Originally making its debut on the PlayStation Network, Dark Energy Digital has at last brought their fast pace Inferno Pool to Xbox Live Arcade. Not being content with the normalities of traditional 8 and 9 ball pool, DED have taken the concept of sinking spherical objects by striking a white cue ball with a five foot stick of wood to a new level of insanity.

The usual 8 and 9 ball games are included, but the Inferno Pool mode is a little different to the traditional game that you might play down the pub and is where the most fun is to be had. It’s not purely about making pockets, it’s also about choking your opponent with more pool balls than they can manage, as the player makes pots the objects sunk flood the other tables, sabotaging their chances of winning.

The environments experienced are a little different than might be anticipated – the tables played on are the sort of thing that could well be encountered in the worst of the biker fighting bars. Stained cloths, gaffer taped felt and dead sounding cushions are the table make-ups, not that it makes any influence on ball trajectories – it’s merely for atmosphere.

Aiming is very fast and accurate and can be tailored around the player’s ability – there are different levels of aim assist that will either show ball trajectory or not, and it’s great that it doesn’t completely hold the player’s hand. Aim assist only gives a general indication of where the balls will go; longer shots, as in real pool, are harder to judge correctly.

There are a number of differing AI difficulties too and all but the lowest settings are fairly true and accurate; the player never feels cheated by the AI though. Not being able to make a play on the table is never down to the controls. Blistering speed pool is easy because of the accuracy of the setup – a quick flick of the right stick works as the cue stroke, and English can easily be applied with the d-pad, affecting where the cue ball will end up after a shot. Inferno Pool feels extremely fluid with ball after ball sinking in quick succession.

Points are scored for every shot played – the trickier the shot, the higher the reward. Bonuses are gained for bank and jump shots, canons and tricky to sink pockets, and of course lauded with an achievement or two. A very gruff commentator, who’s clearly been chugging on beefy cigars, growls away with his appraisals, complementing the player for particularly courageously shots.

There are always limitations with the AI in video games, playing against the computer can be a bit hit or miss; but this isn’t where the game makes the most sense. The heart of Inferno Pool works best in multiplayer, whether that is local or online. At least here the player is competing with genuine skill or ineptitude.

Up to four players can compete simultaneously in the very intense Inferno matches, but given that all tables are shown on screen together, unless you have a big flat-screen TV, chances are things are going to look a little on the small side. Squeezing in four tables is a compromise, but it does sort of make sense, otherwise how would you ever know if the opponents were cheating, or see the suffering due to your highly-skilled pots?

Sadly it seems that there’s very little life in online multiplayer which is a real shame as Inferno Pool plays sublimely; it’s quick, intense, fun and something that keeps the player coming back for another go. Although the physics are spot on, Inferno is not about simulation; this is the Pool equivalent of Space Invaders Extreme, or Pac-Man Championship Edition. The lack of people on XBLA playing this is a sting in the tail though, so there’s a need to be content with the more limited single player side of things. This could of course be down to only being available in the American and Asian regions currently so don’t go looking for this on the UK market place.

If you have a US profile, try the demo, nag your mates into grabbing this excellent off-the-cuff pool game too, and keep your fingers crossed that it appears in all regions soon.

Marty Greenwell

Marty has been gaming since the heady years of the ZX-81 and still owns most of the gaming systems purchased since those days, including the Atari 2600, ZX Spectrum, SNES, Jaguar, Dreamcast and GameCube. Being a collection junkie (or more accurately, hoarder), he buys more games than he can possibly play, far too many of which are still sealed in their packaging. Marty favours RPGs and Driving games when it comes to genres, and is possibly a little bit too addicted to Disgaea. When not gaming he’s out frightening OAPs on his motorcycle, clad in black leather.

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