“Bluff and Fold” should have been the subtitle for Poker Night 2, the latest console and PC card game from The Walking Dead developers Telltale Games. This is the kind of game that sounds like a great idea at first blush, which it really is, but in execution it’ll leave even the casual poker player scratching their heads.
Who wouldn’t want to play poker tournaments against characters from your favorite games, movies and animated series? You can go up against Brock Sampson from The Venture Bros., Ash Williams from The Evil Dead movies, Claptrap from Gearbox’s Borderlands games and Sa, from Sam & Max to play against. All of this is completed by GLaDOS from Portal playing the role of dealer. If that wasn’t enough, Mad Moxie makes an appearance as the barkeep. Sound good? It’s a great start seeing these characters around the table, but very quickly the novelty wears off.
The first issue with using existing and somewhat popular characters is that, apparently, Telltale seem to have only been able to afford their time for a limited period. It’s either that, or they simply chose to only develop the most limited selection of dialog for each character. Give it an hour and you’ll have heard every word they’ll ever say – resorting to muting the volume just to find respite from their repeated words. It certainly starts out funny, but it gets old fast.
Then there’s the characters themselves, with each one maintains their personality from their respective mediums, spilling over into how they play. Claptrap, for example, is a an absolute idiot, often playing that way; while Sam is far more conservative and calculating, just like you’d expect from a detective. The trouble is, once you learn how each one plays, it’s quick work to wipe them out quickly. Your only obstacle is how the cards fall and it seems that here we find some of the worst card “simulation” deals in a digital poker game.
A typical tournament devolves very quickly into you folding frequently as your cards are terrible for the first few rounds, then you get one good hand, which if you just keep raising the stakes will certainly get either Ash or Claptrap to go “all in” and lose everything. Within five minutes of play you’ve taken out at least one, if not two, players around the table. By the way, I guarantee that very early on at least one of these weakly-scripted players will go all-in – even with a completely garbage hand of cards.
It’s almost as if it’s some sort of weird fallback the AI goes to, one it almost never succeeds with. I’m not a poker player outside of a couple casual games about once a year with friends, but even I could read the rhythm of Poker Night 2‘s playstyle very quickly. Any regular poker player could wipe the floor with the AI very quickly. Going back to the AI’s “all in” maneuver, I’ve never seen a person in the real-world bet everything they have in the first hand dealt, but I’ve seen it plenty in Poker Night 2.
Once you’ve, far too easily, knocked out a few players, then begins the plentiful folding of your hand – allowing the remaining two players take one another out. It’s likely you won’t get to play your hand that often during this part of the round, as you’ll be receiving some of the worst cards ever while the AI gets multiple pairs and flushes. Once you’re down to a mano-a-mano match against the remaining AI it’s pure luck, not strategy, that’ll determine the winner for the most part. That is unless you get a really good hand and can trick the AI into going all in against it. I’ve played a lot of iOS, PC and Facebook poker games that have far better card playing AI than Poker Night 2 does.
As far as technical issues go, Poker Night 2 is pretty solid on PC, though oddly on the Xbox 360 I saw several stutters and framerate issues. Issues that are all to familiar with those who played the original PC version of Poker Night at the Inventory. How is it that a simple poker game seems to bring the Xbox 360 to its knees at times? On PC, the game ran much better.
Poker Night 2 is a very casual take on the poker genre. You really shouldn’t expect much of a challenge after you figure out the overall playstyles of each character. Thankfully, Telltale’s loaded the game with an extra poker type (Omaha), along with a ton of unlockables, including custom chips, table felts and card decks. This is far from the type of poker title to keep serious players busy for long, but it’s a nice distraction every now and again for everyone else.
Visual/Audio - 3/5: Good-looking animations and character models, with some laugh-out-loud dialog to boot. Shame it’s repetitive.
Gameplay – 3/5: Opponents’ skills are lackluster, but provides an enjoyable distraction now and again.
Innovation – 2/5: Straight up Poker with humorous characters. Nothing really new here.
Value - 3/5: Poker itself gets stale after a bit, but completionists have plenty of unlockables to keep them busy.