Poker Night at the Inventory
Genre: Traditional Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: 11/22/2010
When Poker Night at the Inventory (from now on referred to as PNI) was announced some people, including myself, didn’t think it would actually be a straight up poker game. I mean, why go through all the trouble of gathering four characters from four different franchises and three different mediums if you’re just going to make a poker video game out of it?
Well, it’s here and… it’s a poker game. Well, I guess now that my theory is busted I might as well review the resultant game.
The titular “Inventory”Â is actually a secret gaming club built in the 19th century and used during a game prohibition in the “Ëœ20s and hidden in a warehouse. It’s still a secret location now and apparently you venture in to play some poker and find Tycho Brahe, Heavy Weapons Guy, Strongbad, and Max just getting ready to play a hand when the club’s host gets you into the table and everyone puts up their ten thousand dollar ante and the game begins.
It’s a very basic storyline but really, how can you get a poker game to be any more complicated than that?
The real beauty however is in the dialogue between the characters. As you’d expect from Telltale Games, the banter between the characters is witty and at the very least will elicit a smile from your face. Things like Strongbad and Max pitching an awkwardly subliminal ad to get you to log into Telltale Games’ store page or how Heavy Weapons Guy refers to Strongbad as “Little Heavy”Â are funny no matter how many times I listen to them.
Of course, if you’re invested in the histories of any of these characters you’ll get even more enjoyment of the game, like how Max constantly refers to Flint Paper and Tycho having a Giraffe fetish. Luckily for me, I’m a fan of Team Fortress 2, Sam and Max, Penny Arcade, and Homestar Runner so I will “get”Â nearly every single reference and in-joke and extract maximum enjoyment from the writing.
Of course, if you’re not familiar with the characters you might not enjoy it as much as I did. The number of “ZOMG TYCHO ENDORSES BESTIALITY!11″Â threads on forums such as GameFAQs is evidence of this.
Story/Modes Rating: Very Good
Al the character’s models are lifted straight from their respective games, with the exception of Tycho who was made from scratch.
Since this is a game from Telltale, the actual club you play it looks like it came straight from a Sam and Max game which means it looks good, not great but there are some nice details like Flint Paper drinking at the bar or Sam waiting upstairs for Max.
The cards and chips themselves look good as does the interface. I especially like how the face cards have gaming themes such as the King cards wearing a power glove and a headset and holding a joystick.
Since the player models are from different games you may think the art styles clash but strangely to me they don’t! I already know how Strongbad, Max, and Heavy look like and if they tried to mess with them to get the art style in line it would look weird to me. The only complaint is Tycho’s model does seem out of place and doesn’t really mimic the comic’s art style as well as Strongbad and Max mimic their original mediums (online cartoon and paper comic respectively) but at least his facial expressions are well done.
Graphics Rating: Good
This is where the game REALLY shines. All the original voice actors are back for their respective characters and Andrew “Kid Beyond”Â Chaikin does a great job of delivering Tycho’s dry sense of humour. Tycho’s voice was the main concern I had going into this game but after playing the game I’m going to imagine Mr.Chaikin’s voice in my head whenever I read a Penny Arcade comic strip.
There is a tune that plays in the background and while it fits the mood of an underground secret poker club, it’s not really that memorable or notable.
Sound Rating: Classic
What’s there to explain? It’s straight up No Limits Texas Hold “ËœEm, the most popular card game in the world. Even if you don’t know how to play, there’s an in-game tutorial that explains the game very plainly and breaks it down so any neophyte will at least get basic poker strategy down. Unfortunately, the tutorial is simply a text and pictures tutorial in the help menu and is not integrated into the gameplay like I would have liked.
Now before we go into AI, I confess I am a terrible poker player, which is a side effect of being born into a religion/country that forbids gambling (which makes me wonder why I’m the one writing this review), so any card sharks are welcome to correct any of the following information.
The AI in PNI is not very good and I’m certain Telltale did this on purpose. Your fellow poker players are reckless and regularly go all in and raise in bluff attempts even if they have junk cards. I think the reason for this is that real poker games are usually very cautious affairs that take hours to get through but PNI was designed as a short game to play on your lunch break or whatever in 15 or 20 minute intervals.
