POKER NIGHT AT THE INVENTORY (2010) – TELLTALE GAMES
On first impression the game of Poker is an activity that is ill suited for the format of videogames – after all, the best part of Poker is the interaction with other players; bluffing, playing mindgames, wearing sunglasses indoors and acting visibly smug when you win a hand. Playing against generic computer controlled characters feels very cold in comparison; single player card games like the evergreen Solitaire can get away with it, but without other humans to pit your wits against, quite frankly Poker isn’t much fun.
Poker Night At The Inventory is TellTale Games’ attempt to remedy the problem somewhat. The aim of the game is…well, its Texas Hold’em Poker – you need a series of better hands than the other players in order to win the chips, and the last player to be knocked out wins the tournament. However, instead of nameless avatars, in Poker Night you compete in a high stakes game against four personalities from the videogame world instead; the hyper-kinetic lagomorph Max from TellTale’s own Sam & Max series, the Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Tycho of Penny Arcade fame and Homestar Runner’s Strong Bad. Each character is fully voiced by their VA from their original medium and offer regular witty banter, chatting and insulting each other and arguing amongst themselves as you attempt to claim the pot. As you win more tournaments, you unlock the options to change the theme of the card deck and poker table to suit each characters background (for example, the Heavy’s custom deck replaces the King, Queen and Jack with Team Fortress characters), and also earn the chance to randomly win some cosmetic items for use in Team Fortress 2 including Max’s Freelance Police Badge. For newbie’s there is a easy to understand guide on how to play Poker, while seasoned experts can alter the difficulty for a greater challenge (in other words, expect the computer to cheat).
As a replication of the game of Poker one can have few complaints about Poker Night; the characters are programmed to have slightly different approaches when it comes to playing hands (for example Max is more likely to make an irrational call of all-in than the more cunning Tycho), and no two hands ever play out exactly similar meaning that the game successfully recreates the random probability that makes Poker such fun. The biggest problem that Poker Night has is that after a while, you will begin to hear the same sound bites and conversations repeated which becomes tiresome quite quickly – in the end, putting in a roster of recognized characters still doesn’t quite fill the void left by human players. It also helps to have at least a small appreciation of each character’s background; otherwise half of the references will fly over your head. Before the repetition kicks in however the conversations and insults are quite funny, and the voice acting is solid. You also get a superbly well-fitting soundtrack providing jazzy remixes of music from each franchise for that all important ambience. I find that my version tends to suffer the occasional moment of lag in-between rounds, but this is far from a visually taxing game and it proves only a minor annoyance.
For a couple of quid, Poker Night At The Inventory is a fun timesink if you want to waste the occasional hour or two. For the best experience however, I would recommend the more finely-tuned sequel from earlier this year, Poker Night 2.