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XB1 Games with Gold Review: Pool Nation FX

To celebrate over 100 million downloads since the Games with Gold program launched, Microsoft recently released two games for the Xbox One platform this month and four on the Xbox 360.

I've previously reviewed the first title released on the Xbox One, which was 'Child of Light' and this is a great JRPG that is certainly worth downloading if you have an Xbox Live Gold account!

Sadly (in my opinion) the second title ‘Pool Nation FX’ is not quite in the same league in all fairness. I think the main problem with the latter is it suffers from a couple of bugs; though what game doesn't these days!

But I think the main gripe is the extraordinary long loading times! For example the game starts up and then proceeds to bring up a loading bar at the base of the screen. You then need to wait minutes (you can literally make yourself a cup of tea and it will still be loading when you get back) for this to reach the end. However when this does finally happen the next batch of loading takes place! To make matters worse I have also had the game crash back to the home screen at one point – thankfully this has not happened since.

What this means is by the time you are in the game you are already frustrated by the long loading times and the struggle for me continued once I got into the main menu area.

For a start – if memory serves - you are introduced to some of the controls before being placed in the practice section of the game. After heading to the menu, for a brief moment to look at what options were available, I tried to return to my practice session - using the B (Back button) - but this did nothing! So basically I lost my progress!

I have to admit even selecting the various menu options was not that intuitive either – compared to a lot of games I’ve played recently. For example the main menu is split into two sections - which needs to be navigated with the top bumper buttons - while the the left/right thumb sticks are required to select and scroll through menu options.

What’s On Offer?

With those grumbles out of the way when you finally get to grips with everything I have to admit Pool Nation FX does at least offer plenty of game modes to sink your pool teeth into.

These are split into Online Competitive or friendly matches (2 vs 2 in this mode), Single player and practice sections.

In the Online and Single Player options you can head into sub-game types and even customise the game rules before playing. For example Trick shot modes are available where you can customise your own fancy trick shots, but to be honest this mode was a little fiddly. Then there is Endurance mode which is almost like Horde Mode but with balls instead of grunts! In this mode you have to continuously pot balls for as long as possible without reaching the table limit of 24.

Additionally you have options such as Golf which is another variation of the standard game. Here you have to pot balls into the designated pocket and do this before you opponent does.

You also have games where you have to pot three balls faster than your opponent. Likewise you can play standard 8 ball US/UK or 9 Pool rule games (thankfully there is a help function which tells you the rules of each game type) and there is even a game of Snooker that you can setup and delve into as well.

Finally there is a career option which offers the chance to compete in round-based competitive games against the AI; with the aim being to reach and win the final.

In-Game

Whatever option you play in you will need to hang around for a bit longer while the Unreal 4 engine based visuals kick in and you are then treated to a fly-over of the table - which tries to give the game a more sporty feel.

Graphically it does look OK, but the accompanying music is a touch on the irritating side and when you get to the table the visual quality is damped slightly by the controls and AI opponents.

There are a fair few controls to work with to be honest, but in some ways once you get accustomed to the way the game plays only a handful are needed! For me I simply used the d-pad to perform screw back shots and the left and right thumb sticks for adjusting the camera angle and taking the shots themselves.

The left thumbstick camera angles are also pretty limited and there is a sense that the graphic engine does not work that smoothly here - especially when changing your view from an eye level to an overhead view.

Strangely when the AI is taking a shot you can use both the left and right stick to move the camera anywhere; but not when taking a shot of your own.

Speaking of which the shot taking system is also a little cumbersome at times, as I found it difficult to get the power accuracy I required. This is because you need to move the right stick back to gain the power and then push forward to unleash it (I think there are ways you can hold the power level, but this was fiddly).

However with the novice aids turned on you can eventually line-up and take some nifty shots. Here you have a coloured indicator showcasing where the object ball is going, while a white line showcases the direction of the white ball.

Sadly a lot of the action is once again limited by the camera angles and in all fairness the analogue thumb sticks do not offer enough precision - so I was having to spend longer trying to double back on myself to position the shot properly.

Additionally you do get times when a slow-mo cam pops up to indicate you have done a great shot, the problem here is the graphic engine once more makes it feel a little sluggish (you can turn this option off mind).

I also nearly forgot to mention another grumble of mine and this could be associated with the novice aids, as when you take a shot it tries to place you at the next available ball that it feels you should pot next. Half the time it’s not what I want, so I can see the novice aids being removed quickly.

AI Godlike!

While I like a challenge in the games I play, I also like fairness and when playing against a Novice AI opponent I don’t expect it to pot virtually every ball on the table before I even get a shot myself!

I would hate to turn up the difficulty a notch otherwise I may as well not play the game at all! While this sounds childish I have to admit it was based more on the inaccuracy of the difficulty level rather than anything else. However during testing people in my vicinity where laughing at me constantly because all they could hear was me continuously cussing the AI players!

Online

Thankfully the saving grace for this title comes from the online option, where you play against real opponents!

However it’s here that I need to mention the in-game cash system. By this I mean you may need a certain amount of in-game currency to participate in ‘Play for cash’ game types. Note: In-game currency can be earned by playing offline or online games.

When you win online games a certain amount of currency can be earned back and this currency (alongside the stash from the offline modes) can then be spent on purchasing new cues and ball sets/table decals i.e. customising the look of them.

You can also use in-game currency to unlock new locations/tables.

Mind you when selecting your game mode online the harder the game type and difficulty setting i.e. playing without visual aids, the more cash you will win.

Match-time!

Despite all of these extra touches I decided to play a standard game of 8 ball UK rules (with no entry fee and the cash prize was small), where you break off and whatever colour you pot first you need to pot the remaining colours of this type before potting the black.

To make it more interesting though you are given a set amount of seconds with which to make your shot. This actually does make the game tenser!

In fact the timer was the reason why my opponent lost the match against me, at this point he only needed one red and the black, while I needed three yellows and the black. He took too long so I got a penalty drop so I could place the white where I wanted. 

As a result I potted the remaining balls and won! After the match you can ask for a re-match or drop out. However there is an archive option where I believe you can save your games - but in all honesty I have not tested this side.

Summary

Despite the extraordinary long loading times, frustrating AI opponents and the graphic engine being a little sluggish in places, there is still some enjoyment to be had from Pool Nation FX – especially from the online side or when you pull off a good shot(s). However if I was being brutally honest this is definitely a title that I would have left gathering dust if it wasn't for free and I still don’t know if I’ll keep this on the console for much longer regardless!

Update: The developers have posted news on fixes for some of the original issues I discovered: You can read it here http://www.poolnationfx.com/news/xbox-one-patch-coming-soon