Late last year, Jaleco released World Championship Pool 2004 exclusively on the Xbox. The game received a fair amount of praise, partially because it did legitimately feature some sound pool mechanics and a healthy list of gameplay modes. Now, World Championship Pool 2004 is available for the PC, which, unlike the Xbox, is home to many other quality billiards sims. Unfortunately, this version of the game, while fairly good, doesn't really stand out.
World Championship Pool 2004's controls are quite easy to pick up, while still managing to be realistically designed. You first begin by lining up your shot using either the arrow keys on your keyboard, or the analog stick or the D pad of a peripheral controller. Depending on the difficulty level chosen, you will have the option of highlighting a path guide that shows where the ball you're aiming at will go and where the cue ball will go. After appropriately aiming your shot, you press the shot button once to move to a power meter that determines how hard your shot will be. After that, another press of the shot button brings you either to your shot animation, or in the case of a game that requires you to call your shot, you're brought to an overhead view that lets you select exactly which ball you're calling--as well as which pocket you plan to shoot it into. Additionally, during the setup of the shot, you can adjust the elevation of your pool cue by holding down a button and moving the cue up and down. You can also put a little English on the cue ball using a similar method.
The one downside to the PC version's control scheme is that the keyboard controls aren't very good. When trying to angle a shot using keys, it is simply impossible to get a proper shot lined up due to the oversensitivity of the keys. Even a gentle tap of a key will send the cue too far in one direction or the other. The same goes for trying to measure out shot power, because you can easily jump too high or slide too low when trying to adjust with the keyboard. Ultimately, this brings you to the cold reality that you pretty much need a good dual analog controller to properly play WCP 2004. The sensitivity encountered when using a controller is still a bit unwieldy at first, but with a minimal amount of practice, you can get used to it.
Though its basic gameplay mechanics aren't bad, WCP 2004's biggest asset is its gameplay depth. At its core, the game features several variations of the game of pool, including 8 Ball, 9 Ball, and snooker, as well as the more traditional, standard game of pool. Each of these games can be played in either single game or tournament form--except for snooker, which can only be played in a single game form. You can designate the number of frames in each game for a single round--all the way up to a best of 17 match--and you can customize features like location, table type, ball set, and the rules of the game. WCP 2004 also features a lengthy career mode in which you create your own customized player and then take him or her through a series of professional tournaments in hopes of earning enough cash so that you can purchase items in the game's shop mode. Items available in the mode include new clothing articles for your player, as well as new ball sets, tables, and pool cues. You can also store the trophies you win in the career mode.
Further adding to the depth of WCP 2004 are a couple of additional modes: trick shot and bonus game. The bonus game mode gives you a roster of seven games with unique rule sets. Some examples of these games include MineField, in which certain "mined" areas of a table cause balls to jump off the table if you hit them, and Unexploded Ball, which is played like a basic game of 9 Ball. However, if you don't get your shot off within a certain amount of time, the targeted ball explodes, and your turn ends. Most of these games are only simplistic variations on the basic pool games, but they're still quite amusing to play. As for the trick shot mode, here you are presented with a number of gimmicked trick shots that you must perform to unlock new shots. Think of it as the trick shot competitions you see on ESPN2--but without an opponent. Both of these modes are ultimately quite nice to have around and serve as enjoyable diversions from standard pool playing.
The last of WCP 2004's featured modes is its online/LAN support, which, while generally good, isn't nearly as fleshed-out as it could have been. Essentially, you can set up your own match, or you can join somebody else's. However, there are only two play modes available online: 8 Ball and 9 Ball. You can't play any of the other game modes online--not even snooker. Another issue we had with the mode was that, quite simply, nobody was ever on to play against. We tried for days to get a game going with another player, but nobody ever showed up online. On the plus side, the LAN mode did work just fine, but if you specifically want to get an online game going, good luck.
Where WCP 2004 starts to stumble is in its presentational values. Graphically, the game looks about on par with the Xbox version, though some of the visual flaws stick out more in the PC version. The various in-game environments are pretty nicely detailed and look like some of the typical locales you'd encounter when watching a professional pool tournament. There are some problematic details though, such as the rather nasty-looking crowd models. Each of the 70 featured professional players looks pretty good, with a nice assortment of body and facial details that make each look very true-to-life. Unfortunately, the featured pros don't animate quite as well as they look when they walk around, and certain portions of their bodies look a bit on the blocky side. As for the on-table action, it all looks pretty much like you would hope it would. The balls reflect light nicely, the physics are top-notch, and all told, it's pretty authentic-looking.
The game really falls off in regard to its sound quality, which is just plain poor. For starters, the in-game commentary is atrocious. The two commentators sound nearly identical--to the point where you have to wonder if it isn't just the same guy doing marginally different voices. The actual commentary is so wooden and hollow-sounding that turning it off is an absolute must. There is no music in the game, except for the menu music. The Xbox version of WCP 2004 had an in-game bug that caused nearly all of the sound effects to simply disappear during a game. The PC version seems to be devoid of this bug, though being able to hear the effects doesn't help the audio presentation too much.
While there's nothing markedly different between the Xbox and PC versions of World Championship Pool 2004, it's impossible to deny the fact that the game just doesn't measure up as well on the PC. PC owners have so many different pool games to choose from at this point that, really, nothing WCP 2004 does helps it to stand out from the pack. This is not to say that it's a bad game, though. So if you're looking for another pool game to add to your collection, WCP is worth checking out.