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Review: Poker Night 2 proves to be much more than a rehash of a TellTale classic

Poker Night 2 Screenshot - PN2atI

When it was crafted in 1829, poker was primarily a gathering of hardheaded, testosterone-led males who spent hours bantering on and on about their lives, wives and adventures. Spend some time at “The Factory” in Poker Night 2 and you’ll get a much of the same. Whether it’s tales of marriage proposals from The Evil Dead’s Ash Williams, or Claptrap’s views of the world outside of Borderlands and Pandora, it becomes evidently clear that Poker Night 2 is much more than a poker game, yet exactly what poker is at its heart.

Poker Night 2 doesn’t spend a considerable amount of time or effort trying to fuse together its predecessor and the sequel. Instead, you’re hurled back into the Inventory as a new player, and met up with the cast that makes this arcade adventure so much fun. That cast includes Borderlands 2’s Claptrap, Brock Samson from The Venture Bros., The Evil Dead’s Ash Williams, and partners Sam and Max from, of course, Sam & Max. Overseeing the madness is dealer GLaDOS from Portal, and Inventory operating chief Captain Reginald Van Winslow from Tales of Monkey Island.

PN2

This lineup is arguably the best part about Poker Night 2, whether you have prior knowledge of these characters or not. The hours upon hours of dialogue is particularly sculpted so that you come to gain an understanding of each character’s personality, and their roles within their respected games. This isn’t just welcoming for those who aren’t familiar with, say, Brock Samson or GLaDOS. Oh no, even fans with extensive awareness for each character and the worlds they inhabit can enjoy listening to their wit and mockery in a setting that’s more, well, “distinct” than, say, Pandora; and for that Telltale should be commended.

Even looking through the lens of gameplay, Poker Night 2 brings about a level of specialty. It’s easy to market it as a “poker simulator,” and let fans chew on the idea of it as synonymous to past games like Full House Poker and World Series of Poker, but that wouldn’t be doing the game justice. Whereas these other titles are plain, and sometimes stale, poker experiences, Poker Night 2’s gameplay is driven on story. Yes, I understand that’s unorthodox as a poker game, but the heart and soul of Poker Night 2 is found in the “story” of the characters. It’s certainly slower paced, but the enjoyment is found during conversations and one-liners between players as one examines his hand.  

Sam and Max

Now, all of these positives do not equal an unspoiled experience. Poker Night 2 suffers from considerable framerate issues that can sometimes make the gameplay seem laggy. This is especially present in the background of the Inventory, as busted players will oftentimes lag around in the backdrop. And as you stack up cash and hours in the game, dialogue eventually loses its flavor and charm that sparked your enjoyment from the first tournament. However, these minor annoyances can be overlooked by the artistic approach Poker Night 2 features, and just how much content is packed in for the price of admission.

Samson

The fact that the worlds of Sam & Max and Borderlands 2 can meet while maintaining their unique, artistic approach is outstanding, and frankly gorgeous to examine. And doing so while unlocking new felts, chips and cards as you win Texas Hold-em and Omaha Hold-em tournaments (not even mentioning the outside unlockables in the form of Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2 in-game items, and PS3 themes)? That’s just a plus.

When it comes down to it, Poker Night 2 is prime example of executing a unique formula that could have easily been a rehash of the game’s predecessor. Yes, it’s a fantastic poker simulator, but it’s one that has heart. It doesn’t try to generate some inimitable gameplay element; it simply makes you smile as you play the game of poker, and we can’t recommend it enough. 

[Reviewed on Xbox 360]

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Tate Steinlage I write words about video games and sports. Hope you like them.
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Games: Poker Night 2

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