Virtual reality (VR) has the potential to take you anywhere, let you do almost anything. You can travel through space or ancient Rome, dive into the Earth’s deepest oceans and come face-to-face with prehistoric beasts. You could take out zombie hordes, joust against rival knights or defend a futuristic city from flying robot invaders. Or, if you prefer, you could play some pool.
On paper, Pool Nation VR doesn’t appear to be the most exciting thing you can do with your brand new, expensive HTC Vive. It’s the extension of a familiar formula that has already seen a number of renditions on both console on PC. However, Pool Nation is arguably the most popular virtual pool title on modern formats, and it’s reached that position for a reason. Pool Nation VR is no different: the same effort and respect for the game has gone into adapting the formula for VR as it does any other format.
What this means essentially, is that Pool Nation VR isn’t simply a VR recreation of a pool table, balls and a ruleset. It is, in fact, a virtual environment for players to enjoy a game of pool in, as well as a number of other entertainment activities. It’s more than the name suggests, and because of this Pool Nation VR is one of the most enjoyable experiences currently available for the HTC Vive.
The most immediately striking thing about Pool Nation VR is the freedom it offers. Eschewing menu systems and customisable rule definitions for simply dropping the player into its virtual dive bar, Pool Nation VR is open to unique experiences from the get-go; it’s the very definition of emergent gameplay, in the same way that real-life is rarely defined by pre-ordained rules. You’re here, in this bar, and you can play some pool if you choose to.
The numerous activities players can partake in include darts and setting the tone with the jukebox, or simply socialising in the bar. The environment featured in Pool Nation VR is a very precise recreation of a dive bar and is unfathomably inviting. It’s long been past that the invitation simply to ‘be’ in a virtual environment has outworn its welcome, but Pool Nation VR creates an atmosphere designed for socialising. However, just like a real dive bar, there’s the possibility of aggression becoming an issue: watch out as the beer bottles, pool cues and bar stools go flying.
But of course, Pool Nation VR is mainly about the pool. Players are able to choose from a variety of rulesets and play online against players, or locally against (rather brutal) AI opponents. A progression system is offered by way of XP, in which players are rewarded for continued play with unlocks of customisation items. It’s a simple but effective system.
In order to play pool without a real pool table, developers Cherry Pop Games and Perilous Orbit required a system that would allow tactile feedback without haptic response. This has lead to a ‘lock’ system, in which one of the HTC Vive’s motion-controllers is used in the hand you rest your cue and held to lock in place, while your second hand lines-up the position on the ball and asserts force. It’s intuitive and feels like a very accurate representation of actually holding a cue.
While it may not sound as exciting as fighting zombie hordes, travelling to distant worlds or roaming dungeons as a warrior on a grand quest, Pool Nation VR is one of the most complete and well presented videogames not just on the HTC Vive, but in modern VR as a whole. As with Pinball FX 2 VR, Pool Nation VR helps to prove that in these very early days of modern VR it’s often the precise recreation of real-world activities that make for the most compelling experiences. Experimenting with the abstract is a noble cause, but aiming to deliver fun in VR may well be where the greatest strides are made.