(Activision for the PlayStation)
by Eric Johnson
Pool Hustler may be the ultimate achievement in video billiards, the graphics are flawless, the balls shine and roll and click and bounce off of one another just like the real thing. There are plenty of arrogant, but thankfully flawed, computer opponents to chose from and bet against. Someone has spent a great deal of time and energy re-creating the experience of playing pool in a pristine environment. It is a sterile and sober simulation, but a billiards connoisseur trapped in a space capsule would be perfectly happy with it. So when confronted by this marvelously-detailed, uniquely-authentic gaming experience, I am forced to ask a practical question: Who really gives a fuck? A great pool video game is like a great golf video game, a meticulously recreated waste of time. Somehow, having an entertaining pastime like pool distilled into video game form makes the status of billiards as a fancy time-waster all the more apparent. Without drinks, a scantily clad waitress, and some wasted friends to talk to in between shots, the essential point of Pool Hustler is to distill an experience best enjoyed with six beers in the belly, to concentrate on the game itself. Sure, they try to create atmosphere, but the background porno music, obnoxious opponents, and hustlin’ quest are just window dressing. Your character goes all over a fictional city, parlaying his wad of $300 into big bucks by playing the best players from every joint in town. There are yuppie halls, and genuine shitholes straight out of a George Thorogood video. I didn’t get to any of the really advanced places because I couldn’t summon the energy to stick around (that and I couldn’t sink the eight ball to save my life). This title is essentially background music, and no matter how fun background music is, you are far better off calling a friend and going down to the local bar for a few rounds and a whole lot of whatever beer is on special. If you love billiards and hate all that pesky atmosphere getting in the way of your experience, or if you are that pool freak trapped in a space capsule, perhaps this is the game for you; otherwise, steer clear.