Poker Night 2 Review
Single player poker games are generally bound to be a little dull, yeah? I certainly thought so, but it was only after playing Poker Night 2 for a couple of hours that I realized I was missing the point of this game, which is to bring together multiple properties to clash together in amusing ways. First, though, I had to come to terms with the notion that the wins and fake money from a game like this are no more imaginary or fleetingly digital than the armor or guns on my MMO character or my unlocks in Far Cry 3, but once I did, I was able to enjoy Poker Night 2 for what it was: a way to deliver superb video game comedy with only the trappings of a serious game sitting under it all.
Poker Night 2 is a single player-only poker game featuring both Omaha and Texas Hold 'Em, where the player with no visible avatar or voice goes up against a mishmash of characters. There's Brock Samson from the Cartoon Network show Venture Brothers, Claptrap from Borderlands 2, Ash Williams from The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness (unfortunately voiced by a sound-alike rather than Bruce Campbell), and Sam and Max from their games. You'll also get cameos from characters like Borderlands cult stars Steve (Heyo!) and Moxxi, while the cards and copious amounts of biting sarcasm are both dealt out by none other than GlaDOS from Portal - who is voiced by Ellen McLain.
The basic game has you playing in the five-man tournament repeatedly, trying to unlock new stuff like decks, chips, and tables. Special prizes, like Claptrap's Spike VGA award from last year or Ash's Necronomicon, are also put up by the cast for unlocking if you can win. But what winds up being the most important part of the game isn't the poker AI, which isn't amazing, or the smoothness or speed of the poker action - which sometimes suffers delays due to character pop-offs and can't always be sped up or skipped. Nope, that's not where this game excels.
Instead, the best part of this game is actually the interaction between the characters themselves. Poker Night 2 is chock full of fun conversations and quips between the characters, GlaDOS included, and these touch on both the game and on the characters' histories - and these conversations even continue after GlaDOS interrupts to announce the winner of a hand. After hours of playing, I'm still hearing new stuff. Now, I don't know every character and property included here to extreme detail, but I know my Borderlands and Bruce Campbell well, and everything from jokes about Gearbox nerfs to references to Chuck Finley (Campbell's character-within-a-character on the show Burn Notice) are delivered with that excellent comedic timing that developer Telltale Games seem to have mastered.
If you're thinking of buying this game purely for the poker action and don't know much about the characters, you might find Poker Night 2 to be a slow, mildly-stupid poker game (seriously, Claptrap goes all-in and gets wrecked by the fifth hand pretty much every time I play) that's firing too much fan service at the wrong audience. But if you enjoy these characters - even if it's just a couple of them - then I think you'll find Poker Night 2 to be an incredibly charming, entertaining little game that even comes with a few interesting and fun unlocks for those who play for hours. But even for the former group, here's the kicker: the game's five dollars on Steam. That costs less many fancy cups of coffee now. Even if you dislike the poker, this game is probably still worth it just for the general humor you'll get, and it helps that Telltale can keep nearly anyone laughing and coming back repeatedly.
Just, careful with the kids around. Claptrap's cussing is bleeped, but Brock occasionally drops an uncensored F-bomb when he's going all-in.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a downloadable version supplied by Valve over Steam.