The original Poker Night from Telltale Games (Sam & Max, The Walking Dead) was first released to fill the lull in between releases back in 2010. However, it became more successful than expected, and three years later, we’re given Poker Night 2. Though the game is simple and short, there are plenty of goodies to unlock in the game to warrant more than a few rounds.
Poker Night 2 doesn’t really have much story to it, other than the history of the venue. The Inventory – the name of the place – is an underground club which was built under a video game warehouse. This club was built in secret in response to prohibition in the early 20th century, but was kept in business afterwards just in case it ever came back. You play as an anonymous person, never being referred to as anything but “the player”. Sitting across from you this game is Brock Samson from the Adult Swim show Venture Brothers, CL4P-TP or Claptrap from Borderlands, Ashley J. “Ash” Williams from the Evil Dead movies, Sam from Sam & Max, and GLaDOS from Portal serving as the dealer.
Each of the characters retain the graphics of their original games, except for Brock; there was never a Venture Brothers video game, so he is rendered as a cel-shaded 3D version of himself. One would think that this cornucopia of design styles would be hard to look at, but it instead adds to the charm of the game. The interesting character designs also serve to distract the player from the drab default background.
There are two game modes are available, which are Hold ‘Em and Omaha. Both modes are not terribly hard to learn if you already know five-card stud, but first timers are also welcomed by the easy to understand yet hilarious tutorial. Though it is obvious that this game is just for fun, the AI makes increasingly predictable moves on a regular basis. This can make the game a little too easy once you get a feel for the characters’ habits (e.g. Claptrap is more than likely bluffing, Brock is not, or bet too high and everybody folds) with few exceptions. On top of this, there is a feature in this game where the characters will show an extremely obvious tell from time to time when they have a good or bad hand, though very rarely.
For those who bought the game just for the TF2 and/or Borderlands 2 items, you will find that you must work for it. After fulfilling three random objectives at the beginning of every cycle such as “steal the pot” or “win a showdown”, one of the characters puts up an item from their universe as a winning the next game. These items are only attainable if you are the victor of the game, but once the requirements are met for one item, you can retry as many games you need until you win. You are then given another three objectives at random, an item after succeeding, and so on and so forth. These winnable items are what unlock the goodies in the other games, so a good amount of time must be put into this game to unlock them all.
After every game, you earn a certain amount of in-game currency to spend on unlocks, such as a new deck graphic or felt on the table. These unlocks are themed accordingly with the characters and when you buy a complete set, the entire room changes to that theme. This can trigger a cameo from another character or object in that theme’s universe, which added excitement for anyone who is a fan such as myself. Another interesting use of this currency is to buy drinks. If you buy a drink for the guys, their inhibitions will lower a bit andtells will come out more often, enabling you to more easily ascertain whether or not they are bluffing.
What really defines this game is the character and the interactions between them and the player. Moments in the middle of the game when a characters breaks the monotony of hearing the same automated responses such as “whoa” or “I don’t recommend that move” with a story really keep the game fresh and adds a certain amount of immersion to the experience. Also nice to hear – for those who have acquired a taste for her in Portal - are GLADoS’s dry-witted quips every so often, insulting you in ways you and never thought possible. The atmosphere of the club itself-though the default theme is a bit tacky-really supports the feeling of camaraderie when five guys get together to take a load off, have a few drinks, and chew the fat. However, it highly recommended that you are already a fan of each respective series as most of the enjoyment comes from being familiar with each character and their personalities. If not, the game is enjoyable anyway, but just not to the same degree.
While the gameplay was simple and not very innovative, Poker Night 2 supports this fault with elements such as character interaction between already popular characters from other series, and this can be described as nothing other than gratuitous fansturbation. This keeps the game fresh and fun on the way to unlock all the goodies that this game has to offer.
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1; Released: April 26, 2013; ESRB: Teen; MSRP: $19.99: Official Site
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.