The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Creating a poker game with a compelling hook is surely a difficult task. Hardcore players who love the thrill of betting real money have plenty of options in real casinos or on a wide variety of online gambling sites. Casual players simply interested in the fun of the game have plenty of free or cheap options. Telltale’s approach is markedly different than anything else; rather than luring gamers in with a bevy of multiplayer options or the potential of real payoffs, Poker Night 2 (like its predecessor) relies on the personalities of several memorable characters. The actual poker action is unremarkable, but charm is the main draw.
In this sequel, you share the table with Brock Samson from The Venture Bros., Claptrap from Borderlands, Ash from the Evil Dead films, and Sam from the Sam & Max series. While they’re the ones showing your their poker faces, you also get cameos from GLaDOS as the dealer, Mad Moxxi as the bartender, and Max as a seemingly uninterested observer.
The real appeal of this game is listening to the banter between these contrasting characters. It’s certainly the only place you can see Claptrap ask Ash about his upcoming nuptials, and I found myself frequently amused by the wacky dialogue. Despite the large amount of voiceover work, lines and bits start repeating after a few tournaments.
While entertaining, the character interactions are a smokescreen hiding the barebones nature of the package. If you’re used to playing any kind of virtual poker, you’ll find that the options and interface of Poker Night 2 is not up to the standards set by websites and other free online poker destinations that have been running for years.
Presentation hiccups appear in the form of brief freezes and numerical errors. This is the first form of virtual poker I’ve played in which I wasn’t exactly sure of how invested I was in the pot. A simple number in parenthesis next to the call button would make this clear, but the UI is poorly arranged.
Games are typically over quickly, and each character has their own quirks and tells. In most of my games, Ash would be knocked out first after going all-in with nothing. He’d excuse himself from the table, walk back to the bar, and drink his loss away as the rest of us continued.
If you’re performing well in tournaments, unlock tokens are doled out as rewards. These can be used to purchase themed decks, chips, and table felt, or you can use them to order drinks for others at the table. Getting the other players drunk is a good way to bring their tells out, and the idea of getting Claptrap drunk is pretty funny in itself. The system can draw the occasional chuckle, but I didn’t find it to be a particularly deep or useful addition to the gameplay.
Additional challenges called bounties task you with completing specific objectives, such as buying drinks for two players in one round. Whenever you complete three of them, you’re given the chance to compete for one of the characters’ bounty items. These also unlock items in Borderlands 2, so nabbing the Necronomicon from Ash might earn you a new costume in Gearbox’s shooter. It’s a cool system, but not cool enough to contribute much to replayability.
Once you’ve heard all the dialogue, you won’t have much reason to come back to Poker Night 2. It features Texas Hold ‘em and Omaha varieties, but the poker isn’t polished enough to stand on its own. After you’ve unlocked everything, there isn’t any reason to come back.