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Poker Night 2

One genre the current gaming landscape isn’t exactly crowded with are poker titles, which makes this sequel to Poker Night at the Inventory all the more puzzling, especially given that it describes itself as admittedly unnecessary. But like any habitual gambler, you can’t keep it away from the tables for long and a new host of zany characters have joined in to play.

This time there’s Claptrap (Borderlands), Brock Samson (The Venture Bros.), Ash (Army of Darkness), and Sam (Sam & Max) as the other players in a game of high-stakes poker and Portal’s GLaDOS serving as dealer. With the exception of Ash, every character is once again voiced by the same actors, including Ellen Mclain as GLaDOS—it’s just too bad Bruce Campbell couldn’t lend his vocal magic to the character one more time and instead have an imitator to work with. Coupled with the high level of writing from Telltale Games, the characters are pretty fleshed-out and despite coming from entirely different universes for no reason other than to play some poker, they somehow manage to mesh together quite well.

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Between hands there’s banter from the characters that amuse and keep the goings on lively. Expect GLaDOS to taunt the other players and make gamers question their plans, Ash has a few yarns to spin on the Necronomicon, and Claptrap tries to entice the others into joining him on Pandora. The problem with the dialogue is that, given the amount of time a card game can take, the same chats are going to be repeated to the point where it’s no longer fun to hear. Hearing Sam say “great day in the morning!” for the hundredth time quickly becomes annoying, even if it was funny the first time.

Players can choose between playing classic Texas hold ‘em or Omaha hold ‘em which deals players four cards instead of the two. It’s slightly easier to win at, and anyone having difficulty beating the tournaments might consider giving it a shot. Beyond that, it’s standard poker—call, check, raise, or fold, all while looking to see if anybody is bluffing a weak hand. Looking for tells is pretty tricky as more often than not the other characters will be subtle about their facial expressions and animations. Buying a drink for the other players with tokens won from tournaments is a good way to get them to loosen up enough to make things slightly more obvious, but there’s no sure-fire way to tell who is fibbing.

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In terms of AI, every character reverts to type and it’s easier to make guesses based on their archetype versus their audio-visual cues (though any time they’re wailing in despair is a pretty good sign of a weak hand). Brock is the guy that has to act macho with every hand, Ash is ridiculously cocky, Claptrap has no idea what he’s doing, and Sam is a serial folder. Tournaments can still take quite a bit of time to complete since random luck is a key factor in any card game, so it’s still best to use solid poker tactics to win.

A poker game is only as good as its stakes, and Poker Night 2 ups the ante by featuring unlockable Borderlands 2 heads (which are purely cosmetic) and premium themes that can be won in a tournament once three bounties are completed. These can range from pretty simple (buying everybody a drink) to more difficult (busting out two players at the same time in a showdown) so the time it takes to unlock everything varies from player to player. The bad news is that if you don’t own Borderlands 2, or plan on getting it at some point, the unlocks in Poker Night 2 lose their luster and it becomes just another card game.

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Another unfortunate issue is the game’s technical performance. Frequent chugging and audio-skipping for such an undemanding title isn’t something easily looked over, and a patch should be in Poker Night 2‘s immediate future if there’s going to be any sustained interest. Things get especially hitched up when the game auto-saves, something it does frequently enough to merit some kind of option to turn it off.

Poker Night 2 is a solid poker title that has some decent rewards (assuming you’re a Borderlands 2 player) and some laughs for those that look forward to Telltale Games’ stellar writing. If it has any real faults, it’s that it doesn’t go beyond what a standard budget title centered around card games calls for and it’s in need of a patch to help keep performance smooth. It’s definitely more fun than it has any right to be, but its lasting appeal is seriously questionable.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2010.

Gentle persuasion

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