Poker Night 2

Poker Night 2 is free with a PlayStation Plus subscription right now, presumably to drum up interest in Telltale’s latest offering, the Wolfing Dead.   The concept is basically a normal game of cards, only you’re listening to the inane banter of four B-list-at-best pop culture characters.  Yea yea, I know everyone and their mother just loves Army of Darkness and Ash Williams and would take a knife to my throat for besmirching the name of this iconic character.  Meh, whatever.  It must be a generational thing, because I don’t particularly find the character all that interesting.  I suspected that having him outside of the fantastic settings of his movies would show a character that’s quite dull.  Poker Night 2 proves me right.  He’s just sort of there, like a catch-phrase spewing cartoon character.  Then again, the writing is pretty boring.  Maybe this is why they didn’t get Bruce Campbell to do the voice, though they found a very convincing sound-alike.

Speaking of which, I joked on Twitter about that, making a crack about the lack of Bruce and how he “couldn’t cost more than my lawn guy.”  He got the joke and wise-cracked back at me.  Some of his fans, on the other hand, so did not get the joke and swept in to protect him.  Hell, they were doing that before he wise-cracked back.  And I’m not talking about people who follow me.  I’m talking people who refresh the search results for Bruce Campbell every ten seconds.  I don’t have a joke to go along with that.  I just found it to be fucking creepy.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Calling this a line-up of B-listers is probably being a bit generous.

Anyway, along for the ride is Brock from Venture Bros. (never watched it), Claptrap from Borderlands, and Sam from Sam & Max.  Well, there’s an all-star lineup if there ever was one.  Rounding out the field is GLaDOS from Portal as the dealer, and man, is she slumming it here.  The inherit problem with Poker Night 2 is what I already said about Ash: these characters work in their own settings, but out of them, they’re just boring.  They have nothing in common, and nothing really interesting to talk about.  Part of that is the writing is uninspired, but mostly it’s because you just can’t throw five random characters together and expect chemistry.  It really feels like something that was rushed through production, with the characters included drawn out of a hat instead of carefully selected to mesh well.  I get that it’s hip to be random, but randomness on its own isn’t funny.  It’s just random.  And then you get to the actual gameplay and find that it’s even worse.

I’ve been a PlayStation Plus subscriber since day one, and I’ve never played a freebie on that service as utterly broken as Poker Night 2 is.  This shit is borderline unplayable, with frequent technical hiccups.  The game saves between each hand, and if you move along to the next hand before the game finishes saving, the animation and dialog skip like a broken record.  I counted the amount of times this happened over a full game: fourteen fucking times.  That is absolutely inexcusable.  Beyond that, sometimes the soundtrack gets ahead of the animation, or behind it.  Like, a full minute ahead or behind it.  Even Godzilla movies have better dubbing.  Or, you’ll just have the game sometimes freeze for anywhere from 15 second to over a minute.  Mind you, none of these problems are one-off things.  They’re unavoidable and happen constantly through-out.  I can’t speak for whether or not the XBLA version has these glitches.  I’m told the PC port doesn’t, but that’s no comfort to PSN owners.

This mostly seems to be caused by the game saving between each and every hand.  I’m not sure what it’s saving, exactly.  It sure isn’t done to prevent dialog from repeating.  Over the course of a single tournament, Claptrap and GLaDOS repeated the same joke about “the cut of your jib” four times.  Wasn’t funny the first time.  Got progressively more irritating with every echo.  Which is not to say Poker Night 2 is never funny.  It’s just too often random chit-chat with no set-ups or punchlines.  Any genuine laughs (and some are to be had) certainly aren’t worth slogging through the glitches to get through.

I like how they snuck a picture of GLaDOS into every promotional picture. "Portal is still popular, right?  Please love us!"  Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn't Cave Johnson have been a better fit?

I like how they snuck GLaDOS into every promotional picture. “Portal is still popular, right? Please love us!” Really, if they needed a Portal reference, wouldn’t Cave Johnson have been a better fit?  They could have dropped Ash from the game and saved on licensing rights, because his character didn’t have a single decent line of dialog.

Ignoring all of that, the actual game of poker is mediocre at best.  There are only two options: no limit Hold-Em or no-limit Omaha.  Poker Night 2 is single-player only, and the AI is utterly fucking brain-dead.  There’s supposed to be a sophisticated system of tells and bluffing that you can manipulate by plying the characters with alcohol.  BUT, what’s the fucking point with the way the AI plays?  Get this: ClapTrap and Sam are the only two left in a hand.  ClapTrap goes all-in.  Sam does his bluff-routine, then calls the all-in.  Then he lays down a 3-5-suited, before the flop.  I shit you not.  This happened frequently through-out the multiple tournaments I played in.  Bluffing doesn’t work when you have nothing in your hand and the only player left has already bet everything he has.  I swear to Christ, you find smarter players at 3AM playing free tables on PokerStars.

Maybe Poker Night 2 isn’t as bad on PC.  I don’t know.  I do know that Poker Night 2 might be a contender for the worst game ever to hit PlayStation Network.  It’s glitchy, it’s slow, the AI is useless, and the writing comes across like a cross between terrible fan-fiction and awkward checkout-counter conversations.  Telltale is capable of incredible things.  Wolf Among Us (next up for review) is fantastic.  But, if five minutes with Wolf Among Us was enough to make me a believer in their potential, two hours with Poker Night 2 is an ominous warning that these guys are more than capable of totally phoning it in.  If the aim of putting this worthless piece of shit of a game as a freebie was to get players excited for Wolf, Telltale and Sony couldn’t have done worse if they had hired someone to knock on each subscriber’s door and shoot their dogs.

Poker Night 2Poker Night 2 was developed by Telltale Games

Available for free right now with a PlayStation Plus (normally priced $9.99).

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