While this is good and all, it tends to make the game more about luck rather than careful strategy. If you try to play it safe and only play when you’ve got a good hand the other players will be going all in and busting out. You might say that’s good, right? Let them lose their money and let me stay in the game. Problem is, you can easily make it to the showdown with the final player but he will usually have three or four times the amount of money you have since he’s cleaned out everyone else while you were on the sidelines and now he has a near insurmountable lead. Therefore, you’ve got to be just as crazy as them and throw caution to the wind.
So if you’re a newbie poker player, this game will teach you some bad habits you wouldn’t want to do in real life.
On the upside, PNI captures the social aspect of Poker better than any computer version of the game I’ve seen. Chatting and taunting are regular aspects of the game and all the characters have specific “tells”Â that betray their cards. Currently, the ones I know is that the Heavy will adjust his bandolier when he thinks he’s got good cards and Max’s left hand quivers if he has crap cards. There are bound to be more but this is one of things that I really like about the game and keep it distinct from the flood of poker games on the market.
But one huge blow to the game is that there is no form of multiplayer whatsoever! For a game based on groups of people getting together, this is a huge oversight and really hurts PNI’s value.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Above Average
The aforementioned lack of multiplayer, online or otherwise really hurts this title but there is a lot of incentives to play the game.
If you own a copy of Team Fortress 2, then the characters will regularly offer personal items as collateral and if you bust them out, you can use their items on your Team Fortress 2 characters! A great demonstration of how two game studios can leverage their products to each other.
Also, after every few wins you get a new deck of cards or new poker table to play on and characters sometimes change their clothes or appearance (Heavy wears his Poker visor, Strongbad looks like a videlectrix game character).
So you’ll be getting your $5 out of this game even if you don’t care about listening to all the funny dialogue.
Replayability Rating: Good
Of all the characters in the game, Tycho seems to be the least reckless and Max the most reckless, with Strongbad and the Heavy somewhere in between. This tends to mean that Tycho wins most of the tournaments and consequently you get to see most of his dialogue first. The flip side is that Max rarely gets to the end because he’s so preoccupied with going all in recklessly and you never get to hear his lines as often.
Of course, we’re speaking in relative terms as considering the near suicidal AI, Tycho is still a completely crazy poker player.
Balance Rating: Pretty Poor
It’s a poker game. This is usually relegated to a minigame in most other titles (Red Dead Redemption’s poker is pretty good) or as a free online flash game. Besides, poker has been around for more than a century now.
The way the game is presented however, is quite innovative with a focus on the social aspect of poker rather than simply computation of the odds that you see in most other electronic poker titles. Combined with the way you can win items for other games and the chance to interact with some of your favourite characters, Telltale really went out of their way to make a Poker game that stands out from the rest.
But it’s still just a poker game.
Originality Rating: Decent
Since a single match in this game is about 15 minutes long, this is a perfect time waster. The multitude of things you can do in this game such as unlocking more tables and decks or simply improving your stats and listening to all the in-jokes the developers stuffed into the game.
Occasionally, though, the incredibly random AI will frustrate you with long shot odds that manage to beat you. I don’t know if that’s due to my luck or the game cheating.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
The problem with having a poker game starring characters with different fanbases like Strongbad, Sam and Max, Team Fortress 2 and Penny Arcade is that you risk alienating one of the fanbases.
Luckily though, each of the fanbases is quite large (with the exception of Sam and Max). Team Fortress 2 is one of most popular FPSes on the PC. Penny Arcade and Homestar Runner’s get millions of hits a month. Penny Arcade fans are also people who would be familiar with all three other franchises (being nerds) so there is some overlap.
Also, free TF2 items. And just five dollars.
Appeal Factor Rating: Very Good
I’m honestly surprised at the complete inability to play multiplayer in this game. I know I’ve mentioned it before in this review but it bears mentioning again: POKER GAMES MUST HAVE MULTIPLAYER!
It’s a damn shame because PNI has a better interface than most of the crap online poker games and I’d never fire them up again if this had multiplayer.
But it was nice of Valve to give me a poker visor item for the heavy by simply preordering.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Short Attention Span Summary
For five dollars, Poker Night at the Inventory is a fun little game if you are a fan of any of the characters at the table. However, the lack of multiplayer of any kind and a poor AI means this isn’t a title for seasoned card sharks.