Pools Review (PC)

The smell of chlorine and dread will fill your nostrils as you explore this creepy wet maze.

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Pools is a game that contains no UI, no dialogue, no health system, and no objective markers. Normally when a game is described as a, “vibes-only,” experience, it still contains a few other elements beyond sheer vibes. In Pools, vibes is all there is; the whole game depends on an eerie atmosphere that grows more intensely unsettling as the player progresses through each level.

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Pools is available now on PC.

POOLS Launch Trailer

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It is also a game that requires a great deal of patience and is not going to be for everyone. I have heard it being compared to The Backrooms a couple of times, but I’d argue that there is actually a lot more to The Backrooms in terms of enemies and gameplay mechanics. In Pools, the only gameplay mechanics are walking, running, and controlling the camera.

You cannot interact with anything in the environment; this means that you can’t pick up objects, open doors, or even crouch. However, you can slide down a multitude of different colored water slides dotted throughout the game twisted environment, although this is done by simply approaching the mouth of the slide and allowing it to swallow you up.

Speaking of the environment, this is really the star attraction here. This meticulously designed labyrinth of dark corridors, confusing geometry, and mazes within mazes does enough to keep the player engaged throughout the pretty short experience. Even just the simplicity of the white tiled texture that covers the walls and floors becomes hypnotic after staring at it for an extended period of time to the point that you can almost smell the chlorine.

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The mundanity of the environment brings an equal sense of both nostalgic familiarity and a palpable cold loneliness simultaneously. If you were ever dragged to an antiquated swimming bath when you were at school and forced to swim in the freezing waters, then the environment of Pools will likely conjure up a few memories for you.

Doing a Lot With a Little

Pools is a very pretty game in a sort of clinical way.
Pools is a very pretty game in a sort of clinical way.

Although the game makes ample use of reflections and textures, the lighting is what really gives the visual of Pools their flavor. Whether shrouding the player in a pitch darkness for extended periods of time, or over exposing them with blinding brightness, light is used in a clever way here to cause a sense of unease.

Matching the unsettling visuals is the brilliant audio present in the game. From the sound of moist footsteps, to a foreboding bellowing coming from the black void of parallel corridors, the audio mixing is done masterfully here. It not only matches up to what is being presented onscreen, but it actually enhances it. It also takes advantage of contrast in a similar way to how the lighting does. After hours of apparent silence, the abrupt creak of a door opening or a piece of music emanating from the unknown becomes quite terrifying.

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Pools also capitalizes on the common fears of claustrophobia and agoraphobia, presenting both vast, wide open rooms and impossibly tight spaces that the player has to squeeze through; sometimes these are even thrown at the player one after the other. Other tricks are utilized to create a sense of unease like a ladder representing a possible escape to the circus being pulled away from you as soon as you approach it, or a pair of hands letting go of an underwater ladder and vanishing out of sight.

All Wet and No Dry Makes Pools a Creepy Fever Dream

It is hard to deny that this area of The Backrooms strongly resembles the design architecture seen in Pools.
It is hard to deny that this area of The Backrooms strongly resembles the design architecture seen in Pools.

We have already covered the influence of The Backrooms on Pools, but there is also a distinct Kubrickian feel inherent within the game, with certain labyrinths reminding me of The Overlook hotel from The Shining. Combine this with the strange imagery of a David Lynch film and the oddness of Ari Aster and you can see where Pools gets its ability to successfully build tension across an extended period of time.

And that tension emanates from each new room the player enters, building throughout the entire experience. The only issue with successfully building this much tension is that you need to then top it off with an equally successful conclusion and this is Pools’ biggest flaw. I won’t directly spoil the game’s ending here, all I’ll say is that instead of ending with a bang, it goes with a disappointing whimper.

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Still though, despite the way that the game wraps things up and despite its short length, Pools is still a pretty extraordinary achievement. As I said previously, it will not be for everyone, but if you are able to appreciate how much is done here using so few tools, then you will hopefully appreciate this delightfully unsettling experience just as much as I did.

Pools – 8/10

8 out of 10

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Written by Daniel Boyd

Articles Published: 157

Dan is one of FandomWire's Gaming Content Leads and Editors. Along with Luke Addison, he is one of the site's two Lead Video Game Critics and Content Co-ordinators. He is a 28-year-old writer from Glasgow. He graduated from university with an honours degree in 3D Animation, before pivoting to pursue his love for critical writing. He has also written freelance pieces for other sites such as Game Rant, WhatCulture Gaming, KeenGamer.com and The Big Glasgow Comic Page. He loves movies, video games and comic books.