A Different Deal

World Championship Poker: All
In featuring Howard Lederer
Reviewed On
PlayStation 2
Available For

I am getting a bit bored with all the poker games out there on the market. Even when you take away all the millions of sites offering free poker play, poker lessons, and the ability to play your way into a seat in a real tournament, that still leaves quite a large pool. And yes, I know that many online players have gone on to win major real tournaments, but sitting around a table without real people there reduces the game to one of straight odds. And while odds are important, a big part of the game is reading your opponents and figuring out what they are thinking.

Look at any movie featuring the game from actual poker-based movies to ones like Casino Royale where the game is prominently shown. It’s not about Bond, James Bond having a 17.5 percent chance to draw a red queen on the next hand, but about reading the tells and gestures of those sitting around the table. You just can’t get that in an online poker game.

So I think World Championship Poker did the right thing. They know they can’t accurately reproduce the facial tick that tells if someone is bluffing (not very well or very accurately anyway) so they figure all bets are off and built a game that while not exactly true to the game of poker, is actually fun to play.

Instead of an inflexible poker style, WCP adds role-playing and even adventure game elements into the mix. Considering Howard Lederer, who is one of six pros featured in the game, has made a side career out of crating educational poker types of games, this is little surprise.

And to go along with this, don’t expect to be sitting around in tuxedos sipping some fancy drink made up of seventeen different ingredients and spiked with a lime imported from Madagascar, grown on the south side of the island. No, here your opponents look a lot more, shall we say GenX? And the places you play at, at least at first, run from crummy to dingy. They make your parent’s basement look like the Las Vegas Hilton.

You start out in this virtual world as a nobody, or perhaps a wannabe. You have some skill but not a lot of cash. If you walk around your apartment clicking on everything (like an adventure game) you might find a few bills to put together which you will need later.

Then looking at the world map (and who ever thought a poker game would have a world map?) you can examine the different places where games are taking place. Most of them either won’t let you in or cost too much for a mug like you to even stick your foot in the door. But that does not mean there are no games. Back alley auto mechanic shops, seedy hotel rooms and illegal poker bars beckon. Sure, playing for $2 a hand is not exactly feature movie material, but you won’t lose your rent money too quickly either. And yes, there is a pawn shop in case you do catch a bad run where you can hawk your meager apartment’s contents if you go too far in the hole. On the plus side, you can really spruce your place up as well if things are going great, and then can host your own game.

WCP is full of surprises. You will even find mini-games within the actual card playing. If you bluff, an opponent can initiate a stare-down contest with you. This is a lot like those golf games where you have to tap the moving meter so it lands in just the right spot. Win the mini-game and you put up your poker face. Lose and your opponent will read you like you were holding your cards backwards.

As you win tournaments you also win special skills, like the ability to always see the odds of the table, or to read your opponent’s play style after a few hands. This takes the game out of the realm of real hardcore poker (you even have a lucky charm which can be upgraded and brought to bear in close games) but remember, you can’t accurately recreate a poker experience unless you are right across from someone anyway, so why not go crazy here?

There is even an online mode where you can challenge other real people, which does come a bit closer to the real thing. And luckily, your offline and online characters are tied together. So if you become a master at the single player game and build out a nice place to live, you can actually host a party at your place where you set the house rules for the game. The opposite is also true. If you lose your shirt online, you can always creep back to those $2 games offline to build your bank back up, and your low-class virtual friends won’t even think any worse of you.

For hardcore poker players that want a real experience, there are a ton of titles out there and even Websites where you can go. For those of you who would rather play a game and have fun, WCP is all in.

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