Reviewed: January 16, 2005
Released: November 18, 2004
The older set in society is constantly griping about video games; violence in video games, how much money is spent on video games, how much time kids spend glued to video games, and on and on. And to be honest, they have a point. When I look at how much I have spent on gaming in the past few years, what with my stacks of games, multiple consoles, Xbox Live headsets, PS2 Headsets, keyboards, controllers, wireless controllers… I’ve laid down a lot of coin for my harmless little hobby.
While the older set’s complaints may make it appear that they are really, truly concerned for society, in all reality what they are doing is building a huge smokescreen to cover their own guilty pleasure – gambling. Once a luxury for Nevada vacationers only, the advent of local legalized gambling has quickly taken over the minds (and pocketbooks) of the nation – and they geezers are lining up at travel agency bus stops everywhere just for the chance to hand their children’s’ inheritances off to the Indians.
And with this gambling fever sweeping the nation comes a virtual tidal wave of gambling and casino based media, including a handful of behind-the-scenes casino reality shows, prime time Vegas based police dramas, casino destination travel features, and the newest rage – national broadcast poker tournaments.
Featuring the casino mainstay Texas Hold’em flavor of poker, the variety of high stakes weekly tournaments broadcast on everything from national sports networks to independent movie channels, are quickly becoming the hottest thing on TV. The Hold’em fad has even taken over locally – not only with the do-it-yourself in-home poker parties, but also with the schools and churches that are resorting to the game as a vehicle for fundraisers.
It’s no surprise then that the poker fad crosses over into console-based video games with no less than three casino poker games hitting the market all at the same time – each featuring unique licensing, a staggering array of game types, persistent online capabilities, pseudo-realistic interfaces, and all at budget pricing.
For the purpose of this review, we took a look at World Championship Poker for the PS2 from Crave and Coresoft.
OK, let’s get this out of the way right from the get-go: Yes, World Championship Poker is yet another of the sure-to-be-many bandwagon casino games inundating the store shelves as a result of the nation’s recently acquired infatuation with the high stakes world of professional poker – nothing more, nothing less.
World Championship Poker is your standard, cut-and-dry variety of media-hyped shovelware that – much like a maggot hatched on the same pile of smelly road apples it will eventually die snacking on – is not only ultimately bound for the bottom of the bargain bin, but also begins its life cycle there. It’s slow, it’s primitive, it’s ugly…it’s like 1987 bubble-pack shareware. It looks like Crave took all but a week or so to throw this game together and slap a license on it.
Knowing this, would somebody please tell me why I’m having so much fun with this game?
World Championship Poker features 24 varieties of poker – although Texas Hold’em is the real focus here. For those not in the know, Texas Hold’em is the most commonly offered casino table poker game and the feature of the televised tournament poker. In it, each player is dealt two personal cards face down from which initial checks, calls, bets and folds are made. Then the entire table is dealt three shared cards (the “Flop”), which initiates another round of betting, checking, folding and raising. The table is then dealt a fourth shared card (the “Turn”), which initiates a final round of betting. Once completed, the table is dealt a fifth shared card (the “River”) and all the remaining players show their hands to determine the winner based on the best five-card poker hand from the seven total cards.
Since a majority of the cards are shared – and all players will benefit from any hands contained within the shared cards – the game really depends on the two personal cards for inclusion in the hand, or more-often-than-not for high card “kickers”. What I mean is that even if the five shared cards show two pair, then everyone claims the two pair, and the winner will ultimately be determined by whomever is holding the highest personal card. For this reason, the game is a bit more of a (excuse the pun) gamble than your standard draw-type poker where each individual player is allowed to build a private hand and bet accordingly.
Please don’t be turned off if you don’t understand any of what I just typed – I didn’t understand Texas Hold’em myself before I dropped World Championship Poker in my PS2. I did have a general knowledge of poker hands and a bit of experience on video poker, but I think I had only played one real game of poker in my life prior to World Championship Poker – still, it wasn’t too long before I was comfortably set with virtual cash in this game as it’s quite easy to pick up.
So now, World Championship Poker features a handful of gameplay modes, but all begin with you designing a character using a fairly extensive character development system which allows you to change or adjust unique clothing selections, facial features, body shapes, etc.. While I wasn’t able to make my character look very much like myself as I have previously been able to achieve in the Tony Hawk and or Tiger Woods games, I was at least able to make a fairly unique looking player for online purposes.
Once you’ve designed your player, it’s time to warm up using a few sit-n-go games, which allow you to basically come and go as you please from a gaming table without locking you into playing an entire elimination game. Once at a table, you will find up to 5 other AI opponents who you will be playing and betting against. Each round goes off at a fairly quick pace, and your tablemates seem to act and react fairly realistically given the scenarios they are in – it is quite easy to scare some off with heavy initial betting, and others will hang on until the end and beat you with a high card kicker.
Each character is initially given $1000 upon development, and throughout the course of his/her “lifetime” that amount will go up or down according to their play – in effect, meaning that each character has a cache of money that makes up the “career mode” of the game. As you make enough money, you begin to enter the high stakes world of professional poker and are allowed to enter tournaments.
With little fame and few unlockables to gain from completing World Championship Poker, the single player mode is only as enjoyable as you make it for yourself. Where World Championship Poker really shines however, is in the persistent online play.
