PLATFORM: XBLA, PSN, PC (Reviewed)Poker Night 2 Cover (Scale)
PRICE: $4.99 (PC), $9.99 (Consoles)
DEVELOPER: Telltale Games
PUBLISHER: Telltale Games

Before I begin the review proper, I’m going to give all you readers a chance to try and figure out what Telltale’s Poker Night 2 is all about. Go ahead, look at the title. Check out those screenshots. Alright, you ready? What do you think the main draw of this game is?

What? Poker!? Well, I suppose it’s an easy mistake to make, but the truth is that for a game where the title includes the word poker, the gameplay consists entirely of poker, and the story is centered around a group of fictional characters playing poker, the poker in Poker Night 2 really isn’t the big selling point (also poker poker poker poker). Is it a perfectly functional poker simulation? Sure, I suppose. You’ve got the option of choosing between Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha (so basically Texas Hold ‘Em), the AI will bet and react in fairly believable ways, and playing like an idiot will get you busted out, while conversely being conservative and picking your spots will usually carry you into a head-to-head. Now, if the question is could you find a better poker simulator, then I don’t know, because I’m not the sort of weirdo who plays a lot of poker against computers. I haven’t even played online with humans since they stopped letting you lose money, which is good because I’m pretty sure I still owe some shady Eastern European companies like $50.

Poker Night 2 Screenshot #1 (Scale)No, as someone who never made it past Chapter 2 of Harrington on Hold ‘Em, the real joy of poker has always been the Friday night $5 game, a communal activity that gives friends the opportunity to sit around shootin’ the shit. Rather than any sort of technical challenge, it’s that sense of camaraderie that Poker Night 2 seeks to capture, and while it obviously lacks the warmth of true human contact, it makes up for it by giving you a table of opponents who, if we’re being totally honest here, are probably way more entertaining than your actual poker buddies. Much like its predecessor, Poker Night at the Inventory, Poker Night 2 draws a group of irregular characters to The Inventory, an underground gambling den that serves as a nexus of fictional universes from the video game world and beyond. This time the line-up includes dealer GLaDOS from Portal, The Venture Brother’s Brock Samson, Borderland’s Claptrap, Sam from Sam and Max (accompanied by Max), and Ash Williams (if I need to tell you what he’s from, you’re visiting the wrong site). It’s these characters who are the game’s real draw, with the poker serving as an excuse to bring them together and give the player something to do while enjoying their banter. It’s honestly an ingenious solution, just enough interaction to keep the player engaged, but not enough to be distracting. It feels more akin to watching a good movie or TV show versus throwing down in Halo, and at $5-$10 bucks feels priced accordingly.

Of course a game centered on people talking is going to live and die on its writing, and Poker Night 2 (mostly) shines in that department. Not only are there a wealth of quips, reactions and one-liners, but characters will engage in longer discussions with each other, sometimes one on one, sometimes with multiple people. Thankfully the game wisely chooses not to lock you into a cutscene, but instead will allow these conversations to be interrupted by gameplay events, then resumed with a “as I was saying” when the action pauses. It’s a formula that for the most part creates a pretty entertaining simulacrum of a real game, and while you’re bound to encounter some repetition, at 5+ hours I was still getting a majority of fresh content. It helps that in addition to the sharp writing, the actors bring their A-game as well. Patrick Warburton’s Brock and Ellen McLain’s GLaDOS steal the show, but Sam, Max and Claptrap are all amusing as well (though the latter does have, as Brock puts it, a “voice that makes you want to rip his arms off”).

Poker Night 2 Screenshot #2 (Scale)The only real weak link is Ash Williams, which may sound like blasphemy until I tell you that folks…that ain’t Ash Williams. It is in fact one Danny Webber, of Birdemic and Birdemic 2 “fame” (and there are not quotation marks big enough) doing an admittedly not horrendous sound-alike job. The thing is, while I’m generally not a huge stickler for swapping voice actors, we’re talking about a character that’s basically become synonymous with a particular actor. Bruce Campbell IS for all intents and purposes Ash Williams (see: My Name is Bruce) and it begs the question of why they included that particular character if they couldn’t get the man himself. It also begs the question of hey, why the heck couldn’t you get the man himself? It’s not like Campbell hasn’t gone to the video game well before (including 3 Evil Dead games no less), and I’m having a hard time believing that Patrick Warburton is within their reach but Bruce isn’t. Webber isn’t helped by being saddled with what are easily the game’s weakest bits and zingers. It’s not distractingly bad, but Ash is definitely eclipsed by the other characters.

Outside watching the characters interact, the game does offer up a few additional hooks to keep you playing. Outlasting opponents will earn you tokens that can be used to unlock themed decks, chips and felt for the table. There’s a theme for each of the player characters and GLaDOS, and unlocking all three components will change The Inventory’s décor, as well as introduce new animations and interactions. For instance, go with a Venture Brothers theme, and players will be ejected from the table via malfunctioning teleporter. These tokens can also be used to buy drinks for the players, which will cause them to display their “tells” more frequently. Besides the tokens, players can compete to win objects from each of the other players that will unlock gear in Team Fortress 2 (PC only) and Borderlands 2, as well as premium themes on the consoles. At the start of a tournament, players are given 3 randomized goals, which can include everything from buying a player a drink to winning a showdown with a straight or higher. Once these goals are completed, the next tournament will introduce one of the items as a prize. Thankfully the completed objectives carry over between tournaments, so you’re never forced to start from scratch after a loss. Not the deepest system, but just enough incentive to serve as icing on the proverbial cake. If you’re a fan of any of these franchises, or just looking for something off-beat and comedic to play for a few hours, I definitely recommend a few rounds at The Inventory.

Poker Night Screenshot #3 (Scale)


Out of 5

Follow me on Twitter