Last month, I dipped my big toe into the videogaming poker pool with World Series of Poker: Full House Pro, which is basically a poker game captained by Avatars with some cosmetic-only items to earn to pretty up your table while you wait for other players to make their moves. It’s all right, though the camera is wonky and I found it quite easy to lose all my money in a single gulp, but maybe that latter part is my fault and not directly the game’s. I haven’t gone back since I first touched it because, well…poker. But also because it just wasn’t very exciting and actually a bit of a technical mess, freezing up on me a handful of times, enough to birth an audible groan.
Anyways, for October, PlayStation Plus was offering Poker Night 2 for free for subscribers, and I will literally snatch up anything on the DownloadStation 3 so long as the price on the store is crossed off and replaced by the word free and isn’t 145 GB big (sorry, Uncharted 3, not gonna happen–ever). I never touched the original Poker Night at the Inventory and–wait a second. Hold up, everybody. I just noticed something. Is the second game called Poker Night 2 or Poker Night at the Inventory 2? I am finding it written both ways rather consistently across the board on this strange, uncontrollable mass of data we call the Internet. Whatever, I’ll stick with the shorter title for posting purposes. Sometimes it really sucks being a copyeditor because you can’t unsee some things.
Poker Night 2 is both your standard poker game and not. Yes, you play a tournament of Texas Hold ‘Em (or Omaha) until you eliminate the other players or see yourself turning out empty pockets, and the rules remain the same. There are small blinds and betting and checking and folding and all that jazz. It’s who you play with that is strange and beautiful; these are not randomly created Avatars or even real players via online multiplayer. No, you are going head to head with Sam from the Sam & Max franchise, Brock Samson from The Venture Bros., Ash Williams from The Evil Dead franchise, and Claptrap from the Borderlands series. Oh, and Portal‘s GLaDOS takes a supporting role as the dealer and player insulter. It’s a bizarre group of guys (well, not counting Mad Moxxi as the bartender and GLaDOS), but that’s where the game gets interesting, watching them interact with each other. That feeling of just hanging out, shooting the shit, and playing some poker is nailed expertly here, and any time I got eliminated from a tournament, I selected to watch the rest play out instead of skipping to the next round, as I cannot get enough of Brock’s dry humor and Claptrap’s overzealous attitude.
But here’s a question: why is every product Telltale Games puts out glitchy as frak? Jurassic Park: The Game and The Walking Dead suffer from constant hitching and weird transitions from gameplay to loading screens. It doesn’t make sense to me, and you’d think a company like them, at this point down the line, would’ve figured it out. I mean, I’m no programmer, but from the outside looking in, Poker Night 2‘s engine does not look very taxing, and yet the game would constantly freeze for ten to fifteen seconds before a new conversation would start, which is long enough for me to consider powering down the PlayStation 3. This became a regular aspect of playing Telltale’s poker and now I’ve learned to live with it, but what a shame.
As you play and win, you can earn tokens, which can be spent on cosmetic items, like themed decks and table felts. I’ve unlocked all the Borderlands items so far, which not only change how things look, but also prompt some new dialogue from our gaggle of goofy guests. You can also buy drinks for everyone, which will loosen them up and help reveal their tells; I tried this, but I’m no better at telling when digital characters are lying–thanks, L.A. Noire–than I am at with real-life people. It’s definitely skill, one I will always lack.
But otherwise, Poker Night 2 is at least a more original poker game, standing heads above its competition, and I give Telltale credit for selecting zany as its main attribute and turning it up to 11. I’d certainly rather listen to these characters chit and chat than simply hear nothing at all or, perhaps worst, some generic, uninteresting music looping. I’ll probably play a few more rounds in hopes of unlocking some other themed items, but after that, there’s not much else to do here. I’ll walk away poorer than ever before, but rich with great stories.