World Series of Poker
Poker is not a sport. It's a fun, highly competitive game, but its players are not athletes.
Therefore, one would have to question: is there a need for yearly installments of poker games? Are the yearly changes in the real game so drastic that a new video game is warranted? More importantly, are the changes in the video game significant enough to make you drop another $20?
World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions answers that question with a couple yeas, a couple nays, and a couple of things that don't make much sense at all.
The Starting Lineup
The experience of playing World Series of Poker has been improved by a design change that mirrors the basic setup of World Championship Poker. Whereas before the default setting had player details (cards, bankroll, amount wagered, etc.) scattered in an oval shape, Tournament of Champions lines up all details on the left side. This makes it much easier to glance at your details, as well as those of your opponents, and make a quick decision.
Normal, Medium, and Fast speed settings return, making each turn potentially faster than all other poker games. When the game is set to Fast, your turn is only a second or two away. You'll have a slightly longer wait in between tables. Other than that the game is quick, non-stop playing where you are the only one who matters.
I also like the default AI settings. They're more forgiving, and have certain traits and play styles that can be observed and used to your advantage. It's still light-years away from a real poker experience, but until the day comes when robots are running the Earth, nothing will beat the challenge of a real player.
Did That Guy Just Sneeze?
Yes, he did.
I understand the difficulty a sound designer has in working on a poker game. He or she must be thinking, "What are the sounds of poker? Bustling casinos? That's boring. Men cursing? That's not suitable for all ages. Men burping and farting? No, we can't include that..."
I admire their attempts. Including sporadic sneezing was a pretty bold move. Less bold (and even less amusing) are the weak and overacted performances. Their lines – whether sarcastic, climactic, or blase after another fold – are immensely lacking. You can't expect an RPG-caliber storyline from a poker game. But couldn't we at least expect a few lines of decent dialogue from a game that promotes itself as having a story mode?
On the bright side, Chris Ferguson's tutorials are great. They're on par with the tutorials from the latest World Championship Poker game.
Poker games are very visual, but they don't have much to work with. In the real world, poker can be played with a deck of cards alone -- you can use anything to substitute chips. When I was a kid I used POGs and Halloween candy.
Part of the fun was the look on my friend's face when I took all of his best candy. (I ended up giving most of it back, and by the end of the night we ended up with equal amount of Snickers, Twix, and peanut butter cups.)
We never folded based on our own hands. We could see each other's faces, and that was all we needed.
Tournament of Champions is partially successful in putting player faces in the game for online play. You can see your opponents, and they can see you (using the EyeToy camera for the PlayStation 2 version, or the Vision Camera for the Xbox 360 version).
However, the in-game characters are way below average. When a player speaks, his or her mouth twitches up and down to simulate talking. Gestures are stiff and awkward. Facial expressions are nonexistent.
Players can customize their own apartment with various pieces they've collected (furniture, carpet, lights, etc.). This would be cool if the engine were more powerful. But it's also below average, visually and physically. The textures and designs are bland, and the setup controls are somewhat cumbersome.
I said it in my review of World Championship Poker and I'll say it again: you'd think that of all software a poker game would give us something visually spectacular. It's been one year since the last version of World Series of Poker. Unless you want fictitious elements not possible in the real world, graphics are a poker game's only possible upgrade. You can make the game faster, but it's still poker. For a game like this, presentation is key.
Review Scoring Details for World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions
Faster and easier to decipher, Tournament of Champions is an improvement over last year’s game.
Without any knockout visuals to make this 20-dollar upgrade stand out, you wouldn’t be wrong to ask: why not just play real poker instead? That might sound shallow coming from a gamer that puts gameplay first. But this is poker. I don’t have to play a video game to get my fix. I can go elsewhere, and for a lot less. If I’m going to go here, I want a reason.
The horrendous commentary is nowhere near as laughable as the visuals, but it’s still pretty funny. (If you have a sense of humor for this sort of thing.)
Friendlier than World Championship Poker. The AI isn’t as harsh, and the chance of getting a good hand is much higher.
Better tutorials and advice from Chris Ferguson are positive additions.
Improved few-click gameplay gives Tournament of Champions the fastest multiplayer in the series.
I’m torn. A part of me likes Tournament of Champions better than World Championship Poker. It’s definitely the better game if you all want is a quick, uninterrupted game without any distractions. But that’s as far as the game’s advancements go. The tutorials should appeal to newcomers, while experienced players will wish there was a little more to the overall experience.