Telltale Games, one of the worlds best known developers for creating some of the most entertaining point and click adventures under their belt has now released the sequel to their 2010 hit Poker Night. In Poker Night 2, as you begin a tournament, you will be forwarded straight into a cut-scene that takes you to the playing table. This is some kind of intergalactic time-rift of a speak-easy due to the nature of your opponents and serves as a neat little introduction to the game also. First up on the agenda is Brock Samson of Adult Swim’s popular show, Venture Bros (voiced by Patrick Warburton of Family Guy). Then followed by the annoying little dubstep spewing robot from Borderlands, Claptrap. Ash Williams of Evil Dead and Army of Darkness fame is next at the table. Unfortunately, he isn’t voiced by Bruce Campbell. However, the gentleman doing the voice work pulls it off fantastically. The final member at the table is pseudo dog-human Sam from Telltale’s own Sam & Max series. All of this hilarious super-stardom is completed with the table’s dealer and moderator, the evil robot with a niche for testing things, GLaDOS.
Once you’ve paid the 20k buy-in and GLaDOS has dealt the first deck, the action begins. The game has two of poker’s most well-known archetypes, Hold ‘Em and Omaha. Now there’s nothing too exciting or out of the ordinary going on, but it is a poker game. You know what you’re buying when you pick it up. The opponents have tells just like real people would, and it’s up to you to try and figure those out yourself.
Figuring the character’s tells out can be a daunting task. You might think you’ve found a tell, but you will not know whether it is a good or a bad tell yet. There is a fun little feature, however. With tokens that you earn by playing the game, you can buy drinks from the bar. Buying drinks for your opponents will make them a bit belligerent and their tells will be all the more obvious with the more alcohol they consume. These drinks are also delivered by Moxxi from the Borderlands series.
Drinks aren’t the only things you can buy with tokens. You can buy new card decks, table felts, and even chip sets. If you activate all three of any one set, for example, Army of Darkness chips, table felt, and deck will alter the entire inventory to match your selected theme. This makes the graft of unlocking tokens more worthwhile in the long run.
The game offers a challenge known as a bounty. In real poker, a bounty is when you make the previous winner bust out of the game. That means you win a small side-pot for defeating the champion. In Poker Night 2 however, it means that you will win an item that is very special to one of your opponents by winning the entire tournament. To unlock these bounties, you must first complete three bounty challenges. Like ‘win a hand with a straight or higher’ or ‘go all-in and win’. Once you have completed all three, the next game will have the special items up for grabs. Brock’s item is an orb that holds significance within the show. Claptrap’s item is his SPIKE Character of the Year video game award. Ash’s item is the unholy book of the dead, the Necronomicon, and Sam’s is his trusty banjo. Unlocking each of these will earn you an avatar award and extra unlockables for Borderlands 2.
Now this all sounds very basic and unoriginal. But the draw of the game is not the poker itself. It is the witty humour that comes from the game’s cast. The characters are portrayed perfectly and act just as they do within their own mediums. Brock gets unnecessarily angry as he does in the show, even dropping an F-bomb if you really get on his nerves. Claptrap is annoying as all hell, never shutting up and making the kind of noise that makes you want to tear your ears off. Ash has all the funny one-liners that made Army of Darkness a classic, and Sam drops some spiritual knowledge that just might make you think. He is often superseded by his maniacally uncouth rabbit partner, Max. GLaDOS will also chime in often to let you know that you’re a moron who doesn’t even deserve her testing wiles. There are many conversations that these characters have between themselves that are as hilarious as they are interesting. I found myself not wanting to skip hands that I was out of just so that I could hear what the varied cast had to say. The dialogue isn’t repeated as much as you’d think either. There is a wide array of conversations that the characters have, and their moods progress or digress as the game rolls on.
I’ve found that the A.I. won’t make stupid bets. If there were difficulty levels in the game, I’d say it’s on expert mode by default. You really have to pick your bets and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em. With a 20k buy in and the blinds starting at 800, you can get knocked out extremely quickly. Buying drinks for the opponents is key, and keeping your bets low unless you have a sure-fire winning hand will keep you alive. As Ash would say, play smart, play S-Mart.
Telltale’s Poker Night 2 certainly has a lot going for it. But with an unnecessary amount of poker games already on the Xbox LIVE Arcade, is it worth buying? Comparing it with the others on paper leaves Poker Night 2 unfairly losing as it doesn’t feature any online play. There’s a nice little amount of unlockables and plenty laughs to be had. But, it’s the humour and the charm that make Poker Night 2 a worthwhile title. If you’re a fan of even one of the cast, it’s well worth giving it a go. The ensemble is what makes the game what it is, groovy. For those looking for a real poker experience; this review of 888 should provide the information needed.