Witty Dialog Spices Poker Night With Old Friends
It’s not an uncommon thing to stave away from poker simulators because a lot of them can tend toward being boring or frustrating. Thankfully, Poker Night 2 isn’t just a poker simulator since it has assembled one of the more motley and unlikely card playing casts since, well, the last Poker Night game.
The main attraction of Poker Night 2 is the cast of opposing AI characters: Brock Samson from Venture Bros., Claptrap from Borderlands, Ash Williams from Evil Dead/Army of Darkness and Sam from Sam & Max are the characters that you (aptly called The Player by all in-game dialogue) must bet and call against while GlaDOS from Portal is the dealer.
The dialogue exchanges among the characters commonly turn into amusing, diminutive insults about occurrences from each character’s respective universe, so in order for the player to adequately understand the quips being shot back and forth across the table and at the player, you must first be somewhat familiar with the games of these characters. This isn’t to say that the majority of the conversations consist of in-jokes or things of that nature, but some things, especially those said by Sam about Max, will seem really absurd or campy if you haven’t had any experience with the Sam & Max games (even if you have, Sam & Max are really absurd and campy, so your mileage may vary).
Of course, the dialogue is only a (huge) portion of the game. There’s also poker to be played, Texas Hold ‘Em and Omaha Hold ‘Em. The game begins with a very brief introduction and a few dialogue windows explaining the rules and general play, which is handy considering if you’re like me and been under a rock for the last decade you’ve barely played Texas Hold ‘Em, preferring to play variants of Stud and Draw poker instead. After a few hands, it wasn’t too difficult to join in, flop and steal on the river like the rest of them. What do you mean that’s not how you use those terms? That’s not the point. The point is that even for someone who hadn’t played much Texas Hold ‘Em before, the rules were laid out quite well by the game and in a humorous manner.
Each computer player has their own "style" of play, this being relevant because there is no online multiplayer with this title.
From playing the game, it can be determined that Sam is a more careful type of player while Ash tends to bluff. A lot. Of course, these styles aren’t set in stone and the computers can occasionally do actions that make you just sit back and wonder where exactly their wires got crossed, while other times they’ll go all-in on hands that don’t make sense when combined with the flop, experiencing some kind of clairvoyance where the turn and river cards give them immaculate straight flushes.
There are a good number of unlockables in the game, which is an important save. The items you unlock, of course, are fairly standard: Poker chips, card sets and a poker table that looks like each character’s respective universe. When three of these of the same universe are selected, the entire appearance of the bar changes as does the representative of that game or show. If all of the Army of Darkness items are activated simultaneously, Ash dons a helmet that looks like Evil Ash’s crown while the whole bar looks like a scene out of the Army of Darkness movie.
Of course, there are also additional tasks to play during the course of the game that, each time you complete three, will enable you to play against the AI opponents for their bounty items. Collecting the bounty items really serves no purpose outside of unlocking achievements and specific skins for Borderlands 2, but something extra is better than nothing at all.
One thing some players may find annoying is that some of the challenges can be frustratingly tough to complete, sometimes taking the objective away from, well, winning, to complete an additional, arbitrary task. Thankfully, even when this is the case you can still earn tokens when you lose, though you earn significantly more for winning a game. There are a lot of unlockables but the dialogue, while usually very amusing the first couple of times, can become quite repetitive since recycled phrases rear their heads after just an hour or so of playing the game. Poker Night 2 winds up entering the, "Lots to do, but may not have enough to keep one busy while they grind out the things to do" category, which is unfortunate.
A lot of time has been spent focusing on dialogue with nothing said about music, but don’t take that to mean the music isn’t excellent and fitting. The music is in random rotation, with one track being a lounge variant of Short Change Hero, the intro song for Borderlands 2. This theme continues, of course, with lounge styled takes on Still Alive from Portal and the prologue from Army of Darkness. The audio in this title, for all intents and purposes, is top notch. The irreverent dialogue is one of the major draws to this game (albeit repetitive over time), and it’s difficult to imagine more fitting music while playing poker with the likes of Claptrap and Ash Williams.
All in all, Poker Night 2 suffers the draw back of not having online multiplayer, since playing against the same types of sometimes-clairvoyant AI opponents can get boring after just a few hours. The dialogue can be great the first time through, but by the second game you’ll be hearing repeat dialogue ad nauseam. There are plenty of unlockables to enjoy that even have bonuses outside of Poker Night 2, such as customizable skins for Borderlands 2 characters, hats for Team Fortress 2 on Steam, avatar items for the Xbox 360 and menu themes for the PS3. The game is enjoyable, but the pleasantness can wear off quite quickly due to repetitious dialogue and no multiplayer components for a game based around multiple players.