If a PC game title ends with a digit, there's a good chance it is a sequel. Yet in the case of Infogrames' latest pool simulation, that axiom is only partly true. Although Real Pool 2 is indeed the sequel to Real Pool, the original never did see the light of day as a PC product and was instead released only for the PlayStation 2 system. Perhaps that's why its successor lacks much of the sophistication found in practically every other PC pool game of the last half-decade. Real Pool 2 may offer pretty graphics and tolerable ball action, but it comes up short in so many other areas that it cannot be heartily recommended to enthusiasts of either the real-life or virtual pastime.
In Real Pool 2, developer Groove Alliance has pieced together a rather rudimentary package that is neither deep enough for veterans nor instructive enough for rookies. The game features just four pool variants--eight ball, nine ball, straight pool, and one pocket--a less-than-grand total that absolutely pales in comparison with the 20-plus alternatives offered by Interplay's far superior Virtual Pool 3 or Expert Pool, Psygnosis' ancient 1999 release. Worse still, it permits almost no customization to game settings, thus compelling you to adapt to a fixed ball speed, fixed table characteristics, and just one set of rules. This is a particularly vexing problem for those who are accustomed to playing real-life pool under certain guidelines or on a certain type of table. For example, anyone accustomed to a fast table will likely be disappointed that all Real Pool 2 surfaces are identically slow and sluggish. Likewise, those schooled in the no-fluke variety of eight ball, wherein every shot and pocket must be called in advance, will be astonished to find that their computer opponents can sink balls any way their circuit-driven digital hearts desire. Right up until the eight ball, that is, which is the only ball that ever needs to be called.
And that's not the only reason you'll come to seriously question the game's artificially intelligent competitors. Unlike Virtual Pool 3's AI, which makes relatively clever choices throughout and is almost invincible at the uppermost difficulty levels, Real Pool 2's is consistently scatterbrained. From no-talent punks to supposed champions, all 12 virtual players are prone to bizarre shot selections and highly suspect strategies. Nor do they actually handle their cues. In contrast with the talking, walking, animated opponents of Expert Pool and THQ's otherwise middling Ultimate 8 Ball, Real Pool 2 players are imperceptible except for a small static photo in the upper-right corner of the screen and their eerily free-floating cue stick. As such, it will undoubtedly feel quite lonely out there unless you opt for the game's multiplayer modes, wherein two humans can face off on the same computer or on two remote machines via a LAN or Infogrames' Internet server. The latter features a matchmaking service and thus aids in the process of tracking down new competition.
No matter whom you play, you'll soon find that Real Pool 2 delivers workable but imperfect and somewhat simplistic ball physics. For the most part, object and target balls move in the direction and at the speed they were intended. Cue balls react believably to the degree of English imparted upon them, and cushions offer plausible deflections. However, all balls slow unrealistically in the last two or three feet of their journey and generally stop rolling long before they should. Furthermore, no ball will ever rise above the playing surface, even when struck with devastating force or by a moon-shot undercut. Certainly, there will be no jump shots in this game.
Even Real Pool 2's aiming aid, an optional graphical overlay that displays prospective ball paths in advance of upcoming shots, is flawed. Although it most often correctly forecasts movement and therefore is generally a reliable cheat, it is also sometimes flat-out wrong. Nor does it factor balls outside the immediate vicinity, as does Virtual Pool's substantially more complex "tracking lines," focusing instead on the cue ball, the object ball, and possibly an obvious combination. Thus, it can't even be counted upon as a dependable pool physics tutor.
In fact, the game offers no lessons or tutorials of any kind, apart from basic game rules and conventions. It does offer two modes of gameplay, quickie and championship, but it does not let you modify the latter beyond its generic four-tier structure. And although you do have a choice of four different tables and four different venues in quickie mode, the dissimilarities between the four are purely cosmetic. Postgame victory celebrations are anticlimactic in championship mode and undetectable in quickie mode. All of the above combines to make Real Pool 2 one of the shallowest pool games to be released in a while.
Fortunately, it does look good. Perhaps it's because no pool game has been released in the past year to take advantage of the latest graphics technology, or perhaps it's because Groove Alliance simply put a lot of effort into the visual presentation. Whatever the reason, Real Pool 2 captures all the important visual elements better than any prior PC pool game. The balls are beautifully three-dimensional, with real-time shadows underneath and light reflections on top. The tables are gritty and realistic and clearly lined with felt. Overhead lamps cast believable lighting, and nearby environments, like the opulent antiquated architecture of Le Palace, are undeniably appealing. It is too bad then that your opponents are both unseen and unheard. Doubly too bad that game audio consists strictly of drab new-age guitar and less-than-dramatic sound effects.
At less than $20, Real Pool 2 is approximately half the price of Virtual Pool 3 or Expert Pool (when they debuted). Yet considering what you get for the money, that price differential is certainly understandable. Real Pool 2 becomes a workable proposition only if you can't find either of those golden oldies in the discount bin.