When Full House Poker hit Xbox Live Arcade back in 2011, it had one thing that other play-money poker games did not – Texas Heat. For those who never played it, Texas Heat was a gameshow-style poker tournament, presented on a schedule. Each half-hour “show” consisted of three levels of play, with better (or luckier) players being promoted and demoted between the different levels of table periodically. At the end of the show, you were awarded XP based on how you did, whether or not you had shown down the biggest hand of the event, and so on. It was fun, it was frantic, and some players genuinely looked forward to taking part.
Which is why it is absolutely confusing as to why this has been removed entirely from the game’s spiritual sequel. That’s without even mentioning that there are no multi-table tournaments of any kind to be found, or any type of poker other than Texas Hold ‘Em. No Omaha. No Razz. Not even a bit of classic 5-Card Draw.
What remains in the free-to-play World Series of Poker: Full House Pro is nothing other than what every other play-money poker game released in the last ten years has given us, which is the ability to play against the AI or other players online in ring games or single-table tournaments. The spoils of these competitions can be spent in the in-game store on fripperies such as different felts, deck patterns, stack formations, chip tricks, and apparel for your avatar. Some items require you to use “gold” (rather than chips) as currency. Gold is hard to come by in the game, but if you’re feeling wealthy, you can spend up to 6,000 MSP (no, we don’t know why the prices are still in MSP, either) on various amounts of gold in order to boost your balance. Fortunately, the effectively real-money items that you can purchase don’t actually affect the way you play or prevent you from winning, so Full House Pro truly is a free-to-play game. Sure, some of them give you XP boosts for a certain amount of hands, but you can win that XP via regular play, too.
But even though that’s a major positive, there are some more flies to be found in the ointment. After a somewhat lengthy beta test that apparently involved half of Canada, the final product that you’re able to download still has a big “Beta” sign on the title screen. And that’s just for starters as when you get to the tables themselves, it can be quite obvious as to why that’s the case. Every game we’ve played so far has seen us being told that voice chat is disabled due to network issues, despite there being no issue with our systems playing other games online either directly before, or directly after. On some occasions, the game will suddenly decide to grind and crawl, slowing down to the point that you can’t actually make a choice before your action timer runs out. Or there's the wonderful way in which the game sometimes just refuses to let anyone at the table do anything other than quit.
These things happen more than they should, for sure.
Then you run into what has to be one of the nastiest bugs you could find in a poker game. With two players remaining in the hand and one of them all-in, the dealer carries on dealing the community cards without each players hole cards being flipped up. Are you ahead? Are you behind? What cards could beat you? You’ve no idea. Even when the cards do get shown (generally after the next community card is dealt) there’s nothing even as simple as a percentage chance display to help raise the tension. This sort of functionality was present in 2007’s World Series of Poker: Tournament Champions for the Xbox 360, as well as in countless games that were released even earlier than that on other formats.
But alas, quite a lot of basic things such as this are missing. You can’t see your own hand statistics, for example, or your showdown percentage, or what percentage of hands you’ve played. In fact, almost no improvements have been made to the game engine at all. The same buttons as last time around control your actions, the same chip-trick system is in place, and the same camera angles are on offer – although now if you play using the unaltered top-down camera, players third, fourth, and fifth from the dealer have information about their actions and how many chips they’ve got cut off by the top of your screen. That’s just basic, right there. You even get the same old game-slowing cutaway showing your player celebrating, when nothing has happened other than you're on the big blind and everyone has folded to you.
Presentation-wise, Full House Pro has jacked things up a little in places, but only a little. The official World Series of Poker branding is obviously splashed all over the place, and ESPN’s Lon McEachren and Norman Chad provide colour commentary, just like they do on the WSOP TV shows. However, the game is very, very similar graphics-wise, to the prequel, and the commentators’ chat is sporadic and limited to calling out how long is left in the blind level or coming up with stock lines such as “…and the player wins the hand.”
If you enjoyed Full House Poker for reasons other than the Texas Heat shows, then you’ll probably have a ball here, as it’s all but identical in so many ways. In fact, the only things we can see that are really different is that a whole bunch of stuff has been removed and that the game is now free.
World Series of Poker: Full House Pro is a free-to-play game that isn’t a pay-to-win game. That doesn’t mean that it gets a free ride. Given that a few years have passed since the prequel, you’d imagine the product to be a heck of a lot more substantial than it is. There’s so much basic stuff missing here – you can’t even sort the multiplayer game list by how much the table buy-in is - and so little in the way of improvements, that Full House Pro seems somewhat lazy. If you’re happy to play within the limitations of the product and manage to avoid all the bugs, the poker itself is sometimes generally half-decent. But as a package, “half-decent” is about as far as it goes.