As a poker player, I've tried out a variety of different poker games in my time. Some decent, some plaintively terrible, and none of them have really come close to offering a truly great poker experience. Having missed out on Poker Night at the Inventory, I'm approaching its sequel as a new and individual title. So will it be the one great poker game we've all been waiting for? In short, no.
Poker Night 2 is a Texas Hold 'Em and Omaha simulator from Telltale Games. The unseen player character is pitted against 4 famous faces from the world of nerd culture, including Ash from The Evil Dead franchise and Claptrap from Borderlands, with Portal's GLaDOS acting as the dealer.
The most important point to note about this title is that it's not what you'd call a serious poker game. The AI opponents will make some questionable plays, folding to miniscule re-raises and calling in extremely marginal spots. That's not to say that they play badly all of the time, but some of the plays made will leave even intermediate poker players scratching their heads. In many ways, Poker Night 2 evokes the feel of a casual home game with amateur friends, with genuinely skilled players either cleaning up or falling victim to a lucky donkey.
This feeling is amplified by the blind structures. Each player is given a $20,000 starting stack, but the blinds start at $400/$800, leaving very little room for strategic play and causing frequent all-ins. This fast, erratic style fits the silly tone the game is aiming for, certainly, but it would be nice to be able to alter the blind structures a little to accommodate a wider variety of game styles.
Adjustable blind settings would be particularly helpful in Omaha; it's already a far more active game than Texas Hold 'Em, and with such large blinds very few of my tournaments lasted longer than 2 or 3 hands before an all-in took place. The lack of an option to play Pot Limit is particularly egregious, given its universality in modern Omaha.
If you're not a particularly serious poker player, however, it should be easy enough to overlook these faults and simply enjoy Poker Night 2 for what it is: a competent poker simulator. Even outside of the poker on offer, one of the game's biggest draws is arguably its cast of 'celebrity' characters. Sadly, it falls somewhat short on this front, as well.
I'm personally unfamiliar with most of the characters in Poker Night 2; the ones I do know are somewhat mediocre here, and the ones that I don't know have not won me over with their portrayals in this game. Claptrap is arguably the most conventional, spouting the same kind of inane but charming chatter he's known and loved for in Borderlands. GLaDOS, on the other hand, is quite disappointing; her usual brand of subtle and insidious humour has been replaced with open hostility and silly insults. The writing is fairly sub-par, all-round; the jokes just aren't all that funny and tend to grate with consistent repetition. This is particularly disappointing from Telltale, as their previous game The Walking Dead is perhaps the most well written piece of fiction I've ever experienced.
There is also a variety of unlockables available. Each character has signature items that unlock Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands items, offered as a bounty in the next tournament by performing three specific actions in the previous game. It's a fairly shameless way of padding out the length, and can further detract from any focus on playing natural poker by forcing you to attempt to meet certain criteria, instead of making the correct play. Purchasing sets of cards, chips and felts can unlock new pieces of dialogue, which should provide plenty of replay value provided you enjoy the banter, and a feature allowing you to buy opponents drinks to learn their tells adds an interesting new dynamic to play.
Despite the seemingly negative nature of this review, it really is worth considering value for money on a title like this. At £4 on Steam and 800 Microsoft Points, you can't really expect anything too refined. I've certainly paid more money for worse poker games, World Series of Poker on the PSP, for example, but there are cheaper games of similar quality out there. Anyone seeking a challenging and refined poker game should look elsewhere. Anyone looking for a simple, competent and occasionally entertaining way to waste a couple of hours should find something to enjoy in Poker Night 2.
Poker Night 2 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
As a poker player, I've tried out a variety of different poker games in my time. Some decent, some plaintively terrible, and none of them have really come close to offering a truly great poker experience. Having missed out on Poker Night at the Inventory, I'm approaching its sequel as a new and individual title. So will it be the one great poker game we've all been waiting for?