Developer Telltale Games is best known for titles that fit into the classic point-and-click graphic adventure genre, such as Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island, and most recently the acclaimed episodic Walking Dead game. However, there was one title that was decidedly outside of their typical gameplay model, that being the 2010 title Poker Night at the Inventory. Taking the basic rules of Texas Hold’Em poker and having players compete against a colorful cast of characters from several different franchises, the game was quite a fun diversion.
Now, two and a half years later, players have been given a chance to return to the secret club known as The Inventory, and meet with a new group of familiar faces in Poker Night 2. The sequel, while mostly identical in actual gameplay, has been beefed up with a new and more accessible unlock system, another type of poker to play, and more goodies to obtain, including ones that cross over into other games. This all makes for a fun, personality-filled experience that fans of any series represented here will want to look into.
The original Poker Night had players face off against Max, the “rabbit-y thing” from the Sam & Max franchise, Strong Bad from the Homestar Runner web cartoon, The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, and Tycho from the webcomic Penny Arcade. There’s an entirely new set of opponents to meet here, and this time, things expand to include films and TV shows that aren’t directly related to gaming.
Players can expect to compete against Brock Samson, the macho bodyguard from the Adult Swim series The Venture Bros., Claptrap, the chatty comic relief robot from the Borderlands franchise, Ash Williams, the protagonist of the original Evil Dead films, and Sam, the humanoid dog who frequently adventures with Max from the previous game in their own self-titled games, comics, and TV series.
Brock and Claptrap’s original voice actors both reprise their roles here, along with the voice of Sam from the recent Telltale Sam & Max games. An unfortunate omission is the lack of Ash’s original actor, Bruce Campbell. Though the soundalike used doesn’t deliver a bad performance, diehard fans of the films will likely find this aspect a bit disappointing.
Character appearances aren’t limited to these four, however. Reginald Van Winslow, Guybrush’s first mate from Tales of Monkey Island, returns to host the game and explain the rules. Steve, a bandit from Borderlands, also serves as a sidekick of sorts for Claptrap. Max, the only returning player from the original game, hangs out in the background and occasionally interacts with Sam. Finally, GLaDOS, the perpetually antagonistic AI from the Portal series, serves as the dealer.
The game’s default rules follow the Texas hold ’em style of poker, but unlike the original, those who wish to can also choose to play in the Omaha hold ’em style. The player, along with each character, bets $20,000 virtual dollars at the start of each tournament, and aims to be the last man standing who walks away with a full wallet.
The real standout feature of the Poker Night series isn’t so much the actual poker gameplay, which has no unique twists to it. It’s the character interactions and reactions you’ll see expressed by each character. All four of the AI-controlled players have unique personalities and ways to respond to your moves, and will also engage in unique conversations depending on who is still playing at certain points.
These conversations are consistently well-written and performed, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. They can range from simple topics such as Claptrap asking to be Ash’s sidekick to more self-referential jokes such as Sam being asked about why he sounds different compared to his older Lucasarts game, or even Ash dropping hints about dealing with Evil Dead director Sam Raimi. All the while, GLaDOS will also drop in to dish out some deprecation to the whole group in her trademark style.
The character moments also extend to each of them expressing their thoughts on their own hands, with varying degrees of subtlety. Some of these can be hard to spot, while others go as far as the character stating their doubts in calling a big bet. Of course, each of them are as capable of bluffing as the player, so it’s up to you to know the best course of action to take for each round.
On the Xbox 360, the game is technically sound with a minor exception. When you first load up the game, each character will freeze for about a second before speaking their first line. I’m guessing the game has to individually load each one’s library of voice clips and animations on an individual basis for some reason, and it can easily be forgotten about afterwards compared to the more notable technical hitches The Walking Dead had, but it’s still worth mentioning
The unlockable system, compared to the first, is a bit more robust as well as more forgiving. While the original had hidden decks and tables based on each character’s franchise, the only way to unlock them was to fully win individual tournaments. Here, in-game prizes are also expanded to include the chips, and all three types can be individually purchased using collectible tokens that are given to the player after their involvement in each tournament ends, with the amount apparently varying depended on how long you last. This is a more lenient way to get everything, as players are no longer required to play a perfect game to get these items.
The other returning unlockable mechanic that has also been expanded is the bounty system. Early on, players will be given three randomized conditions to clear across multiple games. These can vary from something as simple as switching to an unlockable deck to knocking opponents out of the game using the all-in option. After all three conditions are cleared, one of the characters will be randomly picked to put a personalized item up for the winning. If players win that tournament, they will unlock a specialized item, ranging from Sam’s banjo to Claptrap’s Spike Video Game Awards statue.
From there, the rewards expand to outside the game, and vary depending on your console of choice. All versions of the game contain special accessories for Borderlands 2, while the Steam version contains Team Fortress 2 accessories, the Xbox 360 version includes avatar items, and the PlayStation 3 version includes XMB themes. This factor may be key in helping a player decide what version to get, especially if they’re already fans of Team Fortress 2 or a specific version of Borderlands 2.
Poker Night 2 is simple in its actual gameplay, but it’s the window dressing that makes it something special. Bursting with personality, humor, and replayability, it’s one of the better downloadable time-wasters out there, along with perks that extend to outside of the game itself. Whether you consider yourself a novice or a card shark, it’s definitely worth checking out.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Poker Night 2 is both well-written and enjoyable to play, with numerous rewards awaiting those who put enough time into it.