For the purpose of transparency, this review was completed using a review code provided by Cherry Pop Games. The use of a review code does not affect my judgement of this product.
Sports Bar VR originally started out as Pool Nation VR on the HTC Vive earlier in the year, but is now available under the new name on Playstation VR. Sports Bar VR is one of the few games that require you to use the Playstation Move controllers.
Where you will find a number of the games on the Playstation VR are aimed for a single player experience, as soon as you have completed the tutorial you will find this game has multiplayer in mind. There is a number of activities available for you to play within the sports bar – which are pool, darts, skeeball, air hockey, chess, checkers, and shuffleboard. It has also been reported that more games will be added after the games launch.
However, after completing the tutorial I found after trying a few shots on the pool on free-play (no AI opponent), that I spent the next hour or so just moving around the bar seeing what is possible within the game outside of the activities offered. This ranged from using the menu to spawn in toys, bottles of beer, changing my appearance (the small amount available); to throwing bottles, chairs, and even the jukebox about the bar. After I had exhausted all the mayhem I could cause I then found myself trying out what the game is all about – the seven sports/activities offered.
I started off with trying the sports available in single player, and straight away it was clear that pool was the focal point of this game; which you would expect from the game originally being Pool Nation VR, only to be changed because of the extras that have been added. One issue I found with the singe player was out of the seven activities only the pool and air hockey will provide you with AI opponents.
The air hockey is pretty standard, it will just put an AI at the other end of the table, and its what you expect from the activity, but it doesn’t really drag you into the immersion at all, and after one or two games you’ve had enough. I did however find that I spent a good few games on the skeeball trying to beat my previous score, only issue I found with this was sometimes the tracking of the throw movement can have a slight issue, and you end up although doing the same movement as before throwing it over the top of the table. I found the tracking on the darts is way off and a lot of the times I found the darts just either falling in front of me like I just dropped them, or going below or above the dart board unit. Then with chess, checkers and shuffleboard these activities are pointless without having AI to play against.
Air hockey, skeeball, chess, checkers and shuffleboard are all played using one Move controller; these are done by using the trigger on your preferred hand to pick up the objects. On the other hand the darts requires two Move controllers, one to hold the darts in, and your preferred throwing hand used to hold the dart you are throwing. You simply transfer the dart to your throwing hand by moving the controllers close together and pressing the trigger on your throwing hand.
But, I must admit they’ve done a pretty good job of the pool, the physics are well done, and the options around positioning yourself for the shot, taking a look around the table offer a good experience for the VR side of the game. The use of the Playstation Move controllers is essential to how this game feels, with you being able to lean and place your hands exactly where you want on the table – although you must keep in mind there isn’t anything in front of you to psychically lean on outside of the game, so be careful. Once your in the position you lock the shot with your leading hand (depending on what handed you are) by holding the trigger on that controller, and then use the trigger on your back hand to position a white reticle/circle – only if ghost ball is turned on in the menu’s – that will give an idea where the white ball will strike the ball you are aiming for. Once everything is in place, release the trigger and pull the cue back with your back hand and move it forward to strike the ball.
This offers for a realistic feel for the pool, but, where the rest of physics seem to hold up well, one issue I found with the pool is you will sometimes strike the ball a lot harder than expected from a slight movement. Another issue which seems to go hand in hand with pool games is the AI is way to precise. Even when taking on a Level 1 AI (easy mode), they seem to pull of multiple pots, and then start to miss some, as if its taking pity on you. Where other pool games can offer you some sort help by providing tracking lines, I find that Sports Bar VR is a lot more manual, and this just adds to the frustration of the AI set on easy pulling off these precise shots. I will say though, even taking the frustration into account, I did find myself going back for more; determined to beat it.
As soon as you go online, the game comes to life, as I mentioned earlier in the review the game is clearly made for the multiplayer experience. The multiplayer side is made up of 6 player lobbies, which you can create yourself or search for from the menu. This is where the games come to life and it is all about the activities they have provided.
