I loved pool as a lad. Throughout my teenage years, it was one of my favourite pastimes, particularly towards the end when I found that it combined beautifully with drinking beer and eating salty snacks.
The only trouble was the venues. If you wanted a guaranteed, uninterrupted game on a half-decent table you had to go to a specialist pool club. In the UK (and probably elsewhere) these places are invariably dingy, smelly dives filled with all manner of miscreants.
If only the game of pool wasn’t so limited by such logistical concerns, I’d probably still be playing regularly today, rather than opting to stay in to play video games in the comfort of my own home or sitting in a nice friendly pub.
Anytime Pool can’t quite replicate the tactile thrills of real pool (show me the game that can) but it does offer the intriguing prospect of being able to play pool against human competition anywhere and - you guessed it - any time.
It’s one of those fancy of-the-moment games that links in with your Facebook account, permitting you to play against your friends over the internet. As we’ve reported previously, it’s also making its way to iPhone, so you’ll soon be able to play a game of virtual pool against a mate via any combination of PC, mobile and iPhone.
Can you smell that? That there’s the future of portable entertainment…
Such a significant selling point demands a separate feature of its own, which we intend to do once the iPhone version is live and we’ve had a chance to sample the full cross-platform experience. For now we’ll assess the actual mechanics of play for the mobile version - after all, there’s no use raving about state-of-the art online features if the game itself is lousy.
Fortunately, that’s not the case. While Anytime Pool is far from a comprehensive pool experience, it does play a solid and enjoyable game of sticks and balls.
Anyone who’s played a 3D mobile pool or snooker game in the past three years will be right at home here. You line up your shot with 'left' and 'right' on the thumb-pad, change camera angle with 'up' and 'down' and cycle through spin and power options with ‘OK’.
Setting spin is a simple matter of moving the cursor onto the appropriate area of a cue ball diagram, while you set your power by adjusting a simple bar. You can also make micro-adjustments to your aim with ‘7’ and ‘9’.
It adds up to a decent game of pool, although there are a few niggles that detract from the experience. For one thing, the balls seem to roll just that little bit too freely, creeping ever onwards like a golf ball on a finely kept putting green. If you’ve ever played pool on a table with extremely worn felt, you’ll know how disconcerting this can feel.
Secondly, the game suffers for the lack of camera angles, offering only three levels of zoom into the cue ball and an overhead view. A greater array of angles would have been welcome for lining up those tricky cuts, particularly when playing without shot assistance.
At Amateur level, you have an indicator to assist with your shots. This is almost too effective a tool, showing as it does the projected direction of the target ball and cue ball, even when playing off multiple cushions. Allied to the generous pockets, which seem eager to gobble up any balls in the vicinity, the game veers dangerously close to feeling a little dumbed down at times.
I’d recommend opting for one of the tougher difficulty levels pretty sharpish, since they call for a far greater degree of skill and judgement.
Far better to remove the stabilisers early on and throw yourself into the single player Career mode, if you want to ready yourself for the online competition. Here you take on a surprisingly varied range of tasks, including UK 8 ball, US 8 ball and US 9 ball variants of the games, as well as a selection of pre-set potting exercises.
At each stage of your career you get the choice as to what order to you want to tackle these games in, which is a nice touch.
The AI opposition starts at an almost insultingly easy level, but soon increase in competence, and each opponent has been imbued with a shallow but nicely realised personality. It’s more than enough to drive you through the competition and hone your skills for online play.
And there’s no escaping that this is the main focus of Anytime Pool. Once you feel ready, and you’ve aligned your game with your Facebook account (via a simple activation code) you’re ready to take on the world.
Selecting Social Play allows you to challenge your Facebook buddies to a game, or to have the game match you up with a stranger.
Due to the turn-based nature of Pool, games take as long as they need to - rather like a game of correspondence chess - and so lag really isn’t an issue. You can also have several games on the go simultaneously, playing them out over a leisurely few weeks if you so wish.
But we’ll save further comment on the online portion for another time. For now, we can safely recommend Anytime Pool to any pool fan with an active and healthy Facebook account. Anyone after offline pool kicks should probably head back to their local dive.