Video Game Reviews, Part II
World Series of Poker
Artificial Intelligence: 90
World Series legends Men "the Master" Nguyen, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, and Scotty "the Prince" Nguyen are all featured in this game that challenges your ability to amass World Series of Poker bracelets. Create a player and work to turn the default bankroll of $10,000 into several million, while battling it out against the game's top players on poker's biggest stage.
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This game has a very solid artificial intelligence. While it fails to capture the pageantry of the actual World Series, it does a tremendous job emulating world class playing ability. The simulated opponents each feature different traits as players. Some are hyper-aggressive while others take the passive approach. In general, the computer opponents come across as very aggressive at all stages of the tournament. They seem to grasp the concept of position and blind stealing very well. This forces the user to play a tight style of poker in order to succeed. Not to fear though, even on the most difficult setting it is relatively easy to make it deep in the World Series.
Players may dive right into the $10,000 NL hold'em Main Event or battle it out in the smaller bracelet events. The blind structure of each tournament is played out just as in real life. Users have the option of changing the speed of the game play. On its fastest setting, one can navigate deep into the Main Event in less than an hour, all while not feeling shortchanged of the big tournament experience. While playing, keep an eye on the scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen to see if your name is among the tournament chip leaders.
The graphics in this game are disappointing. The players are very blocky looking and have awkward robotic celebrations after winning a pot. Even the stoic "Jesus" Ferguson looks as though someone killed his cat after he loses a pot. The casino in which the tournaments is played is very boring looking and resembles nothing in Las Vegas. It almost looks like an empty library. However, the card graphics displayed on the screen are made to look like an ESPN episode, which is nice.
Verdict: Flawed but a solid buy.
World Championship Poker 2
Artificial Intelligence: 97
World Championship Poker was a treacherous, abomination of a poker video game. Its sequel, World Championship Poker 2, is actually pretty good. Featuring the "Professor of Poker", Howard Lederer, this game offers 14 different poker variants to choose from. The character creation interface is entertaining and complex and offers 23 different personalities to choose from. Computer opponents play a style that fits well with their given personality. The loose cannon will bluff from time to time, the nervous player rarely plays anything but premium hands, etc. This is most certainly one of the best poker video games on the market, even though it has flaws.
The artificial intelligence for this game is quite competent. What's even more impressive is that it seems to understand optimal strategy for all of the 14 variations available. The computer's betting patterns are also sensible. Many poker video games fail to create competent no-limit betting from the computer opponents. World Championship Poker 2 does not have this problem.
Before playing any poker, you are prompted to create a character. You would expect this process to be pretty lame, though it's actually fairly complex. You determine everything about your character's physical appearance and also control their personality. There are twelve different male personality types to choose from, such as party animal, know it all, college boy, and old timer. If you want your player to be female, there are nine different personality options. The personality type you select for your character determines how they talk at the table. Some of the cliché comments fit perfectly with the personality selection. The funniest one to me is the "motherly" character who says things like "I can't afford to keep blowing the family savings," or "Oh great! Now my kids have to eat oatmeal tonight!"
The gameplay is customizable down to the poker variant (tons to choose from), location for the game (specialty places such as Las Vegas have to be unlocked through accomplishments), number of opponents, cash game or tournament, stakes, and decision time (30 seconds up to infinite).
While visually appealing, the biggest downfall of this game is its slow gameplay. A lot of effort went into creating the visuals at the poker table, but the byproduct of this is a game that moves too slowly for the impatient. By far the most annoying part of this game is having to observe the computer opponents complete a hand after you've already folded. Unfortunately, there are no options available to speed up the gameplay.
Verdict: Worth buying if you can tolerate most poker video games.
Poker Academy V2
Artificial Intelligence: 97
Poker Academy V2 is not a video game as much as poker tutorial software. Unlike many of the commercial video games on the market, this game is designed to educate, not entertain. The only poker variant played on this game is Texas Hold'em. However, hold'em can be played with limit betting, no-limit betting, heads-up, shorthanded, or longhanded.
The artificial intelligence on this game is unrivaled. This is, by far, the best product on the market for those serious about improving their poker abilities, specifically limit hold'em fundamentals. If you're looking to be entertained by a poker video game, buy something else. This is a tool, not a game.
The computer opponents are a blend of highly sophisticated "Pokibots" (developed by University of Alberta scientists) who actually mold their play in accordance with your betting habits as well as "Jagbots", who do not adapt to the game situation. Regarding poker artificial intelligence, the limit hold'em bots in this game are regarded as the best in the world.
I found the no-limit opponents to be too easy to bluff, especially in shorthanded play. However, the no-limit competition is by far better than what you're likely to encounter in an online poker play money game.
Visually, this game emulates an online poker room. Since the focus is on learning, not entertaining, the action occurs quickly with little interruption from gimmicks. The fast gameplay allows for hundreds of hands to be played in an hour, which is great for expediting the learning process. There are plenty of options for customizing the table colors and background. If an online poker room had software this good, it would lead the industry.
During gameplay, an immense amount of statistics is displayed on the sidebar. These stats reveal the strength of your hand based on pot odds and the actions of the other players. The program tracks your betting tendencies and rates how aggressive you are before and after the flop.
An "Advisor" indicates the optimal move during every situation. In general, I found the advice given by the computer to err as slightly too passive. I also found myself relying on the Advisor feature too often. Relying on this crutch too often could hinder the game's effect on your play in a real-money game.
During shorthanded play, it advises checking and calling too much. The no-limit advice is limited to whether you should bet, not analyze how much you should bet. For this reason, the game's value as a no-limit trainer is hindered.
Verdict: Priced at $20. Worth $200.