Though the pool simulation genre has certainly had some great games over the years, the primary bulk of these titles have only been available for the PC. Sadly, most console-based attempts at the sport of pool have generally not fared as well as their PC counterparts, thus leaving console-owning pool fans out in the cold. Jaleco's World Championship Pool 2004 for the PlayStation 2 changes all of this. It isn't the flashiest or even the most well-put-together pool game released in recent years, but it's easily one of the most feature-rich games of pool ever put onto a console, and it features an excellent variety of pool games, in addition to online support. Furthermore, it plays quite intuitively by allowing anyone--from the greenest of amateurs to the most seasoned of pool veterans--to pick it up and play without having to experience any sort of steep learning curve.
World Championship Pool 2004's controls are quite easy to pick up, while still managing to be very realistically designed. You first begin by lining up your shot using either the left analog stick or the directional pad. 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 X button once to move to a power meter that determines how hard your shot will be. After that, another press of the X 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 the square button and moving the left stick up and down. You can also put a little English on the cue ball by holding down the circle button and moving the left stick. Even if you don't immediately understand what doing things like putting English onto a ball or elevating your pool cue does for you, the game's manual explains things pretty well, and all it takes is a minimal amount of practice. The PS2 version of WCP 2004 plays just as well as its Xbox counterpart and actually even seems to feature slightly tighter controls, comparatively.
Though its basic gameplay mechanics are more than sound, where WCP 2004 really shines is in 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 support, which, while generally good, isn't nearly as fleshed-out as it could have been. Essentially, all you can really do with the interface is create or join a match. 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. On the plus side, playing both 8 Ball and 9 Ball online worked just fine, and both were plenty of fun overall. It is rather disappointing that there aren't more play options available for WCP 2004's online functionality, so ultimately, it makes the mode less appealing. We also had a little trouble finding opponents to play against online, since there was rarely anyone online to play against. With some persistence, we were able to track down an opponent or two, but you ought to be aware that it may be a bit difficult to locate another player.
Where WCP 2004 starts to stumble is in its presentational values. Graphically, the game looks decent, though pretty heavily dumbed-down compared to the Xbox and PC versions of the game. The various in-game environments are decently detailed and look like some of the typical locales you'd encounter when watching a professional pool tournament. However, some of the background touches, such as the crowd graphics, look pretty unpleasant when focused upon. Each of the 70 featured professional players looks good, with a nice assortment of body and facial details that make each look very true-to-life. Unfortunately, they don't animate quite as well as they should. Animations are rather jerky, and it actually seems like some frames are being dropped when characters move in for their shots. The on-table action 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 only issue we noted involved occasional frame hitches with ball movement that wasn't apparent in the other versions of the game. This issue is pretty minor, but it is noticeable.
Where the game really falls off is in regard to its sound quality, which is just pretty mediocre. The Xbox version of the game's in-game commentary was downright atrocious, and though the editing of it was somewhat improved for the PC version, it still sounded horrible there as well. The PS2 version's commentary is an improvement over both versions in that it features the most reasonably solid editing and decent recording. The commentary is still pretty unpleasant, though, and still isn't worth listening to, despite not being completely broken this time around. The Xbox version also featured a bug that killed all of the sound in the game in any mode that didn't feature commentary. This bug is gone in the PS2 version, so you'll be able to hear the on-the-table sound effects well enough during a game. However, there is no music in the game at all, and while the Xbox and PC versions featured customized soundtrack ability, the PS2 version lacks this feature, essentially robbing you of any background ambience during a game, save for the sound of balls cracking into one another. Overall, this version of the game sounds better than the other versions of WCP 2004, but it's still quite problematic.
When you put the sum of World Championship Pool 2004's parts together, you'll find yourself with one of the better billiards outings released for consoles in quite a long time. Yes, there are things to complain about, such as the decidedly lackluster sound quality and the lack of online gameplay modes, but outside of these complaints, the game performs very well and provides you with enough variations on the game of pool to keep you entertained for quite a while. If you're a pool enthusiast with a PlayStation 2, you ought to give World Championship Pool 2004 a look.