Meet the gang, play some cards.
XBox 360, PS3, PC
Back in 2010, adventure game sorts Telltale Games took a time out between fully fledged titles to produce Poker Night at the Inventory. In it, your unnamed player sat with a host of characters including bunny Max from Sam & Max, Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, the Heavy from Team Fortress 2 and Tycho from PennyArcade for some cards and witty banter.
It’s a basic but entertaining formula that holds true for this second iteration. For PokerNight2, you’ll once again take a seat next to some kind of famous faces, this time coming from the worlds of gaming, movies and TV. You’ll face off across the baize against Sam instead of Max, Claptrap from Borderlands, Brock Samson from The Venture Bros. and, quite randomly, Ash from The Evil Dead. And no he’s not voiced by BruceCampbell.
After a short intro to the unusual location of the Inventory (where a variety of characters play games of skill and chance during their down time between gigs), you’ll sit at the table and play some cards. Both Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha are available, with the blinds and dealing handled by none other than the politely evil GLaDOS from the Portal series.
Poker Night 2 really comes to life through the interaction between the characters, with strong voice work and writing that’s often self-aware and genuinely funny. You’ll gain more from the banter if you have some knowledge of these characters but there are times when the experience actually feels like you’re socialising with these digital creations, including a huge amount of conversations that loops naturally as you raise and check and wait for that river card to drop.
The poker itself is slick and intuitive, making it easy to raise your bet as you cast your eye over your potential hand. The other players will react to how you play, even offering some friendly advice if you lose a hand. Apart from GLaDOS, who generally mocks you in your misery. There’s an unusual kind of excitement as pressure mounts for the last hand, with unique animations from the cast and some particularly fun victory celebrations.
Every game earns tokens which can be used to buy your opponents drinks (making it a little easier to see their tells when they’re bluffing) or to make cosmetic changes to the table or chips. You can also win special items from characters at random intervals and even unlock content in Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress on various systems, though they’re generally just visual extras.
The main problem with Poker Night 2 is that, when you get right down to it, it’s quite a shallow experience. Sure the writing and performances are great and the poker itself is eminently playable. But it doesn’t take too many games before the conversations start to repeat and the relatively crude animation feels less fresh. Likewise, there’s no real depth to the gameplay beyond what you’ll find in the first couple of hands.
Amusing and entertaining in short bursts but ultimately lacking in long term appeal. A very minor entry from the adventure game masters.