You arrive penniless on an idyllic South Pacific island. Scattered around the beach and in various huts are a variety of Pool tables and sub games to pass the time — when you feel you are good enough, enter the Competition hut and start climbing the championship ladder to make your fortune! There are 11 sets of pool rules and no less than 30 very different computer opponents for you to challenge. Earn cash by beating your opponent, and by having side bets on various shots in the game, then spend your cash in the beach shop on pool accessories and other fun stuff.

Game designer Archer Maclean has been in the business since the early 1980?s, single-handedly designing classic games for the Atari 800 and Commodore 64 machines of days gone by. More recently, Maclean has focused on making billiard simulations for the PC and consoles, several featuring popular UK pro pool player Jimmy White. From the looks of the preview disc we received for Pool Paradise ? Maclean?s upcoming billiards games ? he and his team at Awesome Studios are putting together the most graphically rich, realistic, and fun billiards simulation yet.

Pool Paradise is set on a lovely laid-back tropical island, its sole purpose to provide a venue for billiard games and other entertaining mini-games for the player. Starting with a small amount of cash lent by a literal loan shark, players can practice or compete in 11 different types of billiards, from the familiar US 8 ball to the intense Killer. Each competition game is played for a cash stake, and players compete against 31 different off-the-wall characters (among them, a Monkey Mage and an O.J. Simpson caricature) to win cash and advance to the number one ranking, occupied by Jimmy White.

Every part of the game shows off a stellar graphic quality; the island itself reminded me of such graphically intensive games as Morrowind ? something definitely not expected in a billiards simulation. The heart of the graphic quality rests in the tables and billiard balls themselves. All tables are in 3D, with eight different camera angle settings with adjustable views, allowing any type of look the player needs for making a shot. The balls cast shadows and have reflective surfaces. Not just a graphical gimmick, the opponent?s animated disembodied hands support the cue and strike so realistically as to add to the realism; I found myself mentally noting the angles taken and strikes made by the game?s Jimmy White to improve my own skills. The AI plays a strong game throughout, with the difficulty tuned so early opponents make their share of mistakes.

Pool Paradise features a masterful control scheme that allows the player to easily set up their shot. Everything from cue elevation to striking power to setting English is accomplished with the mouse, which also seamlessly controls the 3D view. For players who aren?t keen on using the mouse to strike, keyboard controls can set the striking power to nine different levels. The game seems to have covered every contingency of player preference with its control setup. The physics recreate the roll and spin of the balls realistically, and trick shots such as the masse and jump can be executed the same way they are in real life.

On this game play foundation, Awesome Studios has piled on a heap of entertaining mini-games and unlockables the player can acquire with the cash they win from competing. These include one of Archer Maclean?s previous non-billiards games, Dropzone (which plays kind of like the classic Defender coin-op). There?s also darts, skeeball, and a game that resembles bowling except you use a cannon. For more variety to the actual ball-potting, the game also has a number of differently shaped ?Crazy Tables? to play.

About the only things missing from Pool Paradise is a billiards tutorial for those who don?t know the game?s finer points. Other than that, it?s in shape to be an ideal simulation of the ivory sport that doesn?t forget to mix fun in with its impeccable realism. It?s hard to believe that a game with this many features and this much polish is going to sell for under $10, but that?s how it?s going to be for the PC version of Pool Paradise (GameCube version is set to retail for about $20). Pool Paradise is currently set for release in April 2004 for the PC and GameCube, with an ESRB rating of E. A PS2 and XBox version of the game has also been announced, but currently only for European release.

Note: Source: Gmainf Illustrated