There is no wonder that many of the games released for VR platforms are solely single-player experience, as the act of wearing a head-mounted display removes you from the outside world. There are only a few online multiplayer games, but none have the familiarity and freedom quite like SportsBar VR. With all kinds of games currently available on PlayStation VR, SportsBar VR finds itself as the ultimate hangout for friends or those that want to meet new people (at least in a virtual environment).
Pool Nation is perhaps the most realistic video game version of billiards (or pool) I have ever played, and it’s no wonder that it is one of the key gameplay elements in SportsBar VR. Joining pool, players can test their skill in a game of darts, skee ball, air hockey, chess, checkers, and even shuffleboard. Or, if you want, toss a football around the bar, shoot ping pong balls at each other, or cause a ruckus by breaking glass bottles all over the virtual bar. You'll move around by pointing and teleporting to new locations, however, you can make adjustments to your position by holding down the Move button on both controllers. This method, called hulk mode in-game, lets you rotate the game world around you. It does take some getting used to, and it may cause motion sickness since you are most likely standing in place as this occurs.
Not all of the games appear to be treated equally with some not even featuring AI opponents. You are free to play against the AI in all of the different pool focused game modes or air hockey. You'll gain experience for everything you accomplish in the game. The experience will then unlock additional customization options, such as new party hats to wear, different visual pool cues, pool table graphics, and more. If you have played Pool Nation before, then you know what to expect. Party hats, while insignificant when playing alone, plays a bigger role when you venture online. Game lobbies support up to six players, and all other players are represented by floating PSVR headsets and Move controllers. The party hats are placed on top of the user's headset giving each player a specific personality. Is it silly? Yes, but everyone I’ve met online seems to be thoroughly enjoying both unlocking and wearing them.
While online, you aren’t forced to play any of the games in the virtual bar, in fact, I’ve spent plenty of time just socializing and messing around with the physics-based objects. Heck, my last time playing SportsBar VR was six players teleporting around shooting ping pong balls at one another, while blocking/deflecting them with an oversized domino. Things were civil until somebody decided to begin tossing around larger objects, such as bar stools and even the jukebox.
With that said, the games are certainly a major point of the experience, but not all of them are currently worth your time. Pool, or billiards, is the showcase game but your experience will seemingly be different depending on if you are playing against the AI or an actual player online. With a simple press of a button on one of the Move controllers (you play the game with one in each hand), you can spawn a pool cue that will attach itself to your controller. After aligning the pool cue to the cue ball aimed at the colored or striped ball you want to pocket, you can make tiny adjustments to alter the angle and spin of the shot. Now, when playing against the AI offline, you won’t see any indicator on where the ball will go, only a white icon appears where the cue ball will make contact with the targeted ball. When playing online, I noticed you see a red line that fades out from the targeted ball, making it much easier to correctly angle your shot. I should also point out that the game’s AI doesn’t take it easy on you, and they can easily pocket three or four balls in a row without hesitation.
Air hockey is the only other bar game in SportsBar VR that can be played against the AI. I have played air hockey in real-life somewhat recently, and I found this virtual version of it to be surprisingly accurate. The puck never seems to leave the playing surface, however, but my control of where my shots are being aimed seem to match how I play in real life. There aren’t any game options or difficulty settings, and the AI is relatively good at blocking all of your shots. I've yet to win a game against the AI, as it seems to always block my shots no matter what. I have scored when the AI accidentally deflects it into their goal, however, but games tend to last much longer than I would have liked.
Although you can play darts by yourself, it is much more enjoyable to play with others, as it includes different game types, such as 101, 301, 501, and free play. Just like when you are shooting pool, you can lock your aim and toss the dart based on how much power is behind your arm movement. One controller is used to “pickup” the darts, as three will appear at the tip of the controller. You use your other hand to grab them one at a time and toss them at the dartboard.
Skee ball is the final game that keeps score automatically, but I've yet to have an enjoyable time with it. When rolling the balls up the ramp, I’ve had them freak out and teleport randomly around the virtual bar. They'll eventually reappear when this happens, so you don't have to worry about losing your shot, but it still seems to be the least favorite game online. The most recent game update added new tabletop games and physics-based toys. Shuffleboard, chess, and checkers tables can be found in the lounge area in the bar, but none of them let you play against AI. In fact, you are on the honor system when it comes to playing by the rules. It’s just like playing in real life, as you must know the rules to properly move the game pieces. Players get a set number of weighted pucks and slide them across the smooth wooden table. A gutter surrounds the game area, so you must ensure not to use too much force. Scoring is all manual, as players will have to keep track using the nearby counter.
You'll probably not enjoy playing SportsBar VR if you only intend to play offline. The game was designed for friends to hangout and socialize online, and play some of the more popular bar games against each other. While it isn't a perfect substitution for hanging with friends in real life, for those with friends scattered across the country (or world) it can be an engaging experience. That said, I haven’t seen more than a couple of open lobbies at a time randomly throughout the day. With the holidays approaching, hopefully, it can help boost the game's online community.
Note: The review for SportsBar VR is based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.