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World Series of Poker

The excitement of playing poker at a casino or with your friends just hasn’t translated to video games yet. There are some good poker video games around, but there isn’t a game that truly captures the true feel of playing poker. One of the games that stood the best chance of succeeding in finally delivering exciting poker action was Activision’s World Series of Poker. WSOP made a lot of big promises, like professional poker players to battle cards with, a legitimate license with one of the biggest names in poker, and a robust career mode. But even with the deck stacked in their favor, Activision still couldn’t deliver a true poker experience to the Xbox.

The biggest flaw with WSOP is that it’s incredibly hard to get a read on any other player at the table. Part of what makes poker so entertaining is the human element – observing the style of the people at the table and figuring out their hands based on their bets and mannerisms is an important and near-pivotal part of the game. Unfortunately, the AI in this game just isn’t good enough to replicate a true human experience. For example, I was in a pot in a Texas Hold’em game. My hand wasn’t very strong, so I didn’t bet, and neither did my opponent. When the cards were finally showed at the end of the hand, it turns out that the computer opponent had a straight-draw on the flop. I’m not a poker professional, but I’ve played enough poker and watched enough to know that most players would have put some chips down when that flop was shown.

And mannerisms are lost too – the graphics engine just can’t deliver realistic human emotions. Most facial animations are lame and inaccurate. You can’t watch a player for a game and determine what cards they have by the end of the game. The actual graphics are actually surprisingly weak. Before the match, two WSOP broadcasters introduce the event. Besides their tired lines, their faces are horribly animated and they look plain bad. The poker professionals that signed on for WSOP look recognizable, but they aren’t perfect either and they don’t play any differently than any of your other single player opponents.

But, even with these flaws, WSOP does have some good things going for it. For starters, the career mode is one of the most robust I’ve seen in any poker game yet. You can customize your character with a variety of physical features, and then you’re thrown into the fray. You can start off by competing in the actual World Series of Poker event, or you can work your way through a variety of circuit events. Texas Hold’em is clearly the main draw with WSOP, but you can also play in a few other variations like Omaha and Seven-Card. Online multiplayer makes up for some of the AI issues and makes it easier to read your opponents, but it still doesn’t save this game.

If you’re shopping around for a poker game for your Xbox, WSOP is one to avoid. While there are no perfect poker games, World Championship Poker and World Poker Tour are a little better and I suggest purchasing them over this. Ultimately, this title just plain fails, hard. The great license and the professional players just can’t make for an entertaining title thanks to a weak graphics engine and poor AI.

3 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

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