Sports Bar VR Review

As you put the PlayStation VR headset on, pop in a pair of earbuds or clamp a pair of headphones over your ears, you cut yourself off from the world. You’re on your own in VR. It’s just you and the game. Yet some games invite other people into that world, whether it’s the party games of Playroom VR, the co-op tank battles of Battlezone, or something distinctly more social.

Sports Bar VR actually started off as Pool Nation VR on HTC Vive earlier this year, but we regretfully had to hand our Vive review unit back before we got a chance to play around with it. Just from watching the trailers, it was clear that this was a space in which to mess around with others – on PSVR, it’s up to six players, while eight is the limit on Vive – whether close friends or random people online, and it takes just a few moments after the game’s introductory tutorial to realise that’s exactly the case.

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Yes, there’s a pool game here, and it’s actually pretty good, but the first couple of hours are an exploration of just what you can get away with within this world. I altered my character’s height, making my viewpoint uncomfortably close to the floor or making me tower over everything three metres above the ground, I picked up bar stools and placed them upside down on the bar, tried to balance billiard balls on a coaster I was holding, clipped through the walls, snuck up behind other people playing and pushed my pool cue through the front of their headset… I think I pretty much exhausted all of the stupid ideas I can come up with.

Of course, you could also play the games in the bar, with pool joined by air hockey, darts and skreeball. It’s all of this which spurred on the game’s rebranding, and with a number of other games planned as additions in the future.

The main game of pool is actually pretty damn good. With a pair of Move controllers – this is one of the few PSVR games that requires Move – you’re given a free range of motion, so you can actually lean in and get a good look, place your hands where you want them and line up your shot. Of course, there’s no pool table to balance on, so don’t be fooled into thinking you have anything to rest your weight on, but you can lock in the position of your resting hand with a pull of the trigger and then put as much force into your shot as you want.

The physics hold up pretty well, but it’s too easy to hit the ball very hard with too short and sharp a motion, the natural pose for taking a shot can often obscure one of the lights being tracked, as well. Of course, there’s no compensating for or excusing me being rubbish at pool in real life, which transfers perfectly over to this game. That said, if you’re good enough, you can pull off the exact same kinds of ball hopping trick shots as in reality.

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Playing against AI is the traditional exercise in mild frustration I have with pool games. They’re just too perfect, and every failure feels calculated, as though they’re feeling sorry for me. Even the level 1 AI feels too competent and can string together half a dozen perfectly judged shots. That’s alright when you’re able to adjust the angle and take your shot with absolute precision, but Sports Bar is a much more analogue game without the familiar crutches of other games. You can have a ghost ball to show where you’re aiming, so you can lock in an angle, but there’s none of the guiding lines and predicted paths.

Online, it’s a whole other kettle of fish. You can host and search for matches that are just about playing the games, but in the six player hangouts, all the bets are off, the rules of pool aren’t enforced and people can mess with your table. You can put a shield on the table, so people can’t throw bar stools on there, but even then, you can pick balls up, knock into them all with a cue, and so on.

The other games are a bit of a mixed bag. Air hockey is a lot of simple fun, though there’s a slight sense of detachment from the game as you play, but skreeball and darts are more misses than hits, for me – chess, checkers and shuffleboard are being added in future, and should be impossible to mess up.

Though you can lock a dart in place before throwing, it’s also prone to tracking blips, and getting the right weight to a throw doesn’t feel as intuitive as in pool – that said, I suck at Darts in real life as well. Skreeball similarly suffers from trying to throw objects in VR and it just feels a bit off as a consequence.

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The game can struggle a bit when there’s six players causing all sorts of mayhem. The fact that you can just spawn an endless stream of bottles that smash on the floor can put a lot of strain on the physics engine performance and cause it to lag out for others trying to play the games in a hangout.

There’s also a tendency to drop connections sometimes. Aran buddief up with me, while my (admittedly not amazing) internet connection hosted the hangout, but he and plenty others that joined got disconnected a little too often for my liking.

Moving around the bar is another oddity, but actually works quite well, I think. You can hold a button and point to teleport where you want to go, but by pressing both Move buttons in, you enter the oddly named “Hulk Mode”. Moving the controllers in different ways lets you turn on the spot, or almost row your way around the bar. It’s difficult to describe, it’s clunky, but it kind of works in it’s beautifully bizarre own way…

What’s Good:

  • Just messing around in a social space
  • There’s a pretty handy Pool game in here as well
  • Plenty more games planned for the future

What’s Bad:

  • The same two or three NPC models swaying back and forth wherever you look
  • Physics suffer when lots of people are messing around
  • Difficulty dealing with fast motion
  • Hulk mode takes getting used to

I didn’t quite realise it until I saw and played it, but VR needs these slightly mad cap social games as much as it needs racers and shooters, the kind of game where you hop in with friends for a bit of a laugh. Much like hanging out at an arcade or bowling alley, there’s only so much time before you’ll tire of the games on offer and want to head home. The VR Pool at the heart of this is great, and the other games are fun to try out as well, but your fondest memories will be of pushing the game’s limits and seeing what shenanigans you can get up to.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see if I can throw billiard balls into the air and head them into the pockets…

Score: 7/10

Version Tested: PSVR

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I'm probably wearing toe shoes, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!

2 Comments

  1. Girl! I wanna take you to a Sports Bar! A sports bar, sports, bar, sports bar RAAWWWH!

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