In 2010 Telltale Games did the unthinkable, bringing a handful of random characters together to sit down at the same table, and play some poker. “Poker Night at the Inventory” had players face off against Tycho from Penny Arcade, Max from “Sam & Max,” the Heavy Weapons Guy from “Team Fortress 2,” and Strong Bad from Homestar Runner, in a PC only, Texas Hold ’Em tournament where poker was only half as interesting as the characters. “Poker Night 2” sends players back to The Inventory, and deals them in for another hand against some huge names from the worlds of video games, cartoons, and movies.
“Poker Night 2” isn’t your average poker video game – unless you’re idea of “average” consists of playing against a homicidal maniac, the cursed holder of the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, a talking dog in a suit, and a wisecracking robot. While that may sound like a pretty solid lineup for a cartoon from the 1980s, it’s actually a rundown of your “Poker Night 2” opponents; Brock Sampson from “The Venture Bros.,” Ash from “The Evil Dead,” Max from “Sam & Max,” and Claptrap from “Boarderlands.” And, just for good measure, “Portal”’s GLaDOS is your dealer, and Mad Moxxie is your bartender. Needless to say, with that cast of characters, things are bound to get a little bit rowdy.
If you’re familiar with Texas and Omaha style Hold ’Em poker, then you’ll settle right into the game’s core gameplay, which should allow you to enjoy the sights and sounds while you’re along for the ride. If you’re unfamiliar with the games, you’re bound to still enjoy the game, but figuring out of a straight beats a flush (pro tip: it doesn’t) it might hinder your overall enjoyment, especially if you keep losing. Either way, the basic gist of the game is that you need to build your hand with the cards that you are dealt (two in Texas and four in Omaha) and the dealer’s cards that everyone at the table shares. Like all poker games – the best hand wins.
Whether you’re a skilled poker player or not, you’re still going to be in for a treat in “Poker Night 2,” since the cards only half of the entertainment. There is a wealth of fun to be had in just watching and listening to this motley crew interact with each other. Whether it’s Brock (voiced by the one-and-only Patrick Warburton) cracking on Claptrap, or Ash telling the story of how he lost his arm in a cursed language, there’s a ton of humor mixed into the script, which is something that shouldn’t surprise any of Telltale’s fans. If you’ve ever followed any of the franchises that have a stake in the “Poker Night 2” pots, then you’ll want to stick around for all of the inside jokes and running gags that punctuate almost every hand.
Much like in the original “Poker Night,” the team at Telltale have included some amazing incentives for gamers to bring their “A” game to the table. The more “Poker Night 2” that you play, and the better that you do, the more opportunities you’ll have to unlock new decks of cards, table tops, and chips. Throughout the tournament you’ll also be tasked with various goals for you to achieve, which, if completed will present you with the opportunity to win one of your opponents’ prized possessions. As prizes are unlocked in the game, players will be doubly rewarded, receiving additional items outside of the game. For example, Xbox 360 owners will get some unique avatar items, and PS3 owners will receive some exclusive themes. On top of that, last time around players were gifted with “Team Fortress 2” items for successful play, this time around their “Borderlands 2” characters are the ones that can get some pretty sweet new duds, no matter what your platform of choice is. Some of the unlocks are pretty awesome, and are great incentive to sink some time into mastering your opponents’ tells, to steal the pot.
While “Poker Night 2” is a pretty entertaining game all around, it does tend to lack a bit in the content department. As long as you subscribe to the fact that you’re signing up for a poker game – nothing more, nothing less – with “Poker Night” then you won’t be disappointed. However, if you need more than just two kinds of poker to feel like you’ve gotten your $10 worth, then this game is going to come up a bit short. If the repetition of playing hand after hand doesn’t get to you, the limited dialog might. If you opt to invest some serious time into this game, you’re going to run into the same conversations again and again, which ultimately causes the game to lose a bit of its luster. It is pretty cool to hear Sam explain to Claptrap what it’s like to be a dog, but when you hear it for the fifth or sixth time, it’s just not as funny any more.
“Poker Night 2” is likely to appeal to two very distinct crowds – poker players, and gamers that like crossover games, with (I would imagine) the intersection of that Venn diagram being very limited. The game is actually a lot of fun, as long as you’re willing to accept that there isn’t a huge amount of depth to the gameplay, and that the characters at the table are the real source of the entertainment. If you’re a fan of any of the media franchises represented in “Poker Night” then the game is worth the buy in, but it’s hard to recommend to someone who has no invested interest in “Portal,” “Borderlands,” or The Venture Bros, especially if they don’t like poker.