Texas Hold'Em Review
Now that many real-money online poker sites are starting to close due to federal legislation, many gamers are deciding whether they're in it for the money, or for the thrill of poker itself. The most popular form of poker nowadays is Texas Hold 'Em, and video games and TV shows basedon it are everywhere. And the Xbox 360 can be put on the list of platforms with a Hold 'Em game - Tikgames' Texas Hold 'Em for the Live Arcade has just launched on Microsoft's powerhouse console, and while you'll find the graphics to be anything but impressive, the online play is better. But how much better?
Texas Hold 'Em includes both online and single player action - the latter features tournaments, single games, and specific challenges that put you in a unique scenario. Online play allows up to eight people at a table. Sadly, the single player game has some of the dumbest AI ever seen in a poker game - the AI seems to be unable to really do any dollar-based math at all and seems to only look at the cards - this leads to bets, calls, and all-ins that are predictable and boring. This means that you can pretty much push around any AI opponent by being only slightly smarter with your chips. Of course, a complete beginner to the game of Hold 'Em will probably won't notice this at first and might enjoy the single player game for a while, but the lack of any difficulty controls or half-decent AI makes the single player mode pretty useless to all but the newest of players.
Online is where it's at for this game, but this still winds up being nothing like a real poker game at a real table. Sure, the chat system over your headset works for all players at all times, but you're still missing one of three main tools a poker player needs to win: the math, the betting habits of his opponents, and the "tells" those opponents give. Sure, you can use the first two, but just like any online poker game, it's not as much fun without the poker face. I understand that in the future the Xbox 360 webcam will likely support this game, but most people still probably won't use it except in close-knit circles of friends. And since you're playing for no real money, you'll find that people online will bet crazily on any little thing they have, or will go all-in with 3-9 offsuit even after seeing a flop full of over-cards. You might think you play a little loose when you're just playing for $10 bills with your buddies, but playing on Live when there's truly nothing to lose for many players just makes for wildly stupid betting.
The actual table mechanics of Tikgames' Texas Hold 'Em are sound, although I found that the whole thing moves a little too slow for me. There are a few options to speed things up, but the game will still move pretty slowly overall - online or offline. Beginners might not have much of a clue what's going on, but they'll quickly figure it out if they've played any kind of betting poker before.
The sad part is that my cell phone has an overall better poker game than what we've gotten on the Xbox 360. It moves smoothly and quickly around the table and the AI is actually half decent. Sure, my cell might not have online play, but without real money bets or the ability to see your opponent's poker face, I don't really think I'm missing much. While I like the idea of online play with real voice chat (as opposed to most PC versions of the game), Tikgames' rendition of the game is just too basic and empty to be worth it to most Xbox Live players.