I played the crap out of the original Poker Night at the Inventory from Telltale Games. I loved the concept of going up against various gaming and pop culture characters. That table consisted of Max (from the Sam and Max games), Strong Bad (from the Homestar Runner series), Tycho (from Penny Arcade) and the Heavy (from Team Fortress 2). I loved the table conversations, which you could change or altogether remove if all you wanted was a straight-up poker tournament.
When Poker Night 2 was announced, I waited anxiously. No, really. In the same way that some folks anticipate triple-A titles, I waited for Poker Night 2. The roster for this sequel consists of Brock Samson (from The Venture Bros), Claptrap (from Borderlands 1 & 2), Ash Williams (from Army of Darkness) and Sam (from the Sam and Max games). As an added bonus, GLaDOS (from Portal) is the dealer.
I mean, seriously.
There are no story elements in this game.
Gameplay for Poker Night 2 is almost identical to the original Poker Night at the Inventory. I have been playing the game on Mac/PC, Xbox Live and iOS, and with the exception of a few issues, the game has been fantastic.
You have two options in terms of what type of poker tournament you can play; Hold ’em or Omaha Hold ‘Em. This is not surprising considering the current popularity of Texas Hold ‘Em; everyone has watched tournaments on television and feel it’s cool and hardcore to only play this type of poker. I’d love to introduce some of these kids to the old men I used to play poker with in the basement pool hall where I spent much of my youth. There’s a lot more to poker than Texas Hold ’em, and I would have loved to have seen various other types of poker included in Poker Night 2, but that’s far from my biggest gripe with the game.
As for the inclusion of Omaha Hold ’em, well, that’s just Texas Hold ’em easy mode, in my opinion.
In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s very good. There is a nice cadence to each hand thanks to the table chatter, however at times, it gets a little long… especially if what you’re looking forward to is a nice quick hand or two. Herein lies my biggest gripe with the game, and that is that they have removed the ability to turn off table chatter. It was present in Poker Night at the Inventory, where you could choose from a couple different chat presets, including the option to turn it off altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, the table chatter is fantastic in Poker Night 2. I’ll get to that more in the Audio section. However like most things, it looses a lot of its allure once you’ve heard it several dozen times. When a game gets to the point where you would feel right justified in stealing Ash’s chainsaw and lopping off Brock’s head the next time he exclaims “ooooo, nice”, then you know you have a fairly serious problem.
You do have the option of simply turning off the chatter volume, however all this does is mute the voices. Like some twisted lip reader, you still feel your face involuntarily twitching when you read Ash’s lips as he tells you that it’s impossible to read his tells.
And you still have to wait as everyone gets their say in before the next card gets dealt.
How serious an issue is this? Serious enough that once I’d unlocked everything on the iOS and PC versions, I turned to playing Poker Night at the Inventory (with chatter off). I love playing poker, even in a game setting like this with pretend money. So a game like this really appeals to me and has a lot of replayability… so long as it allows me to just pop in for a quick tournament whenever I want. This is something which Poker Night at the Inventory does a lot better than Poker Night 2, sadly.
In terms of actual gameplay, I really love Poker Night 2. Each of your opponents has a style, as well as tells which allow you to guess at their hand. You can buy each player a drink if you’d like, which makes these tells more obvious. Over time, you even get used to each opponent’s style of play.
If Sam starts raising, fold unless you have a very good hand. Claptrap cheats; seriously, he and GLaDOS must be in cahoots, because showdowns with him are nearly impossible to win. And you can string Ash along for quite a while, and the dumb bastard’ll go all in on a pair of twos.
Speaking of going all in, herein lies my second biggest issue with the game. I realize these are make-believe characters playing with make-believe money, but they could at least try to pretend as though it’s real.
Years ago, I ran a poker forum online. I’d scanned in a bunch of my decks (as I collect decks of cards), and dealt for a group of friends/forum members. I kept a tab of everyone’s winnings, and awarded prizes periodically to winners, such as hats and t-shirts. The most important rule was to always play as though you were playing with real money. This is important because otherwise, it’s mayhem without consequences.
In Poker Night 2, the buy-in is $20,000. Now, I won’t pretend to know what Brock’s take-home is, but I’m going to hazard a guess that 20K is still a lot of money for him, as with the other characters. As a player, I can tell you that it’s a massive amount of money for me.
This is why it bothers me when one of these numbnuts goes all-in on the first fucking hand! Trust me, this happens. A lot. These four go all-in like they’ve each got secret multi-billionaire backers. It’s unreasonable, and it ends a tournament very, very quickly.
And I believe that was the intent. I think that Telltale Games understands that people tend to game in chunks now, especially when on portable devices, and so they’ve engineered the game so that it can end fairly rapidly. The only games I’ve seen drag out have been those where I am betting very conservatively, although often in these cases, I have to watch my pot dwindle down as my opponent(s) keep winning my blinds by going all-in nearly all the time.
Poker Night 2 is very much a game of go big or go home. Once you realize that, you can adapt your play-style to match. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does result in some exciting wins.
Other than that, gameplay is very enjoyable. I can’t speak to the PSN version of the game, however the XBox, PC and iOS versions are all rock solid. I’ve heard that the PSN version has a habit of crashing mid-hand, however I don’t know if that’s yet been patched. That has never once happened to me on the other platforms.
I found that the betting slider on iOS can be awfully persnikety at times, feeling as though you’re splitting an atom, however that’s a small gripe for an otherwise fantastic iOS control scheme.
