Arcade Pool is bonkers. Not bonkers in a zany, lovable, that-Arcade-Pool-eh?-what-will-it-get-up-to-next? Kind of way. But ludicrously, irritatingly, frustratingly, what's-the-point?-ly bonkers. In fact, it's stupid.
But why? It's from top publisher Team 17. It's a version of a sport that's been knocking around in various computerised forms practically since electricity was invented. It's slick. It's polished. It places the emphasis firmly on getting stuck in and having fun. ('Arcade', y'see?). What's gone wrong?
It's the computer players, mainly - they're unfeasibly good. Very, very rarely do they simply fire the cue ball at another ball and knock it straight into a pocket, even if there is a ball waiting right next to pocket to be potted. More usually it'll go for an elaborate trick shot, involving the cue ball rebounding off two or three other balls before it hits the target ball, and then the target ball possibly colliding several more times with balls and cushion before it slips neatly into a pocket that you'd never dreamt of aiming for.
Once I recall the cue ball hitting one ball (which we'll call Ball A), and then going on to hit the ball to be potted (Ball B). Ball B rolled towards the pocket, but not quite the right angle to go in. Fortuitously, however, Ball A had rebounded off the opposite cushion, and was heading back towards Ball B just as it was passing the pocket. They collided, and the resulting adjustment to Ball B's course was just enough to divert it into the pocket. Or how about the time when the cue ball bounced off the rounded part of the cushion next to the pocket at just the right angle to... no, no. It's too painful.
What's more, the computer never tries to play strategically. When it pots a ball, it doesn't seem to give any consideration to where the cue ball is going to end up, instead relying on its phenomenal playing ability to get it out of any tricky situations. It's virtually impossible to snooker and, conversely, never bothers trying to snooker with you. And (and) it wildly applauds itself every time it pots a ball, which is hugely irritating.
The sort of thing computers can do
Now, the computer seems to spend ages 'thinking' before it takes each shot. I'm only guessing here, but what seems to be going on is that, rather than choosing a ball to pot each time, and then trying to calculate the appropriate angle and speed, it's simply mentally running through every possible permuation of shots - no matter how ridiculous - and noting the outcomes in its memory.
It then picks the most successful and plays it as you look on in awe. That's the sort of thing computers can do and people can't, and it makes for a very artificial and dispiriting opponent.
Of course, you can always choose one of the crapper computer players to play against. Sleepy Hollow, for example, hasn't won a single game to date in the AP office. But all that happens then is that the computer deliberately, and quite obviously, messes up shots from time to time to give you a chance.
When Sleepy does decide to pot a ball, he still uses an absurd trick shot like the others. Why not play it in the Speed Pool mode, then, or against a friend, you could argue. I'd retort, predictably enough, that you could have much more fun doing either of those in your local pub (except you might not be old enough, and your clothes would stink of cigarette smoke the next day).
Arcade Pool's only a tenner, of course, and, apart from this one flaw, is a thoroughly slick, polished game. (Oh, except the balls bounce around curiously freely, in contravention of all sorts of Newtonian laws. Maybe that's the 'Arcade' part.)
But I, personally, would be loath to pay £10 to be ridiculed by my own computer. Especially when Archer Maclean's Pool is due out on budget only a little bit later this year.