If you’re making a game about poker, you should really focus on the getting the features of the actual cardplaying right – or at least up to speed with your competition – before throwing in characters from a bunch of franchises, and a witty script.
That doesn’t seem to be what’s gone here, though.
Poker Night 2 brings us back to The Inventory, where the likes of Sam & Max and Claptrap are playing poker. The action is overseen by Portal’s GLaDOS, and everybody generally has some funny lines and full conversations that usually keep the action feeling fresh and involving, when they’re not repeating themselves or holding up the play.
But the actual game itself is festooned with issues. A number of features that have become standard in poker games (and indeed online poker) are missing, such as the simple ability to tell the game that you want to fold before your turn comes around, or changing from the default first-person camera to an overhead table view – or any other view, for that matter. Unfortunately for Poker Night 2, where some folks will be buying the game in order to unlock extra costumes and items in for use in Borderlands 2, most people will be interested in buying this game so that they can actually play poker, and there are a fair few problems with that side of things.
The CPU players seem to make incredibly stupid decisions over and over again. In one game, we had the king and queen of hearts in the pocket, with the board reading K-7-6, and the 7 and 6 being hearts also. We pushed all our chips into the pot to try and take the pot down right there and then, only to be called by Sam. Fearing that Sam had a cheeky three-of-a-kind, we covered our eyes…only to see him turn over the 10 and 2 of clubs. His hand unsurprisingly didn’t improve, and we took the pot down and knocked him out, with our pair of kings beating his king high. On the next hand, our aces beat Sam’s incredibly optimistic straight draw, and the following hand saw us take down Claptrap as he bundled all of his chips into the pot with nothing but air. Sometimes they’ll play their rag hands and hit paydirt of course, hitting a one-card flush on the turn after calling two bets with nothing but 8-2 offsuit. That’s as infuriating here as it is when it happens in real life.
There are also a couple of bugs that crawl into the mix. We’ve seen CPU opposition make the announcement that they’re going “all in” (for the uninitiated, this means betting all of your chips), and still have a few thousand dollars’ worth of chips sitting in front of them. When this happens, if you raise the pot, the console locks up altogether. You can generally pick up where you left off once you reboot, to be fair, but that’s hardly the point. Some incredibly amateur oversights come into play at times, too. If you’re busted out of a tournament, you have the option of viewing possible unlocks, or going straight back to the table to start a new hold ‘em or Omaha tournament. What you can’t do ever, is exit out of the game or back to a main menu, as there’s no option for that. So you have to start a new game, wait for all the increasingly boring cutscenes to play out, and then exit via the pause menu. Dire.
On top of that, the pace of the game is far slower than you’d hope for. Sometimes, characters will stop before making a play, in order to roll out long diatribes which again, may well be funny, but get in the way of the game far too much. You can skip these chats, but only if you’ve already folded. If not, you have to sit and wait for them to finish chatting before they make a decision about what they’re going to do. Don’t think that turning the voices off from the audio options makes things any better either, as all it does is silence the sound. The characters still sit there with their mouths flapping open and closed, and you still have to wait for them to finish “talking” before you can progress. Having the slowest talking character in the game – GLaDOS - acting as the dealer and announcer wasn’t the best idea, either. Hearing her waffling on after the cards have been shown down, about how she’d like to store a copy of the game so she can replay it in her mind whenever she wants to – three hands in a row – just grates.
All of these faults are a shame, as there are some nice touches in Poker Night 2. When they’re not holding up the game, the conversations between players genuinely add a layer of atmosphere to proceedings. You can also access a drinks menu, and buy a beverage for one of your opponents. When this happens, the barmaid mixes the drink in the background as you carry on playing, and then brings it to the table. Once your foe has had a sip or two, they can lose their poker face, meaning that it’s easier to read whether they’re bluffing, or whether they’re holding a strong hand. Unfortunately, these bright spots are few and far between, and are far outweighed by the feeling of general annoyance that persists.
Poker Night 2 doesn’t stand up well against the likes of Full House Poker, or even older poker titles such as Microsoft’s own Texas Hold ‘Em from way back when, Daniel Negranu’s Stacked, or even the old World Series of Poker titles. With Full House Poker’s WSOP-licenced sequel coming out shortly, Poker Night 2 had to be pretty much on the money, and as entertaining as the dialogue and characters can be, it misses the target by a fair way. Some will get hooked – and fair play to them – but this is far from what it needed to be.