A video game pimping the official World Series of Poker license seemingly has everything handed to it. The ins and outs of the game itself - poker - is already set, and ití¢â‚¬â„¢s going to receive a lot of consideration just for the logo. Really all it has to do is play smart with decent delivery, a few nice features and acceptable A.I.
Like a spoiled fat boy on a Vegas weekend, World Series of Poker had way too much confidence in its front and winds up tossed in a seedy motelí¢â‚¬â„¢s alley dumpster, unable to back the trash it talked. If it's hard to believe anyone can screw up a game as classic as poker, thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s only because youí¢â‚¬â„¢re at the beginning of the review.
The main way to play is in Career Mode, which gives you some bare bones Econo-Vegas player editing tools and gear. So with your characterí¢â‚¬â„¢s electric blue combover, homeboy voice template and starting budget of ten grand (presumably your reward for successfully inserting the game disc), you are empowered to forge ahead in eagerness to see what kind of surprises the fully-licensed product has to offer.
Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s accomplished by buying into tournaments of various sizes and payoffs, ranging from Seven Card Stud and Omaha (both with their Hi-Low Split variations) to Seven Stud Razz. Of course, this being World Series of Poker, youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll probably want to go all-in and hop into some Texas Hold í¢â‚¬Ëœem. How else can you earn the nickname Jesus?
Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll immediately wish for divine intervention when you take a seat at the table, though. Watch in horror as the worst rendered hand in post-NES gaming chops its way across the screen. Cards magically appear from underneath one another in a flop animated for blind kids. Hoping thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s not a portent of things to come, you study the screen, and with beleaguered awe come upon a Picture-in-Picture in the corner. Usually PiP is used for events of interest happening at the same time as the main picture. However, now it shows a zoomed-out shot of the dealer, stiff and bored as he passes out the cards. Thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s right í¢â‚¬" the PIP merely shows a slightly different angle of the main screen, just smaller. Who knows why.
Mind fully blown, you focus back on the poker. You watch each competitor closely, looking for patterns between their animations and behavior. A few hands pass to show you there are none, though you certainly woní¢â‚¬â„¢t win hands by sheer luck alone; raising with a high card on the river is, thankfully, still dumb.
Whenever a CPU opponent has to think, bet, check, or stare blankly as the game tries to catch up, it takes time. Knowing you have about six thousand people to outlast, you happily use the skip button to manually scroll through all the pointlessness until ití¢â‚¬â„¢s your turn to bet. The camera then switches to one above the table, giving you the lowdown of the pot size, whoí¢â‚¬â„¢s in and who folded. This is the best angle in the game since the majority of onscreen objects are numbers, and those are relatively inoffensive. Youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll soon raise the game speed so as to get more numbers and less horribly animated, lamely rendered people.
At higher speeds, the A.I. programming glitches become harshly evident. Every player is assigned either an aggressive or passive play style. Aggressive players bet on almost every hand, while passives fold most of the time. The A.I. has no recognition of bluffing; aggressive players will play decent hands and passives play only great ones. Forget more complex moves like check-raises, because that doesn't happen. After a couple hands, you can tell whoí¢â‚¬â„¢s who and play them by the book.
Regardless of the competition, if the bets check around to you after the flop, get your pockets ready. See the next card, and if the bets check to you again, that definitely means they have absolutely nothing. At this point, you can choose to make a large bet and clean the table right there, or bet modestly just to milk a couple more chips out of everyone. This will persist until the river and you can then go ahead and go as big as you want, forcing everyone out of the hand with maximum gain. Armed with this knowledge, the game turns into poker-solitaire, and reaching the final table is only a matter of time. Good luck waiting it out, though.
World Series of Poker occasionally reminds you that it came in a video game box by doling out rewards, though none of it can be used for anything. Meaningless Collector Chips commemorate the first time you got two-pair, eliminated a pro player or accomplish another ninety-eight arbitrary things. As you win or place in tournaments, the room in which you built your blue-haired poker misfit will occasionally enjoy different bad graphics. Cash will sometimes be placed in your dudeí¢â‚¬â„¢s account, though you caní¢â‚¬â„¢t buy anything with it aside from entrance fees to other tournaments to win more fake paper.
One of these tournaments may be an Invitational, where you will encounter a larger percentage of poker celebrities in a quest to win more Collectorí¢â‚¬â„¢s Chips. Men í¢â‚¬Å“The Masterí¢â‚¬? Nguyen, Scotty Nguyen, Chris í¢â‚¬Å“Jesusí¢â‚¬? Ferguson and John Phan make an appearance, though Chris Moneymaker, Dan Harrington, Johnny Chan and Sam Farha doní¢â‚¬â„¢t get the attention they deserve. The stars of poker are simply name drops, since their play styles fall into the same basic trappings and their personalities do not come through in voice or animation.
Nothing else does, either. The in-game camera pans around every once in a while to show a motionless crowd standing silent, glaring at you from a darkened background. Each zoom furthers the realization that the only thing grandiose about Harrahí¢â‚¬â„¢s in World Series of Poker is the name. At times, Lon McEachern, the official WSOP announcer, chimes in with vague, template commentary blips. Ití¢â‚¬â„¢s just enough to remind you that youí¢â‚¬â„¢re playing the licensed property, but not enough to convince you that he actually took some time out of his schedule to record specifically for the game. Either way, it doesní¢â‚¬â„¢t do much to save the hopeless audio.
After you strip World Series of Poker of its impoverished presentation and transparent A.I., you are left with just plain old broken poker, except without the social element. To remedy this, both the Xbox and PS2 versions have online multiplayer support for up to eight. The PS2 has been hooked up with EyeToy functionality, so you can see a fuzzy graphic of the naked cowboy youí¢â‚¬â„¢re playing against, if thatí¢â‚¬â„¢s your bag. The Xbox has headset support, which is nice for throwing misleading comments as you bluff. Alternately, you can just put your headset next to your speakers to make random strangers stomach whatever custom soundtrack you laid down.
A better option is to stay in that comfy office chair and check out the thousands of free poker games on the Internet, most of which have a slicker presentation and interface, anyway. Or you can simply spend two bucks on a deck and invite over some real people for an actual poker night. With bad A.I., awful delivery and really little else, youí¢â‚¬â„¢ll probably lose your poker face laughing at World Series of Poker.