Some say the luck is in the cards, but poker players will tell you that it’s also in the looks. When Lady Luck smiles at you, it’s imperative that you let the table know nothing, or everything, or whatever it is you want them to know. Pocket aces or 7 /2 offsuit, there’s no feeling like confusing that shlub in the corner nervously bobbing his knee by throwing out a subtle, knowing wink.
This is the feeling World Poker Tour attempts to capture in an effort to set itself apart from the poker pack, but its toothy grin is marred by gameplay cavities deep enough to ruin even the sexiest of flops. The $20 price tag is nice, but you get what you pay for.
The game’s main career mode starts out with a strong Create-A-Player tool, letting you warp facial and bodily features to insane proportions. Whether you make an old Chinese man who has partied way too hard or a well-adjusted trucker with ancestral links closer to frogs than apes, the amount of normalcy you use is dictated only by how much you want to distract your opponents from making sound betting decisions.
World Poker Tour lets you actually try to do that with its "Bluff Master Technology." This allows you to choose any of eight facial animations in an effort to throw your opponent off track. It’s an admirable try, but that doesn’t win any chips. Visual cues or giveaways in real poker happen to players subconsciously and it takes a keen mind to notice them, but when a "Blarg" face or "OMG" face is input consciously, the system is self-contradictory. And what about the whole concept of having a Poker Face – as in, notwearing you emotions on your sleeve? The game completely bails out this essential, basic premise in favor of retarded, over-the-top gestures.
Making matters worse is that the A.I. is not sensitive to this silly new facial bluffing, usually waiting for you to make a move and an absurd face, then responding by either betting aggressively or passively just like it should, regardless of the mean grilling. CPU players almost always choose the route of self-doubt in their overly conservative play. Any decent poker player knows that when in doubt, check. The problem is, when everyone at the table shares the same mentality, there’s a lot of checking going on. Check, check, check….boring, boring, boring.
However, its intelligence will surprise you if taken for granted and the game mercifully avoids the exploits that World Series of Poker suffered from, so one table to the next will have to be earned by skilled play instead of figuring out a programmed algorithm. In that sense, the A.I. here beats the pants off the competition. Extracting meaningful patterns between players’ emotes and their hands would take way longer than just eliminating them by playing solid poker, though, so despite what it says on the back of the box, the whole bluffing system isn’t worth the brain space.
Thankfully, World Poker Tour gives you a decently rewarding run when playing solo. The random collector chips and meaningless trophy gallery found in World Series of Poker are here too, except World Poker Tour actually lets you use these random rewards as currency to get new pants and shirts for your character. Going from one tournament to the next gives you some sense of progress, even if the rewards won’t buy you the material evils you really wish you could have as trophies, like maybe a car, a house, or a wife. Ultimately, all you’ll have to show for yourself are memories of past great hands.
Unless, of course, there’s someone to share them with online. Bluff Master Technology was obviously designed to be used against other humans, though just as it meets with poor results against the A.I., it doesn’t work out great with people. The ability to cycle through twenty faces in two seconds leads to more random facial gesturing than anything else. If you are phenomenally lucky in your table placement and the system is used intelligently by other players, it boils down to a guessing game, but that’s no better than if the whole bluff system was removed entirely and you just played the betting tendencies.
Clearly the developers knew their system was bunk because they also included EyeToy functionality for the PS2 version, which schools the "Bluff Master" by letting you see the faces, we hope, you’re playing against. So you can override the whole useless system with the snap of a camera.
Not as amusing but way more useful is a poker editing tool, which lets you combine aspects from other poker games to create your own blend. Make a Hold ’em Razz with Suicide Kings wild if you want to just get nuts. It’s simple, it’s effective, and it’s new, so it’s good…
…unlike the game’s pace. Based on World Championship Poker‘s architecture, World Poker Tour does not come with a handy ‘skip irritating screen’ option. Instead, it’s "Look! There’s a pattern here! See his face?!" over and over again. This would not be a big deal if a tournament wasn’t 500 players long and if your console could print money and friends.
Besides, the graphics are as budget as the price. The facial animations are downright scary in a Dr. Giggles sort of way, hideous and ludicrous at the same time. Player models are stiff and jaggy, though they don’t look like they’re made of waxy firewood like World Series of Poker. The environments aren’t as nearly as lifeless, either, with badly rendered people in the background actually moving and doing stuff. Still, the dealer stands there like the Terminator delivering a janky, robotic flop while announcers drone out meaningless pulp. Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten commentate true to the license, though their play-by-play is overly canned, generic and often flat-out wrong; a pre-flop folding of a pair of queens in the hole resulted in "Yes folks, you got to know when to get out!" Putzes. There is some chatter going on in the casino background to prove that you’re not playing in a vacuum, but the player’s redundant comments will make you wish you were.
Comparing World Poker Tour to World Series of Poker is like asking if you’d rather be short & fat or ugly & stupid. The generally competent A.I. and career mode make this one the better choice, but your best bet is to leave both flops on the table and find a new game altogether.