For those with a network adaptor, the online mode in World Championship Poker is the place to be. While initial forays into the online world of table poker may prove a bit intimidating, once you get the hang of the game’s quick pacing – and the observation skills to comb out the real players from the griefers – World Championship Poker’s online mode can be as addictive as real gambling.
The online menu system leaves a lot to be desired – lag in refreshing and listing all available games means that there are a lot of “connection failed” errors for selecting full tables or games in progress even though the menu shows the game as actively available. Luckily, the game does a great job of listing the game types (again, generally Texas Hold’em, but others are available), antes, limits and special rules for each host’s game.
Also, the list will include information regarding whether or not the game is EyeToy compatible. EyeToy compatible? Yes, World Championship Poker includes the unique feature in that it allows players to use the EyeToy® camera to show a live feed of themselves playing games. Hosts can even require the use of the camera if they wish. While I must say that on the box it sounds like a great feature – in practice, it comes off as a bit creepy and intrusive. Some of these people you don’t want to see, much less have them staring at you in your living room. Thankfully, anyone familiar with the EyeToy® knows that it requires a substantial amount of lighting to get a clear picture, so most of the people using the accessory appear distorted and grainy.
If you get lucky enough to snag an open seat at a table, you will find that people playing poker are a fairly predictable lot. Yes, there are those ever-present jerks with a big pot who pop onto newbie tables, let the pot ride up and then start betting all-ins (meaning they only have to sacrifice as much as the lowest money holder who bites) and scare newbies into folding away their potted money. There is also a different type of jerk who likes to let the pot build and then suddenly goes dead for five minutes with the game locked on his turn, hoping that the others will eventually log off and he will collect the potted money. And yes there are those newbies who either fold every game or get swindled by the jerks mentioned above. But you can also find good, honest players who don’t particularly worry about ratings or money (other than that which is required to stay afloat) and the game is a whole lot of fun.
The online coding features an interesting new hosting mechanism – Host Migration – that was recently introduced over on the Xbox in Halo 2, which allows the hosting of a game to dynamically shift from player to player as each successive host either gets eliminated, leaves or powers off. This means that if Player A is hosting a table, and he is suddenly eliminated by an all-in by Player B, the table will continue without interruption as it’s hosting will be shifted to the next fastest pinging player. As you can imagine, this is a great feature to eliminate the annoyances that are often caused by disgruntled hosts and/or Mother Nature’s wrath.
Much like the offline mode, you cache of money if persistent and carried from session to session. What that means is that for a while, you’ll be struggling to break 10k, yet you’ll notice that there are millionaires playing for $100k limits. My advice – avoid those guys.
Upon the initial boot-up, the game proudly displays the Renderware splash screen. Well, if I was the person in charge of the Renderware branding and public relations, I would kindly ask it to be removed from all future copies of World Championship Poker. This game doesn’t do the Renderware engine any justice – it looks downright terrible. Cadaver-like faces, sketchy animations, it is truly one of the saddest games (graphically speaking) on the PS2, which is a shame. I mean, it’s just a card game – it’s not like it is a twenty-two player football field they had to animate – some fluid dealer motions, cards that move realistically when dealt to the table, people with eyes that look real…C’mon people!
But then again – it is just a card game. And while not stellar, the graphics do get the job done. It would have just been a bit nicer if the graphics were at least on par with say, Karaoke Revolution, with which it shares a similar graphical style.
Well, there’s not a whole lot of sound to a card game, is there? There is a lot and lots of quiet to be found in this game. In fact, it’s almost like watching a round of golf.
Player 1: “I’m in…”
Dealer: “Player 2?”
Player 2: “I fold…”
Dealer: “Player 3?”
Player 2: “I’m in…”
What voice acting there is tries to be realistic, with characters portraying at least a bit more emotion than their deadpan corpses seem to contain. Some have unique phrasings, and between the usual “I’m in” or “I fold” you might hear an “Oh, fiddlesticks!” or whatnot.
As for the music – I’m going to have to check again, but I can’t remember a lick of non-FMV music in this game. Again, music is not a necessity for a card game, especially one where concentration is supposed to be the key, but offering up a couple of tunes wouldn’t hurt.
The online mode is compatible with the USB headset, but most players tend not to use one or refrain from talking altogether. As an avid Xbox Live user, where people tend to use the headsets constantly, this silence comes across as a bit unsettling at first – but then again It means fewer potty-mouthed punks, so it all works out for the best.
Given the multitude of freeware, shareware, java or flash-based poker games available online free for the PC (and many with far more options), spending $20 to play this game isn’t really a smart bet. However, if you have a network adaptor, or a need to justify your EyeToy purchase, and a liking for poker, you won’t find a better card game on the PS2 – especially for a mere $20.
I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t expecting to like this game as much as I did. Knowing the onslaught of these poker and casino games we are sure to be hammered with over the next year, I figured this would be just another disposable game. And while that’s not too far from the truth, at least the game itself is based on an established pastime, and does a pretty good job of translating the tension and excitement of the table game to your console.
Thanks to solid gameplay, realistic AI, value pricing and especially the unique online features – Host Migration, persistent funds, EyeToy® and USB headset support – World Championship Poker can proudly stand near the top of the bargain bin.