There's only so much you can do to dress up a pool or snooker title to make it interesting. Unfortunately, Virtual Pool makes no effort to do this whatsoever, and the net result is a crude, ungainly slice of unaided realism. Great for die-hard fans, yet not so attractive for newcomers to the game.
Virtual Pool does pack in an impressive 14 different game modes, including the traditional six-, nine- and ten-ball variants of US pool (numbered balls in order, whoever pots the black wins the match). More familiar to we Brits is your standard red vs yellow eight-ball game, which comes complete with UK pub rules for the unclarified, and traditional snooker.
The only other feature that stands out is bowlliards. Modelled on tenpin bowling, each player has ten racks, or frames, to clear a table. Colours are redundant, and each player gets two chances per shot to continually pot balls, with scores accumulating like they would on the lane. This is actually great fun, and it makes a liberating change to be able to smash the balls around a table with somewhat controlled abandon, instead of being limited by countless minor rules.
The visuals in the game are basic and not very aesthetic, though the balls themselves do feature some nice reflections. Environments are the usual generic bar, garage or club, and lack any real detail and character, though different types of table do have a noticeable effect on the way your balls zip and clack off of each other.
The AI opponents (of which there are 116) are represented by a floating cue and some seriously scary-looking avatars at the top of the screen. We're guessing these are in actual fact the game developers and their families and friends given the range of amusingly amateur posing on show, and although their rankings ostensibly ranges from Novice to Shark, there's no discernible difference in the way they actually play. And so you have to work your way from pool hall to pool hall, betting cash and hustling your way to the top of the tree to face the sullen Curly, who also acts as your mentor.
The whole game lacks the finesse of other potting titles out there, and pales in comparison to something like World Snooker Championship 2005. There are no aiming guides or power meters - instead players change the view and cue position with buttons on the D-pad. Every shot is fiddly and awkward, and it just doesn't feel right holding down the A button whilst using the L thumbstick to stroke the cueball. This raw approach may put off more casual gamers as each shot needs to be thought through.
Multiplayer features all the regular games from the single-player Career mode, and Xbox Live is available too - more of that in our Live Review next month. Not a terrible game, but shoddy, rudimentary presentation and basic gameplay means this is one for the purists only.
A rough and ready pool sim that's strictly for the die-hard potter fan. And one that doesn't involve boy wizards.