McGinnis: ‘Poker Night 2′ provides fun, if flawed, game of cardsWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
I admit, I’m a poker freak. I have loved the game for years now, with Texas Hold ‘Em — the most popular poker variation in the world — being a particular obsession of mine. I have owned more versions of the game on more platforms than I probably want to admit, and I still haven’t gotten my fix. To me, when it’s done right, it’s a perfect casual game — pick it up, play a few hands, put it down and go back to your life.
As someone who’s also a student of pop culture, then, I am the perfect target audience for “Poker Night 2,” the newest release from Telltale Games. The creators so many episodic adventure titles like “Sam and Max,” “Back to the Future: The Game,” “Jurassic Park” and 2012′s Game of the Year, “The Walking Dead,” this is a much more straightforward, yet endearingly fun idea: Take four wildly varied figures from entertainment, plop them at a poker table and let them banter entertainingly with each other while you play.
It was initially explored in the original “Poker Night at the Inventory,” with figures like the Heavy from “Team Fortress 2″ and Strong Bad from the website HomestarRunner.com playing. For the follow-up, Telltale has assembled an even more impressive (and ludicrous) line-up: Brock Samson from Cartoon Network’s “The Venture Brothers”; the little robot Claptrap from the hit shooter series “Borderlands”; dog detective Sam from their own “Sam and Max” series; and Ash, the hero of the original “Evil Dead” franchise. And the coolest touch of all is the game’s dealer: GLaDOS, the villainous computer from the classic “Portal” series.
The end result of bringing together all these disparate elements is a wildly entertaining game of cards, even more so due to the hilarious dialogue that gets tossed about while the game progresses — with plenty of tips of the hat to fan service tossed in for good measure. If it wasn’t for a few flaws in the presentation, not to mention some major problems with the PlayStation 3 version of the game (which this review is based on), this might be the perfect bargain game for those looking for a quick fix of both comedy and cards.
First things first: The voiceover cast is incomplete. Bruce Campbell, the iconic star of “Evil Dead,” does not provide the voice for Ash in this game. At first, I thought this might be a big issue, but the actor who does perform Ash does a decent job, and the writing for the character has such a great ear for what Ash sounds like that, amazingly, Campbell’s absence isn’t missed nearly as much as I thought it’d be.
Helping the issue is the fact that all the other characters are, indeed, voiced by the appropriate voice actors, particularly the great Patrick Warburton as Brock Samson and Ellen McLain as GLaDOS. But again, the writing of each character is what it’s really all about — if they didn’t sound like themselves, the basic structure of the game’s entertainment value would be worth little. But they do, and the writers of this game are to be commended for that.
That banter is the game’s bread and butter. As a poker game, “Poker Night 2″ is fairly basic in structure and control scheme, and doesn’t provide a particularly challenging game of cards. It’s the interaction between the characters that gives the title life, with genre-bending conversations you never thought you’d hear — Ash asking Sam why he doesn’t wear shoes, Claptrap hitting on GLaDOS, Brock laughing at the thought of Sam, a dog, playing poker. An impressive amount of material is crammed into the game, with more to discover as you play.
That isn’t to say the banter is infinite, though; you’ll hear the same bits repeated after just a few play-throughs, sometimes even in the same game. The writing is entertaining enough to not annoy TOO much, especially on a game that costs only $5 on Steam/PC, or up to $10 on the PlayStation Network.
The PlayStation version, though, is incredibly problematic. Sony fans have been given a port with numerous bugs and freezing issues. My copy seems to have a random pause occur at least once per hand, which is ludicrous. At first I thought the issue was with my system, but many others on the Net have been reporting similar problems. I seriously hope these issues are patched very, very soon, because it’s a shame to ask fans to spend twice the price for such a flawed version.
For fans on most operating systems, though, “Poker Night 2″ will simply be a blast, with fun characters interacting in very fun ways. With tons of goodies to unlock while playing — “Borderlands” skins, PS themes and more — this cheap title provides more than its weight in value. I just hope the PS3 version has its flaws corrected, and soon.