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Inferno Pool
Score: 78%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Dark Energy Digital
Developer: Dark Energy Digital
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Local/Online)
Genre: Arcade/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
It's always interesting to see when a developer takes a well-known parlor/arcade game and gives it the videogame treatment. Over the years, there have been numerous successes and failures. Dark Energy Digital's Inferno Pool falls somewhere between the two, but it leans ever so slightly towards success. This blisteringly frantic version of video pool seems like it's destined for greatness, but it's held back by a noticeable dearth of single-player content. Still, when Inferno Pool is released stateside for the PlayStation Network, I can tell you that the demo is certainly worth a look.

I really dig the underground/punk aesthetic Inferno Pool sports, but I wish it had made its way into more of the game. When you start up the game, you'll think "I must be in for a real treat." Don't get me wrong: Inferno Pool is a good-looking game. It just doesn't live up to its first impression after you actually start playing. Regardless of what or how you play, you'll see the same industrial environment (which basically looks like a garage or basement that someone just moved into). Maybe I'm being unfair -- all you really need to look at are the pool tables and what is happening on them. Fortunately, all of that looks good; the ball physics in particular feel accurate and natural.

Occasionally, when I'm playing Inferno Pool, I have the feeling I am playing a game from the Mortal Kombat series. That's because a very familiar voice with a deep bass distortion narrates all of the action. I've confused the gutturally delivered "Bank shot!" for "Headshot!" long after I knew what he was really saying. The voice is delivered with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor; it's always nice to see games that don't take themselves too seriously. The other sounds get the job done, but really -- how long can I go on about the clacks of pool balls?

Inferno Pool offers three main modes of play: 8-Ball, 9-Ball, and Inferno. These can all be accessed for both single and multiplayer (local and online).

Everyone knows how to play 8-Ball, but I'll go over the basics for the hell of it. After you break the triangle and pocket the first ball, you'll be assigned to pocket either solids or stripes. You then go about sinking the balls you're assigned, avoiding the solid black 8-Ball until you sink your last ball. Once you've accomplished all that, you'll have to call a pocket and sink the 8-Ball. If you sink the 8-Ball in the pocket you call, you win. If you scratch (pocket the cue ball) on your final shot or shoot the 8-Ball into the wrong pocket, you will lose. There's more to it than that, but most people who are interested in this game likely already know this.

I'd never played a single game of 9-Ball until I played Inferno Pool. The object is simple; pocket every ball. However, there's a catch. The first ball the cue strikes must always be the lowest-numbered ball in play.

The standout mode in this release is, as the title suggests, Inferno Pool. It's the kind of pool that you would play if you were a four-year old kid riding a beast of a sugar high... and if you had four pool tables at your disposal. The object of the game: pocket every ball you have before your opponents do. Of course, there's a catch. The catch I speak of is known as the Ballzooka. This mortar-shaped icon at the bottom of the screen keeps track of every ball you pocket. Its primary purpose is to blast every pocketed ball onto your opponents' tables. You have full control over this handy device, and I'll explain how to use it later on. Long story short, the Ballzooka adds a puzzle game element to what initially seems to be much more of an arcade experience. It's a brilliant idea for multiplayer, local and online. However, if you're playing this game on your own, you'll find yourself bored very quickly.

Inferno Pool is easy to play, but ridiculously difficult to play well. Pool has always been a game that showcases hard-earned skills. If you want to earn these skills, you'll have to fight hard for them, much like if you were to play the real thing. You'll have to get used to making bank shots on the fly, and you'll also need to make your plans for the next shot while you're still watching your current shot unfold.

For those of you who buy Inferno Pool to dig into the multiplayer component, I have two words for you: get good. There are people online who, suffice to say, know what they're doing. My first game of Inferno Pool was over in just under a minute, and I was left blinking at the screen in awe of just how badly I had gotten my ass kicked. If you don't want to feel like that, spend some time in Practice mode against some bots. You can crank the difficulty level up and observe how they play.

Inferno Pool's replay value depends on how you want to play it. If you purchase it for its single player content, you'll almost immediately regret the decision. There's just not that much to do offline. You can play against bots, but seriously, who does that for anything other than practice for the real thing?

Game Mechanics:
Inferno Pool's controls will take some time to get used to, but they'll take forever to master. There's so much that you can do, but the time you often have to use whatever skills you have is often on the short side. Still, it's always rewarding to learn the ropes to a game with a tough learning curve.

To begin, you have full control of the cue stick. The Left Analog Stick aims your shot, and it also projects a hint line of sorts that is very necessary, given the pace of the gameplay. The effectiveness of the aiming line is heavily affected by how well you play. Playing well and going into Inferno Mode will make it more effective (as well as reward you with extra pocketed balls). If you only use the Left Analog Stick for aiming, you'll find the controls to be extremely loose. Fortunately, holding down the (L2) button will give you the ability to make fine adjustments to your projected shot. Holding down the (L1) button adjusts your vertical aiming; this is useful for showboats who like to make tricky Jump Shots.

As I mentioned earlier, what makes Inferno Pool so special is the Ballzooka. You can contract or expand the Ballzooka with a click of the (R3) button; contracting the Ballzooka leaves the dispersal of pocketed balls up to the computer, while expanding it allows you to store and fire them off manually. Here's how it works: every player in a game is assigned color-coded pool balls. The colors are green, blue, magenta, and red. Sound familiar? Yes, every player's pool balls correspond to a face button on the controller. If the player with green pool balls is on the verge of clearing his table and you have a full Ballzooka, holding down the (Triangle) button will send them all his way. Fortunately, this approach doesn't fall prey to what I call "the Mario Kart effect." By that, I mean the Ballzooka doesn't reward players who suck with an item that can potentially turn the tide of the game. You have to work for a full Ballzooka. If it's any consolation to players who aren't any good, it's not likely that you'll be the target of your opponents' Ballzookas. I really like the idea of the Ballzooka; it gives the entire game a "screw-your-neighbor" feel to it, which is always great for multiplayer.

If you're looking for a good single player game, Inferno Pool will leave you very cold. However, if you're looking for a fun and fresh multiplayer experience, Inferno Pool delivers on that front.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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