As with the single player, you will find that pool is the main focus of the game, but it’s a lot more fun than it is against the pool shark AI. But, the other activities still fell like fillers, and you still don’t feel as attached to the VR experience as you do with the pool. Skeeball offers a challenge mode made for a multiple players, which the aim is to get an accumulative score, but you just don’t see many people at that area of the hangout or interested in it. You do however, see quite a few people over at the chess and checkers tables, but as someone that is not interested in playing those games, I personally did not have a go against anyone in the hangout at the time, but I did watch some games – and I can imagine if you like those games in real life it could be a great game for you to get in on. I have had a few games of shuffleboard against some people in the hangouts I have been in, but you find with this after a few games you are done with it, and personally I ended up back towards the pool table. The only game left is darts, but I am not sure if this can be played with more than one, as I was not able to get anyone to try, I am not sure if this down the tracking issue, making people not want to play it.
One thing you need to keep in mind when playing online is that you need to make sure you shield your table, as with the single player element there is so much mayhem people can cause, and people seem to like doing it – there’s even been times I’ve found myself causing it. But, if it’s not been me there is normally that one person trying to. From placing chairs on the pool table mid-game, stealing pool balls, the air hockey puck, and spawning in toys from the menu and firing ping pong balls on across the chess boards, the mischief is endless. Shielding you table from this sort of mischief and mayhem is easily done from the menu, and can save your game and enjoyment. One thing you do need to keep in mind is that even if the table is shielded the person you are playing against can still do what they want to it, so if you come across a bad loser they can still sabotage your game, by not following the games rules, knocking the pool balls all over with their cue or so on – and while playing it for the review I did come across a couple that did this.
For me one thing that would make the multiplayer a great experience, is if you had six people you knew either in person or online to fill a hangout. This would probably save needing to shield your game, and avoid bad losers, and could make for a night of good laughs while having fun. I am sure if none of your friends have adopted virtual reality, you could maybe find some in random rooms to add as friends, or even by a search online and in online communities to make the group of six up. This could lead to getting a chance to get into all the activities also, as joining random rooms you do find a lot of the people are just interested in the pool. Which is understandable as this is the stand out part of the game, but it would be nice to give the other activities time every now and then.
One more thing I would like to add about the controls is how you move around the hangout on both single player and multiplayer. All you need to do is hold the square button this brings up what I can only describe a laser pointer – you then point this at either the activity you want to go to (if its in sight) or to the floor inside the red circle outline, let go and you move to that position/activity. Also, if you hold the two move buttons in, this puts you into Hulk Mode (not sure why they’ve named it this) where moving the controllers in different ways will turn you on the spot, to me this felt very clunky and difficult to use at times, but at times you have no option as you might move around the pool table for example and end up facing away from the table – maybe using Hulk Mode easily will come with practice.
Visually I would say the game holds up well, the hangout (sports bar) environment is well built up, and I wouldn’t say you look at any of the areas around the activities and think its ugly looking. There was one issue I found, throughout the hangout they have place none playable characters, where this shouldn’t be a problem they have used three character models, so you see the same three people in all the groups. When you are in the multiplayer hangouts the other players and represented as a Playstation VR headset and two Mover controllers there is no character model for each player. Even-though character models may have made the game feel more immersive when online, I don’t think it ruins or takes anything away for the experience. You can add little things to your appearance in the menus, in the form of hats to make it a little different, but there isn’t a great deal to choose. From the menus you can also change the appearance of the pool table cloth to add a little personal touch to the tables in the hangout.
Other than the issue of finding people to try modes outside of pool when randomly joining rooms, another issue I found was around when you have multiple players causing mayhem. As mentioned the way to avoid this is by shielding the table, but sometimes this is not enough. You will find if you and an opponent are the only ones in the room playing one of the activities, and the other four are causing a lot of mayhem (for example – constantly spawning beer bottles from the menu) that the game engine and online severs can be effected, either causing frame rate issues and/or lag within your game. Over my time with game for the review I only had this once, but it’s just a shame that the game can be ruined by this.
Sports Bar VR offers a great multiplayer experience, although the game can be affected by the players you are placed in your hangout with, but, if you have six players you know this could be a really fun, and one you can all meet up on and have a laugh. Until I first ventured into an online hangout I never knew that this is the sort of game the Playstation VR needed – one that can offer a relaxing night of gaming.