a presentation point of view, pool games all look a little samey. To be fair, it is hard to spice things up when the main focus of the game is some baize covered slate and a few balls. But, try they have, and we find the table placed in strange warehouses and the like, with everything looking very grubby and industrial. It is a bit bizarre, but fits in with the general theme. However, they are not particularly special. I’ve seen better looking games on the Arcade, but in all honesty none of it is important. As long as the table looks like a table and the balls look like balls, that is all that matters.
All this pales in comparison to the God-awful sound. Within seconds of hearing the uninspired crap-techno beats I had hit the guide button and selected my own music. And as for the voice over shouting “Inferno” every time a ball goes down a pocket, let’s just say that it resides on my cleavage. Seriously, this is not 1988, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not all the rage anymore, so why do games keep appearing that think that this approach to being “cool” is acceptable?
After some serious effort in finding an opponent (days were spent trying), I managed to give the multiplayer a bash too. It took so long, mainly because there are very few people playing. However, the games themselves ran smoothly, with no connection issues, collision detection problems, or other such annoyances there to interfere with play. The game modes are as you would find offline, and are about as much fun.
The beautiful thing about Live Arcade is that with the relaxed attitude to content, and the smaller memory budget allowed, the opportunity is there for smaller companies to try out new ideas and take a bit of a risk. Time and again we have seen titles emerge with little or no great expectation and really take the bull by the horns. Braid, for example. This is to be commended. It is the ‘throw lots of crap at the wall and see what sticks’ principle. Choice and variety is the spice of life, and yes, there may be a lot of average titles out there, but when one great one comes through, it shines through like a beacon of hope. Inferno Pool, however, is one of the ones that didn’t stick. Whilst a big ‘thumbs up’ goes to Dark Energy Digital for trying something different, the actuality of something that may have sounded good on paper is that, in practice, it just doesn’t work. I doubt that anything could have been done to improve the game. Sure, the graphics and sound could be better, but you know what they say about books and covers.