Reviewed: March 2, 2006
Released: November 2, 2005
Poker this, poker that, poker, poker, poker – everyone and their brother likes poker. We have poker game shows, poker reality shows, work poker parties, charity poker tournaments – and yes, poker video games. Lots of them, in fact. And now we have another; World Championship Poker 2 Featuring Howard Lederer.
In the sea of poker games hitting the consoles, a successful title must have a unique hook to separate it from the others. All feature some form of character creation, a persistent career mode, a robust online mode, and a dozen or more variations on poker. So what does World Championship Poker 2 have that the others don’t?
The most noticeable hook would have to be the unique character personality modeling. While the overall character creation is fairly generic in nature – only allowing you to pick from a limited set of character models, and a handful of overall personality traits like “loose cannon”, “salesman” and “mellow” – it’s when the game starts that things get interesting.
Almost RPG in nature, World Championship Poker 2 allows the player to apply values to various poker-themed skills like “hand strength”, “stone face”, “keen eyes”, “actor” and “convincing”. These skills will determine the way the character’s table language will play out throughout the game. As the player’s career progresses, upgrade points are awarded which can be used to beef up the character’s skill set.
This brings up the second unique feature of World Championship Poker 2 – the bluffing “mini-game” which kicks in during tight situations or when you have made a less than optimal decision. What you get, is a small rotating disc with dots that you must line up – the results of which will determine whether your character will bluff or tell the cards in his (or her) hand.
The problem with both of these features is that they really don’t do a whole lot to enhance the overall gameplay. I mean, we aren’t talking about a sports game where the skills really help how the character handles the ball or how fast he can run – this is poker, and 100% of the decision is based on the instincts of the human player, not the onscreen avatar’s keen eye or stone face skills. Basically, this whole skills mechanic only really helps the game decide when to kick into the mini-game, and how the mini-game will play out – by making certain results either easier or harder to line up than the others.
Still, the overall gameplay is quite solid. The AI opponents are quite challenging, and are not overly cautious about making risky calls. In some of the previous poker games I’ve reviewed, games stretched on and on, because the AI opponents seemed willing to fold at the slightest inkling of risk.
Unlike the competition, World Championship Poker 2’s characters are more than willing –almost too willing in fact – to drop an “all-in” and instantly put you in defensive mode. And, in the same vein, is definitely much more difficult to scare off AI opponents with a mid-hand all-in of your own.
The career mode is tracked with an overhead map showing open games ranging from early-on basement games and eventually onto the World Championship. The player can slider the cursor over each of the open games and get a readout of the match info – buy-in, game type, blinds, etc.. As the character wins (or at least doesn’t lose) matches, he will become noticed by new promoters who will invite the player to bigger and better competitions.
Interestingly, the map also features pawn shops, where players can either spend their winnings on items like sofas and stereos to furnish their character’s virtual apartments – and conversely, were the player can pawn previously purchased items for cash.
And, par for the course, there is a very robust online mode the even includes EyeToy support. And just for the record, I have said this before with one of my previous reviews: while I do immensely enjoy playing World Championship Poker 2 – or any other poker game – online against human opponents, the whole EyeToy thing is just really creepy. While most of the people are harmless, you sometimes cross paths with that one creepy guy who does not seem to have a problem playing the game in their underpants and sweaty tank tops. All I can say is buyer beware – and let’s just stick with the headsets, eh?
When talking about a poker game, there really isn’t any great necessity in having superb visuals – why, the biggest card-based video games in history, Solitaire and Freecell, are nothing more than a handful of playing cards and a green felt table.
Still, gamers like to feel that they are getting some semblance of reality in their card play, and the developers have answered with an adequate – yet lackluster – visual presentation.
The characters’ structure and faces are all quite acceptable – falling somewhere between reality and that weird bobble-headed fare from Konami’s Karaoke Revolution. There is a general lack of expression or emotion, as the characters tend to look like plasticized animatronics than real people.
The backgrounds are quite varied, from dank basements to large-scale casinos, but there is little or no reason to really look beyond the table of play. Really, the most visual enjoyment you will find is in pondering the various gaudy combinations of attire that gamers have come up with.
Is there sound in this game? Oh yeah, I do remember a couple of guys talking every now and then, and I even think my mustachioed Frenchman with his beret said a few “laid back” words here and there. Then again, I cannot be sure it was he, because he sounded like Keanu Reeves and all.
Seriously, World Championship Poker 2 is bereft of any good quality sound bits. The soft background music quickly becomes dull and repetitive, and the voiceovers are definitely below the bar for quality.
The only real enjoyment to find here is the unintentional humor you will find in the matching of the characters’ voices to their faces – which is apparently set during the character design portion. As I mentioned, my avatar looked like a flamboyant Frenchman with moustache, and because I made his personality “laid back” he ended up using a Keanu Reeves voice for all of his quips and cracks. Believe me, it didn’t fit the bill.
If there is one area these poker games truly shine in, it is value. For a mere $20, you get fourteen variations on poker, a hefty single-player mode, and an even greater online mode. The result is gameplay that – much like the Energizer bunny – just keeps going and going and going…
But this unlimited gameplay comes with a limited appeal, and only true poker fans will have the gumption to ride this one out for more than a handful of dry, dull hands before popping in something a bit more exciting.
How many more of these poker games do we need? What was a novelty just a few years ago, the whole poker phenomenon is quickly becoming a tired and overused theme in gaming. When the whole of the game revolves around a half-moon aquamarine card table, should I really care about having new avatars to play against, or different locales for a background? No, not really. So why bother?
Despite the lackluster presentation, the core card gameplay in the World Championship Poker 2 is solid. Fans of poker should definitely find the game both challenging and entertaining. And those who take it online are sure to be pleased. And hey, $20 for a game with limitless gameplay is a lot cheaper than even a half an hour at most casino tables.
But for the rest of us, who are not so caught up with riding the poker bandwagon, World Championship Poker 2 is not a whole lot different than any of the other poker games already available on the market. And as so, World Championship Poker 2 is probably not worth much more than a simple weekend rental.