As I wrote in my Puzzle Agent review, I’m a fan of Telltale Games. Any game they release, I’m likely to at least have a look at the videos and check the reviews, if I don’t buy it immediately. As it happens, I’m also a big poker fan, so when I saw they were going to bring out a poker related game, I was more than up for giving it a go. They do have previous in the poker game arena as well, having released “Telltale’s Texas Hold ‘Em” in 2005, which features very similar mechanics to both the Poker Night games – five players, including the unseen playable character face off against each other in a no limit Texas hold ‘em tournament.
The “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” motto is probably carved into the wall at TTG, because all three games play relatively similarly, with user experience updates in the form of graphical improvements and different characters added. The latter two, however, are based a fictional location called the “Inventory” where famed characters from pop culture come to hang out and play some poker. The characters chosen in Poker Night at the Inventory and Poker Night 2 are inspired choices. The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max, the rabbity sidekick in the Sam & Max Adventures, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner fame and Tycho, known for the Penny Arcade web comic appear in the first instalment. The second brings you the second half of the Sam and Max Adventures, Broke Samson from the Adult Swim series The Venture Brothers, the ever chirpy Claptrap from Borderlands and movie sensation Ash Williams from the Evil Dead series. Unfortunately, Ash isn’t voiced by Bruce Williams, but his stand in, Danny Webber, does an admirable job, even if it did remind me of Johnny Bravo. Even GLaDOS makes an appearance, equipped with her sharp wit from the Portal series, in Poker Night 2 as the dealer.
These characters all interact brilliantly. While they may not exist in each other’s canonical universes, they banter as if they’d been playing cards together for years. It’s very easy to forget that you’re not sat in a bar with your friends. The writers have always been on point with Telltale Games and it really comes together in the Poker Night games. The way the characters interact is so fluid and believable, there are actually times where I’ll hold off on my action so I can hear more of what they talk about. The anecdotes they talk about are often stories that people who have watched, read or played the relevant series will be able to identify with as well as more often than not they are a nod to their escapades prior to their sitting at the table.
Graphically, the game is exactly as you’d expect from a Telltale game. It’s cute, cartoony and fun. There is always something going on when you’re looking around too, whether it’s a person who’s gone out of the game wandering around the bar area looking glum, or Max running around like a maniac, even when the action isn’t on you, you will be enjoying yourself. There’s some skill needed to take a bunch of unrelated fictional characters and turn them into believable poker players too, and the series seems to nail it. They know the lingo, they know the chip tricks, and they’re not afraid to bluff you into folding your straight and show they only had 7-2 off suit. They even managed to code in some tells into your opponents, which you’ll only really notice if you’re looking hard enough – just like in real life.
Although it is clear that the developers are keen poker players, if you’re looking for a serious game of poker, then you’re in the wrong place. Yes it can be a little tricky to find your way against a maniacal opponent, but on the whole, it’s a little lacking. That’s not to say it’s terrible, because it’s far from it, and attempting to emulate the unpredictability of a human opponent is a nigh on impossible task. It’s just very easy to game the system. There are certain moves you can make in almost any hand and you’ll win it, regardless of what you have. It does detract from the game, but only in a minor way. Besides, if you’re looking for a serious game of cards, why would you be playing a video game?
Overall I do enjoy this game. They haven’t made any great strides in the mechanics of it since the first attempt in 2005, but the two Poker Night games are good enough to teach anyone the basics of poker, while sitting with a bunch of their favourite, or soon-to-be favourite characters. It’s a game worthy of any library, especially because you can just pick it up and play it whenever you have a spare half hour and want some laughs.