Reviewed: August 27, 2006
Released: November 22, 2006
I’ve been playing pool longer than most of you have been alive...certainly much longer than I have been playing video games. Some of my earliest memories were going to the American Legion with my dad and playing pool, and we finally got a pool table in our basement when I was 12. Since then I have hustled pool at my first apartment complex clubhouse to pay the rent and the first thing I bought for my new house was a regulation-size slate pool table (with ping pong top of course).
Recreating billiards on the computer is a tricky endeavor, much like golf. Sure, it’s easy to capture the rules and mechanics of the game, but you can’t always capture the subtle nuances of the physical act of swinging a golf club or sliding a pool cue between your fingers.
Real-life billiards takes a lot of hand-eye coordination and a good knowledge of physics and geometry. These factors are certainly accounted for in the programming of a game like Bankshot Billiards 2 but getting them integrated into the interface is a bit trickier.
Bankshot Billiards 2 offers a comprehensive collection of pool favorites including; 8-Ball, 9-Ball, Cutthroat, 14.1 Continuous, Euro 8-Ball, 3-Ball, Time Trial, Golf, and a series of clever Trick Shots that will make you feel like you are playing on late night ESPN.
I’m not going to go into the rules for all these variations. Chances are, if you are interested enough in the game to be reading this review you know how to play at least the core games of 8-Ball and 9-Ball. Bankshot Billiards 2 allows you to play the computer or a human opponent, locally or over Xbox Live keeping tracks of scores, stats, and other information in a worldwide leaderboard.
The actually mechanics of making a shot in Bankshot Billiards 2 is where the game slightly stumbles, but only because it tries so hard to recreate the act with such meticulous detail. The first thing to do is position the cue ball (when allowed) with the right stick then angle the cue stick with the left analog stick to line-up your shot.
You then press the Y button to set the power (the default of 25 is often way too hard) and use the X and B buttons to change the angle of the stick and the spin (or English) to be put on the cue ball. When you have everything setup you tap the A button to make the shot.
I have a few issues with this system, especially since most all other games have switched to the analog mentality for making precision movements. Tiger Woods uses a forward and back motion with the stick to simulate a golf swing and even the new Madden and NCAA games use the analog stick for kicking. Going through a 3-step checklist prior to each shot just seems overly mechanical to me and takes a bit of the “randomness” out of the game.
My other quibble with Bankshot Billiards 2 is the white line that extends from the cue ball to the target ball. Now I realize that in real pool there are no such lines, but in computer pool it’s easy to rely on these helpful tools. The line in Bankshot Billiards 2 is simply too wide to give you an accurate idea of where the ball is going to get struck. This causes me to miss countless shots…simple shots that I would never miss in real-life.
Ultimately, I gave up on the top-down perspective and settled for the more interactive 3D view that truly redefine the entire genre of computerized billiards and makes Bankshot Billiards 2 the best pool game I have ever played. In this view you can zoom down to the tabletop and eyeball the shot just like you would in a real game. Now, that deceptive target line isn’t even an issue, and the game becomes all about visualizing the angles and making the shot in your head before you ever hit the ball.
It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you figure out the cool dual-stick navigation of the 3D camera you can zoom in and out and fly around the table creating some very cinematic perspectives. It certainly helps to relieve the stress when the computer is in the middle of 6-ball run.
Bankshot Billiards 2 is simple gorgeous, easily one of the best looking games in the entire Xbox Live Arcade collection. The level of detail, the textured cloth surface, the reflective shininess of each and every ball, the flawless physics, and the totally customizable backgrounds and table surfaces keep this game fresh and a pleasure to look at for countless hours of gameplay.
The interface is clean and easy to navigate. There is a simple power meter, cue ball diagram to indicate the strike position, and the angle of the cue and the ball travel are all visually indicated on the main screen. As balls drop into the pocket they roll into the bottom of the screen, not only showing which balls have been sunk, but also any impressive runs of solids and stripes.
Pool is a relatively quiet game, but each and every click and clack of ball striking ball, or soft thud of a bank shot is perfectly recreated right down to the hollow ball-rolling-on-wood sound as sunk balls roll into position in the bottom of the screen.
There is a simple non-annoying soundtrack comprised of easy-listening tunes that most will quickly swap out for their own collection, effectively creating their own style of pool hall. I’m partial to roadhouse rock or soft jazz depending on my mood.
There have been days where I have played “real” pool for 8, 10, even 12 hours at a stretch. If it weren’t for the mechanical nature of setting up my shots I could easily lose myself in Bankshot Billiards 2 for just as long, but there does seem to be a trade off in order to get the shot accuracy down to a science. In the time it takes me to setup a shot (camera, spin, angle, power) in this game I could have sunk two or more balls on a real table.
There are certainly enough game variations to make everyone happy. I was surprised to see that a few modes I had previously thought my dad had “made up” are actually real modes and I still kick butt at them. Whether you play alone or with a friend locally or online, this is a fantastically fun and challenging game, easily the most realistic pool game ever created for the console and certainly worth the nominal admission price.
Naturally, Bankshot Billiards 2 offers the standard 12 achievements totaling 200 points, but don’t expect to add these without a lot of hard work and dedication. Winning 5 games is easy and playing 200 games is just as easy if not somewhat time-consuming, but completing 50 trick shots or winning 50 games without losing a turn can be quite challenging. Others, like sinking the 9-ball on the break is pure luck.
Bankshot Billiards 2 is by far the best pool game I have ever played on the PC or console. Visually, the game is beyond reality with gorgeous textures and lighting effects, flawless physics, all the popular (and not so popular) game variations, and an outstanding online component that maintains leaderboards and even offers online tournaments.
Unlock your inner hustler and become the ultimate pool shark with Bankshot Billiards 2.