Review: Poker Night 212 Jun 2013 0
The real joy of board games comes from playing them with other people. I love sitting around talking and laughing with my friends while challenging myself to not completely suck at something. It’s this interaction and camaraderie that sets table top games apart from all other forms of entertainment. You just don’t get this experience from most video games.
Telltale's Poker Night 2 sets out to recreate that feeling -- albeit with fictional characters from around geekdom. A worthy goal, but one that Poker Night 2 can't quite achieve. Getting to have a Hold 'em showdown with Ash from Army of Darkness while GLaDOS and Claptrap shoot the breeze from the sidelines manages to be the game's greatest achievement and most grating flaw all at once.
Poker Night 2 has, at its core, a fairly decent poker engine. You can play Texas Hold ‘em or Omaha Hold ‘em and the AI in both is fairly decent. That said, no one is buying this game just to play poker. There are much better poker games out on the App Store. No, you’re paying for the chance to play poker (and hang out with) GLaDOS from Portal, Ash from the Evil Dead, Sam of Sam & Max, The Venture Brothers' Brock, and Claptrap from Borderlands.
I’ll be honest, when I was given this assignment I had no idea what Poker Night 2 was. I had never played (or even heard of) it’s predecessor, Poker Night at the Inventory, so I was thinking it was simply another poker game on my iPad. When the game begins and you’re led through this bizarre, but also incredible, opening movie introducing you to the characters, I became intrigued. The only issue was, I didn’t know who any of these characters were. Sure, I knew Ash and Sam, but I hadn’t seen an Evil Dead movie or played a Sam & Max game in 20 years. I was aware of GLaDOS, but had never played Portal much less Borderlands (motion sickness prevents me from playing first person games). I’d never seen a single episode of Venture Bros. [you're fired. -ed.] So, I was a little disappointed with this initial group of opponents and was sincerely crushed when it eventually dawned on me that my opponents were never going to change. This was it. Forever and ever.
Listen, if you’re going to stick me in a room playing poker with fictional people, one of those people should be named Riker, alright?
Ok, so I was unfamiliar with the characters presented. Truth is, it didn’t matter much. I still enjoyed watching these characters interact and insult both me and each other. The amount of work Telltale put into each character really shows. They all have mannerisms you learn to watch for, and they chat with each other as if they’re all really old friends. It’s actually rather delightful to sit and watch them and listen to their stories while you’re playing cards.
Until you hear the same story for the eighteenth time, that is. That’s the real downside of this model. As realistic as they made all these characters, they’re not real. So, like the pull-string on the back of Woody, eventually you’re going to hear the same responses and stories over and over and over and…you get the point. Several tournaments into the game, I longed for a fast forward button, anything to skip the same conversations. It wouldn't be that bad if you could keep playing cards while they were talking, but for many of the lines you have to just sit there and take it. No fast forwarding, no playing your cards, just watching the cut scene go on and on for the umpteenth time.
This killed what was a great game at the start. I really enjoyed Poker Night 2 for the first couple hours as I plugged away at gaining tokens to buy new felts and cards, and sometimes getting a ‘bounty’ from one of the characters (it's pretty damn cool when Ash throws the Necronomicon in the pot). I enjoyed listening to the characters and watching for their tells. Then I heard Sam say, “Great Day in the Morning!” for the 16,254 time and I wanted to murder him. I wanted to burn the Inventory to the ground, drive these goons before me and hear the lamentation of their women. I wanted to play poker, and all this other crap was just getting in the way and ruining it for me.
Poker Night 2 isn't terrible. If these characters interest you in any way, you’ll get some chuckles out of the great job they've done incorporating them into something other than their natural habitats. I had fun with it for a while. If I want to get a poker fix on my iPad, however, I'll be looking for another app that concerns itself more with poker and less with the window dressing.
The game was played on the iPad 2 for this review.