Review: Arctic Stud Poker Run (PC)

aspr box gifArctic Stud Poker Run Review
Publisher: Got Game Entertainment
Developer: Game Refuge
Genre: Vehicular Combat
Release Date: 03/03/2008

It’s funny how life works sometimes. A few weeks ago I was playing Cel Damage, as I’m wont to do, and I thought to myself “What this game really needs is poker-style card collecting and gambling!”

Mere hours later, what should come across my desk but Arctic Stud Poker Run – An arcade style ruckus combining armed combat and off-road racing with high-stakes poker!

My prayers were answered.

My dream had come true.

aspr screen 1With skeptical sarcasm aside, after playing the game, you’d be surprised how accurately that marketing tagline describes Arctic Stud Poker Run. It’s a scaled down Twisted Metal-style melee with the added layer of poker gameplay and gambling. Instead of feeling forced and tacked on, it gives purpose to the vehicular assault seen in many games of this ilk. Rather than just obliterating everyone, there are co-missions to assemble a winning poker hand and win the race. Confused?

Arctic Stud Poker Run, or ASPR as we’re gonna call it from here on out, is one of the more unique games you’ll find on any gaming platform. The setting, an arctic world with giant playing cards, makes the game stand out. There is a selection of Nordic characters to choose from, each with different abilities and personalities. There isn’t much to the characters outside of some generic character types, although such stereotypes as hot-chick-with-big-boobs and bulky-guy-in-flannel-shirt are well executed.

The core gameplay in ASPR has the player controlling a vehicle in an icy terrain in search of five playing cards with three other opponents also vying for the cards. Together the cards make up a hand of poker, and the best hand of the round is the winning hand. However, there are two major twists – the four vehicles are also racing against each other, and after the first place finisher crosses the line, the others have only 90 seconds to finish. The vehicles can also attack each other, steal cards and block the finish line. Turbos litter the track, as do weapons and other items and obstacles.

aspr screen 3The key to success in ASPR is balancing the speed and precision of finding a winning hand while defending against attacks and going on the offensive when needed. It’s actually pretty deep and complicated for what you might expect.

Like in real poker, there is betting and folding, although in ASPR they are executed in ways that enhance the combat race. If you believe your hand is a winning one, you can raise the stakes and everyone else has to up their bet. However, then you are unable to fold, which you can also do at any time. You must still finish the race if you want to fold.

Arctic Stud Poker Run has a number of weapons that vary from typical (missiles, bombs) to unique (magic spells that require the rider to get off the vehicle). With only four vehicles in every battle, it sometimes isn’t as action packed as it could be, but the card collecting and race elements make up for the lessened action.

The game won’t exist as a tech demo for your new graphics card, but the animation isn’t choppy and the game has a nice sense of speed. The player models are somewhat clunky and outdated, but they don’t offend. The audio is also solid, with hillbilly music and repeated wacky catchphrases.

Those looking for a poker game in ASPR will be in for a rude awakening. This is an action combat game pure and simple, with poker existing as just a creative way of adding layers to the gameplay. That could actually work against the game’s success – is this game targeted towards poker fans or action fans? Or both?

aspr screen 4I found that playing ASPR on a PC was clumsy at times using the default keyboard and mouse settings. The game is definitely more suited for a console-style controller, and the game supports a variety of controllers (including the Xbox 360 USB controller which I found that out when I read the manual… which also bafflingly touts the 126 different loading screens featuring gameplay tips). The racing responds well to the controls, and the weapons react as they should – the execution of the gameplay is spot on. Some of the magic effects are fun to use, although risky, because getting off your vehicle leaves you open to massive attacks.

The single player game features a large single player quest to earn money and progress through the dozens of varied but somewhat similar levels. The real longevity resides in the online play, either against friends or random people online. There were people online playing each time I went online, and there was no noticeable lag in my games.

The Scores
Story: Great
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Good
Control & Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Good
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Unparalled
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Worthless
Miscellaneous: Great
Final Score: ENJOYABLE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s refreshing to see new life breathed into tired game genres. Vehicular combat hasn’t changed much in over a decade, and while the concept of poker seems at first to be bizarre and illogical, the way in which it’s implemented actually adds layers of strategy and depth to the combative gameplay. It’s nice to be pleasantly surprised by a game, especially one that seemed like such an obvious cash-grab for the poker craze. It’s not revolutionary, but it adds an interesting new twist to the genre and has enough depth to warrant it’s $20 pricetag.

There is demo available online that is a good sample of the full game.

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aspr screen 2

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