Were it not for a few issues, gameplay would get a resounding 10/10. However those two issues are, in my opinion, fairly serious. Not game-breaking, though annoying enough to keep me from coming back to play casually after having unlocked all the achievements/bonuses.
The quality of the video in Poker Night 2 is very good. It’s not a AAA title with state of the art graphics, however that wouldn’t necessarily work anyway. Each character’s graphics are influenced by their actual character’s IP, which creates a disconnect, but one which makes sense and respects the art style associated with each character.
I often wondered if I’d prefer something that was uniformly animated when playing Poker Night at the Inventory, and I won’t lie, I’m still not sold 100% one way or the other.
The bar area, complete with Moxxi behind the counter (hattip to Borderlands), looks fantastic. Plus, as an added bonus for unlocking all of the chips, decks and felts for each character, you get a remodelling of the bar based on that IP. See the video I made below for more on that.
By giving you different options for each of these, you get vastly different decks, chips and felts; enough so, that most folks can settle into a favorite. The fact that these are unlocks, forces us to strive for something.
While the game is nothing spectacular to look it, it’s still perfectly suited to the core idea that is of playing against characters from various IPs.
The audio for this game is absolutely fantastic. The issue of not being able to turn off the chatter does not take away from the quality of said chatter. The voice acting for the table is one of my favorite things about Poker Night 2. From left to right, we have Brock Samson from The Venture Bros. (voiced by Patrick Warburton), Claptrap from the Borderlands series (voiced by David Eddings), Ash Williams from The Evil Dead franchise (voiced by Danny Webber), and finally Sam from the Sam & Max franchise (voiced by David Nowlin), with side commentary by Max (voiced by David Boat). More importantly, GLaDOS from Portal 1 & 2 is the dealer (voiced by Ellen McLain).
Each delivers their lines with impeccable timing.
Something that should not be overlooked is the background music. Just for fun, turn the sound effects and voices volume down quite low, and listen to the music for a while. There is music from each of the IPs, in some cases changed to match a style. It’s absolutely phenomenal and props-worthy.
As a final word, all of the sound effects, from background sounds to chips, to cards being dealt are all excellent. It’s not rocket-science getting sounds from a poker table perfect, but it does add to the atmosphere when it’s done properly.
Here’s where the game shines. And by shines, I mean buy the fucking thing. Seriously.
Here’s the breakdown.
The game is very inexpensive, which is what you’d expect from a title like this. However the true value of the title comes in the form of unlockables. Actually, allow me to rephrase that. The true value of the title comes in the form of fucking awesome unlockables. These vary based on what platform you bought the game for. The only platform which does not get any unlockables (for other titles) is the iOS version (of course).
During each tournament, pay close attention to the achievements needed. By completing them all, you will trigger one of the players putting up an item during the next tournament. If you win that tournament, you will win the item, and as such unlock something awesome. Once you’ve unlocked all of the items from the characters at the table, GLaDOS will put up an item (which made me lol irl).
For the XBox Live version, item unlocks open up various items for your avatar, including a Portal-inspired test room complete with mini-GLaDOS, and a mini-Bloodwing. For the PSN version, you unlock slick themes which blend characters and settings from each franchise. Finally, on Steam, you unlock Team Fortress 2 items, like the Necronomicrown for the Pyro and the Dapper Disguise for the Spy. All of these are absolutely fantastic, however in addition to all of this, for each of these platforms, you also unlock various Borderlands 2 skins and heads!
I’ve unlocked a lot of skins and heads in Borderlands 2, however I have yet to see one as insanely cool as the “Are You Still There” combo for the Assassin. We have a winner. I need never unlock another skin or head for this class.
Without taking all of these unlocks into consideration, I would still class this as a recommended buy for anyone who enjoys poker and gaming/pop culture references. It’s a very fun game, despite it’s few flaws.
When you factor in the unlockables, the game then becomes a must buy… especially if you play Borderlands 2 and/or Team Fortress 2. The Borderlands 2 unlockables are among the best in the game, and the Team Fortress 2 unlockables are cool as hell too (especially that Handsome Jack mask for the Spy).
I’d have liked to have seen some form of unlock for the iOS version, even if it just unlocked a code you could input onto PC for Borderlands 2 or Team Fortress 2. I can see how there’d be no control over that, unless they made each code unique, but still, something would have been nice as it’s the only platform that does not reward you for unlocking all of these achievements (which in some cases can be bloody tough).
As a final score for this category, I do have to ding it 1 point however, due to the game’s reduced replayability (thanks to the issues I perceive with the game listed above in the gameplay category). I hate taking that point away, however replayability is important, and the fact that I’m replaying Poker Night at the Inventory versus Poker Night 2 says a lot.
I know that I’m fairly bias, as I’m a massive poker fan, however I believe that reviews should be partial to the reviewer. Our opinions are what influence our level of enjoyment, and this is something that the reader must bear in mind when deciding if they agree or not with what is being said.
I’m also a big fan of the IP, having greatly enjoyed Poker Night at the Inventory. In fact, as stated above, I feel that in some ways, Poker Night at the Inventory was better than Poker Night 2, which is a little disappointing, though hardly a deal breaker. I may have sounded harsh while pointing out the game’s inability to turn off table chatter, or everyone’s willingness to go all-in willy-nilly, however as a whole, this did not diminish my love of the game.
It did however influence my willingness to return to the game once I’d unlocked all achievements, which is reflected in the overall score. Despite that though, I still strongly recommend this game. It was a ton of fun, on each platform, and my Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2 outfits are fucking slick.