Poker Night 2

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Poker Night at The Inventory was a wacky, but welcome title from Telltale Games back before they hit it big with The Walking Dead. In partnering with Valve, Telltale produced a poker game featuring characters from their adventure game franchises, The Heavy from Valve’s Team Fortress 2, and Tycho from Penny Arcade. A bizarre, yet effective cross-over. 3 years later it was time for a repeat and Poker Night 2 was released on Steam, PSN, and XBLA.

New contenders

Once again we find ourselves joining a roster of colorful characters around the poker table, but this time around the selection is… weird. Ash from Evil Dead is here, Max from Sam & Max partakes with his partner “supporting” him, there is a dude called Brock from a series I never heard of, and then there is Claptrap from Borderlands of all games. There is no representation from Valve at the table, but Glados from Portal is technically there to mock the players, replacing Reginald throughout much of the game. Penny Arcade is entirely out, but Moxie from Borderlands is also present to man the bar, even if she doesn’t have a single dialogue line.

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It’s definitely not as endearing as it was before and especially the presence of Claptrap tends to dominate the game and can be a deal-breaker depending on how you feel about the character. I didn’t know the first thing about Brock or Ash going into this, and while I do enjoy them a fair bit, not having a Valve or Penny Arcade character at the table harms the enjoyment a lot. Glados has her moments, but that brings me to my next point.

Dialogue is a little too frequent for how few lines there are. While a few conversations were rare and I still heard new ones after several hours of play, other jokes repeated themselves so often I’d sometimes get the same ones twice or thrice per game. It’s a little lame, but the most annoying ones are Claptrap’s lengthy ramblings which completely pause the game. You can’t skip any dialogue, so if Claptrap goes off on a tangent you are going to wait through all of it before the game can continue.

I did grow a fondness for Ash and Sam, plus Glados is always a treat. Just make sure you go into the options and set the dialogue to a lower setting and always knock out Claptrap first.

Story score: 5/10

Always go all in. Always.

Poker Night once again has you play games of Texas Hold’em Poker against 4 AI opponents, each weighing in a total of 20,000 dollars. While you play, the characters start conversations and make remarks or jokes, simulating the social part of playing a game like this. The AI is still the same as it always was and will call or bid cleverly, or fold when they don’t feel confident in their hand. You can still use mind games to bluff the AI out of the game and they will try to do the same.

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If you aren’t familiar with poker, then the game features a handy in-game tutorial explaining the game in easy-to-understand language. You’ll still probably lose the first few games, but it doesn’t feel too punishing and I managed to learn the ropes soon enough. It’ll make your first victory taste all the sweeter.

Mechanically not much has been changed around going from the first game to this installment. You still got the same buttons and slightly-awkward slider to make bids or fold, after which the rest of the table will do the same. You can still check out all the card combinations on the cheat sheet, though the menu structure is now a lot less efficient, so it takes more clicks to get the same information.

A new addition is the credits you earn from winning games. These can be used to purchase cosmetic changes for the table, cards, and chips, or you can use them to purchase drinks for the characters at the table. Doing this will make their tells more obvious, so it’s easier to spot whether a character is bluffing or not. It’s fun if a little useless after you got all the cosmetics you want. I really just kept using them to buy Ash drinks because he’s a cool dude.

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There are now also challenges you can complete that require you to do various things during your games. After succeeding, the next game you play will have a character put up an extra prize, which replaces the randomized system from the last game. You now also don’t have to be the player to knock the opponent with the prize out of the game, you just need to win in the end to get it. Afterwards, the challenges reset again, which is a fun way to keep you busy and trying new strategies during the games.

Once again the collateral items are familiar belongings of the characters, which now unlock goodies for both Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands 2. There is now also the option to play Omaha style poker and during showdowns, there’s a percentage counter showing how much chance each player has to win. It’s not a major upgrade for the Poker Night series, but the few changes that were made are innocent and make the game more enjoyable.

Gameplay & Extras score: 8.5/10

Cross-over complications

Just like in the first game it can be jarring how all the characters have completely different graphical styles, but this time around it is less of a problem. Sure Borderlands 2 right next to Sam & Max is a tad strange, but not so much as Team Fortress 2 next to Penny Arcade. I also noticed less visual mess-ups, though Glados has a tendency to glitch through other characters whenever she appears.

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The game still has a lot of atmosphere to it thanks to the background design of the bar, the neat music, and the great voice-acting. It’s fun to just sit around and play a few hands of cards, order some drinks, and listen to senseless conversations between your companions. Probably still better to do this in real-life, but hey, not everybody has friends who are into poker.

Presentation score: 7.5/10

Verdict

Whether you should get Poker Night at The Inventory or Poker Night 2 doesn’t come down to mechanical differences, but rather which characters you happen to enjoy. For my money, I prefer The Heavy and Tycho over the cast of Poker Night 2, even if it has some stellar performances from Glados and Ash. While Poker Night 2 has some minor upgrades to it, most prominently the option to play Omaha, it’s really the characters that are important here.

70/100

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