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World Series of Poker
Review posted March 2006 by Alex Lifschitz
Release Date: September, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E 10+" for Everyone
The World Series of Poker – A test of willpower and pure skill, as well as a pinch of luck. And maybe some acting too. While some may not consider the participants to be real athletes in the traditional sense, the cerebral aspect of this simple card game has helped it to become one of the most entertaining card games in existence. So, as could only be predicted, the recent advances in mobile gaming has prompted a slew of poker simulators, such as Activision’s World Series of Poker. How does it stack up against the real thing? The real thing is a test of character and a fun game all around. The simulation is a clunky, unfinished game that requires little knowledge to play and infinite patience to tolerate.
The World Series of Poker is an unrefined game that clearly could have been something more. Everything about it simply screams alpha stage. It starts you off as a rookie with a little bit of cash to parlay into a number of championships. From here, you can start developing your character’s career, or play a number of different games, such as video poker. If you’re just hankering for a quick game of poker, thankfully, you can jump into a no-consequence game against AI opponents at any time, and the multitude of games is enough to quench the thirst of any poker aficionado.
Character creation is limited, but manageable, based on the Tony Hawk’s Underground character creator. You can choose from a number of character options, such as shirts, pants, facial hair, headphones, colors, and other options. You can even select a unique voice for in-game events. Though the options are few, you can still create a unique and interesting character. Load times are rather short, so you won’t be waiting very long to play a simple game.
This is about where the enjoyment ends. The bulk of the game is played against AI opponents, and it would help if the AI wasn’t completely oblivious to common errors and tells. Speaking of which, tells are mostly in the form of stupid plays. Character interaction is nonexistent, and the AI is susceptible to the most boneheaded moves. To truly discover how bad it is, I performed a test using one of the most popular poker variants today, Texas Hold ‘Em.
For those of you who don’t how Texas Hold ‘Em is played, it goes like this: Each participant is dealt two cards facedown. They then take turns around the table examining their two cards, choosing to fold them and forfeit their turn, or place bets on top of the original mandatory pot contribution. The dealer then deals three cards face-up on the table, called the flop. Players either fold or continue betting. A fourth card, the turn, is then played face-up, and a fifth card, the river, is played as well. Between each of these, the players have a chance to evaluate their initial two cards and create the best five-card hand. The true competitive nature of the game comes from determining from the face-up cards if your opponent may have a better hand than you, and trying to make one yourself.
In the experiment, I decided to play no limit Texas Hold ‘Em, meaning that at any time, you can go “all in” and bet all of your chips on a hand. I would test the AI by going all in without seeing the flop. This means that I would bet all of my chips by only seeing my first two cards. Most poker players will know that this is a dumb move, seeing as nobody would just go all-in without seeing the flop first to evaluate what kind of hand they have. For this reason, some players will pounce on this opportunity and call them, knowing that they were bluffing. I intentionally lost a few chips so I would have less than everyone else, and then proceeded with going all-in without seeing the flop.
The results were a glorious display of bad AI – Everyone else automatically folded, and I won the pot. They couldn’t even tell that I was bluffing, even though this kind of play is practically suicide. Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if this happened once. Four times in a row I went all in without the flop, and four times in a row everyone else folded. It’s this kind of knee-jerk reactionary AI that spoils the illusion of the actual game. It tries to compensate with presentation – AI players have names, appearances, etc. The casinos you play in are well modeled. But when it comes down to it, the lack of AI structures will shatter any thoughts of a real poker game. Even the reactions are indicative of simplicity; I have never seen a poker player cheer wildly or belly laugh after winning a measly $200 pot when everyone starts out with $1000 in an eight-way game. It would also help if the AI didn’t make dumb moves itself, such as going all-in with no real hand when there’s really nothing to even make you consider that they have a good hand on the table.
Though the AI is shot to hell, what about the multiplayer? Well, there’s another problem. If you want to play with friends, each person will have to buy a copy of the game. If the PSP has a game download feature, you would probably expect a multiplayer-centric game like poker to have it, but it is absent and missed. There is an infrastructure mode, thankfully, which is one of the most redeeming features of the game. I personally had trouble finding many open games, but at times, I managed to find some decent games with a good number of players. If you don’t really mind looking for games for a while, the infrastructure mode is the only real reason to buy the game.
There’s really nothing to complain about in terms of controls. Most of the game is navigating through menus and selecting cards or options, which requires no feat of controls to do. Option selection when playing games is done relatively well, simply asking you to select one option or another by pressing a different direction instead of asking you to go through a clunky option-by-option menu. Everything is shipshape in this department.
The graphics in this game are a muddled, low-polygon mess. The casinos themselves are nicely rendered, but that’s the extent of it. Every character model is the same in structure, and the polygon count is so horrifically low that you can actually count individual polygons on certain parts of the body, which is inexcusable. Textures are awful and blurry, mainly regarding the face. There are no smiles, frowns, or anything – The most emotion that a character will show is a slack-jawed, gaping mouth and no movement of any other part of the face as they engage in one of the many shoddy, jerky animations, in which you can even spot rampant clipping, such as fingers going through a torso as they laugh upon winning a meager pot. Cards are presented nicely, but… Well, they’re cards. Even the GBA can pull off decent card art, so seeing it here isn’t something to marvel at. The ESPN presentation is a decent touch, though, adding the effect of watching a poker game unfold on TV, with a ticker and all.
The sound aspect of this game is rather two-faced in that the quality is good, but the sounds themselves are pretty bad. Aside from cards shuffling and whatnot, during the game, you will be subjected to bad one-liners that repeat over and over, constantly being forced to listen to recycled lines and sounds that got old the first time around. When not playing any games, there is a single obnoxious loop of a techno-rock riff that accompanies you through every single menu, which will have you muting your PSP after only a few minutes. Surprisingly, the actual quality of all these sounds is pretty good which is a waste on the content.
I often wonder how this game got out of beta testing alive. Blurry, undetailed graphics complement the repetitive audio and crappy AI to make a great waste of forty bucks. If only this game had better graphics, a wider audio selection, better AI, and a game-sharing option, this would be a great game in my book, and worth it for the multiplayer. But as it stands, it is a mess. This game is for hardcore poker fans ONLY, or for someone who may want to try Internet poker on their PSP. For all other, buy a pack of cards and get some friends over. It’s better than the alternative.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
While the presentation is nice, models and animations are ridiculously badly done.
The quality is nice, but the selection is awful. The menu music is annoying after a while, and varied player talk based on the situation at hand would have been much appreciated.
The game itself is robbed of its fun value due to the piss-poor AI. The quality of the moves the computer is not only bad, it’s annoying. The randomness makes it hard to play a decent game of poker with the AI, which wouldn’t be too bad if the computer strategy wasn’t no strategy, simply throwing caution to the wind and making whatever moves it wants without evaluation.
I digress, the score of three dragons is ONLY due to Internet play – Single player woes make this game less effective as a training tool and more effective as a lesson in frustration. By playing against live people, the game gets its single saving grace. If the game only had a game-sharing option, the rest might be forgiven in lieu of a pure multiplayer experience.