Telltale Games are developing a reputation for adapting existing franchises into interactive experiences that offer an obvious juxtaposition to the source material. Their latest release, Poker Night 2, does exactly this with a number of beloved characters, and is both respectful and humorous with it. This isn’t a po-faced poker experience, this is poker with the best friends you never had.
The intro sequence says it all: walking down a back alley into a seedy looking joint, the player witnesses all manner of questionable activities and shady doings. However, the brawling and other suspicious doings are given a tongue-in-cheek veneer courtesy of the fact that all of those involved already have an established persona. These are faces that most gamers will be familiar with, not least due to the fact that Telltale Games has worked with many of them before, and the quality of their delivery is a high point throughout.
Throughout the videogame the characters will regularly interact with each other, with believable banter between some of the most awkwardly juxtaposed characters being frequently hilarious. The quality of these dialogue sequences is enough to warrant purchase alone, regardless of the actual playing of the videogame.
Sadly, the poker itself is less believable than the fictional characters. A simple Texas Hold ‘Em tournament system (with Omaha also available), the characters seem to play without any prescribed formula or preference: every character plays by the same rules of probability, with later tournaments simply dictated by opponents getting better cards more frequently. The key to success is playing by the same rules, with the core principles of poker – bluffing and betting tactics, for example - lost on Poker Night 2. It’s a good job that Poker Night 2 isn’t meant to be taken seriously, because next to Full House Poker it’s clearly an inferior virtual adaptation of the card game.
Poker Night 2 adds variation to the formula by way of ‘bounty challenges’ and the purchasing of drinks. Tournaments offer three simultaneous challenges that result in bonus tokens (which can be used to purchase in-game items such as new decks and table felts) in addition to special items from each of the characters. Buying characters drinks will reveal their ‘tells,’ but it is an entirely artificial product. Poker Night 2 is best taken as a videogame intended to be played as a challenge to outwit the artificial intelligence, not play poker against them.
Poker Night 2 stops short of offering any additional gameplay modes, including online competition. This reinforces the feeling that the videogame is more about the experience and atmosphere than the poker, especially given that the presentation is of such a remarkably high quality. Poker Night 2 is a fantastic videogame experience simply due to its consciously nerd centric delivery and wise-cracking dialogue, but as far as virtual poker goes there are many better titles already available for all formats.