Inside Pulse 12

Review: Poker Night 2 (Xbox 360)

pokernight2COVERPoker Night 2
Genre: Poker/Card Game
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date:4/24/13

Poker Night 2 is an odd game to try and review.

On one hand it’s a poker game. Every game is played tournament style, meaning you start off with four players, all with the same starting amount of money, with the aim to take all of the opposing players chips. There are two different types of poker to play. First is the popular Texas Hold-Em style, where players are dealt two hole cards and then try to assemble the best hand out of five cards that are dealt in the middle of the table. There’s also an option to play Omaha style, in which every player is dealt four hole cards instead of two, however, the hand a player builds can only contain two of those hole cards.

The poker part of the game is fairly basic. You always play against the same four opponents, and eventually are able to understand their tells and playing styles. Drinks can be purchased to exaggerate these tells. Through playing you can unlock different themed felts, cards and chips, though none of these change the game much. The game keeps track of the player statistics, and there’s a leaderboard for money earned through the game. It’s possible to get into negative money earned, which doesn’t change anything.

There are no multiplayer modes, either local or online. The poker aspect of the game has been boiled down to the basics. On top of that the game has some issues.

There are graphical problems. There are times when it the game will skip frames of animation. Numerous audio issues appear; I’ve had speech repeat in a loop, a moment when it has overlapped with other speech at the same time, which makes it impossible to understand what it being said. None of this is game breaking, but it is annoying.

PN2Frankly, if you are buying this to play a poker game, for the cost of this game you can purchase any number of other poker games on Xbox Live Arcade, and nearly every one of them would be a technically better poker game.

But.

What I haven’t mentioned so far are the characters you are playing against. They are Brock Sampson from Venture Brothers, Claptrap from Borderlands, Ash from Army of Darkness, Sam from Sam & Max, and the dealer is GlaDOS from Portal.

There are people who this game is for and people who are better off not buying this game. If you do not recognize a majority of the characters listed above, then you are among the latter. If you do recognize those characters, then you might already be jumping for joy at the prospect of virtually hanging out and playing poker with them.

It’s strange; judging Poker Night 2 strictly by the game mechanics it’s merely a serviceable, if lackluster, poker game. As an experience, however, it is fantastic. At least for me it is, because I’m a fan of most of the characters, and the one that I didn’t know much about (Brock Sampson, as I haven’t ever seen Venture Brothers) was still fun to listen to. Within minutes, it is easy to grasp his character.

It feels odd to recommend a game not for great game design but to hang out with fictional characters, but that’s just what I’m doing. Each character is brought to life in a variety of ways. The voice acting is great, and the original voice actors reprise most of their roles. It is noticeable, though, that Ash is not voiced by Bruce Campbell, but I have to give the actor credit, he sounds close, and after a bit, you don’t even notice it. Each character has stories to tell, reacts accordingly to how the game plays out, and has their own specific visual tells. Each character also has a play style that fits; Ash bluffs big and takes risks, while Max plays it safe and cool. In fact, this social aspect is what elevates it from other poker games that might be better mechanically. Hanging out, telling stories and trying to figure out someone’s playing style by their reactions is a huge part of poker, and the reason why people get together to play.

While other poker games add incentives like unlocking higher stakes games or other rewards for continuing to play, Poker Night 2 hooks the player a different way. The game has a bounty system, and when certain conditions are met an opponent will put up a personal object that can be won if you win that tournament. Winning those objects also earns achievements, avatar props, and unlockable skins in Borderlands 2 (though you need to sign up for a Shift account in order to use these skins). Aside from tangible rewards, it is just worth replaying the game to hear the stories the characters tell. Sure, there’s instances of repeat dialog, and the more you play the more you will notice this, however, there’s an amazing amount of recorded dialog in the game. I’d wager that Claptrap alone has as much recorded dialog in Poker Night 2 as he does in the entirety of Borderlands 2. Claptrap humming ‘There ain’t no rest for the wicked…’ or the the fact that they have individual drink preferences shows an amazing dedication to getting the smallest details right.

PN2-2I think it says a lot about the strength of these characters that you can take them out of the action oriented series many of the characters are known for and place them in a relaxed setting like this, along with having them interact with other characters from different mediums, and not only for it to work well, but to be as entertaining as it is. I’d give some examples, however, it is much better to experience it for yourself.

Based off of just the pure game mechanics it’s a hard sell. There’s only two types of poker, and of those, the ante value is the same. There’s no real sense of progression in terms of playing harder players or moving up to higher value tables. There’s no multiplayer. There are some slight graphical hitches and audio issues. Conceptually, though, the game is amazing, and really does give the feel of hanging out with fictional characters that you might be a fan of. It shows the social side of poker in a different way that most poker games are missing, and has a lot of personality. Even though there’s no real money on the line or penalties for losing, it’s still strangely tense when you get down to that final face off.

Short Attention Span Summary: I highly recommend Poker Night 2, IF you recognize at least three of the characters listed, whether or not you enjoy poker. On the flip side, if those characters are not familiar to you, then go do something else. Like watch the original Evil Dead trilogy or go play Portal.