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Review: Poker Night at the Inventory

Telltale Games got their start, interestingly enough, making a poker game. While they are far better known now for their cavalcade of licensed adventure games (all of which are, at the very least, decent), they were original a company that wanted you to play poker. They combined their two loves in their latest game, and it resulted in Poker Night at the Inventory. It mixes traditional poker sim gameplay with adventure-game dialogue, and the result is probably the best single-player poker game on the market. Despite this, it does have its flaws, and those wishing to try their luck at beating the four diverse characters in the line-up had better be prepared for a little frustration.
Poker Night brings together four different characters, each with their own style, to the poker club The Inventory in order to play a round of no limit Texas Hold'Em. Sam, from Sam and Max, is there as the character representing Telltale's original style. Strongbad holds a more tweened, flash sort of look, and is also the other character available from the Telltale line-up. The Heavy from Team Fortress 2 makes an appearance, and is rendered accordingly. Finally, Tycho from Penny Arcade is present in all of his comic-esque glory. Each character is accurate to their original games (or mediums), including animations and body language. Our personal favorite of them all is Strong Bad, whose lines are delivered in a confident, but ignorant, swagger.

The presentation of Poker Night is where everything comes together. The game is essentially a stripped-down, bare-bones poker sim, with no extra inclusions such as tells or cheating. However, it is beautifully made, which is what puts it ahead of the competition. Each character is rendered according to the franchise they are from, and all of them look great (although Tycho looks the most out of place). The music takes the popular themes from the different games each character is from and slows it down, turning them into relaxing background muzak. The sound effects are nothing special, but the voice acting is absolutely top notch. Even the Heavy, who has caught flak from the community for "not sounding enough like the Heavy," did a great job on his sound clips.

If you've played Texas Hold'em, you know how to play Poker Night. The initial stakes are $10 grand, there is no bet limit, and the game starts at $100-$200 blinds. Every three hands, the blinds go up by $100, although the farthest we've seen is $400-$800. After the blinds are bet, each player gets their two cards and can fold, call (bet the same amount), or raise. Once everyone has either folded or is at the same bet, the game progresses. Each round in a hand will have a series of bets, and there are 3 rounds beyond the initial: the first three community cards (the flop), the fourth card, and finally the fifth. At the end of the final betting round, the hands are revealed and the winner is the person with the best hand. Naturally, the game adheres to poker rules to a T, although there are occasional glitches (such as you getting knocked out in a showdown when you have a better hand).

In regards to the characters, each character has a specific play style. Max, as one would expect via his dialogue, is all over the place when it comes to playing. He bets randomly and barely even knows what a good hand is. Strong Bad knows the game, but is super aggressive and dominant, which makes him easy to bluff. He also tends to overestimate the quality of his hand. The Heavy is the straight man of the group, in regards to poker tactics, and plays mostly how a player might. He favors cautious, but not reserved, gameplay. Finally, there's Tycho, who tends to only bet seriously when he has a good hand. You can, however, nickle and dime him to death or take an all-in gamble against him (generally a bad idea).

As mentioned earlier, Poker Night's main draw is the dialog, and it's actually fairly good. One would expect cringe-inducing dialog and stale humor in such a game, but there are actual bits of comedy. However, you must be familiar with the characters present in order to understand many of the jokes. For example, Tycho saying "this is like drawing nine mana in a ****ing row," is both a reference to Tycho's nerdiness as well as the card game Magic: The Gathering. Another example is when the Heavy thinks that Strong Bad is a RED Heavy as well, since he is wearing a red suit and has on the Killing Gloves of Boxing. As you can probably guess, there are some profanities uttered as well, mostly coming from Tycho. You can turn these on and off as you please, which simply renders the swearing into bleeps.

To extend the replayability, there are a number of bonuses. First are the achievements, which are mostly achieved simply by playing the game normally. For example, the very first achievement we got was for winning a round with a kicker (the highest card when a hand is the same), and half the achievements are winning rounds with different hands (full house, straight, flush, etc). Then there are tables and decks. A new table is unlocked after each win, and they range from the classic table to an Automata-inspired one to a table emblazoned with Trogdor the Burninator. The decks are unlocked every three wins, and range from TF2 to Homestar Runner. Finally, there's the four TF2 sets, which are most likely the reason one would buy Poker Night. You can earn one item from each character, with each being a reskin of a default weapon. The exception is Max, who also gives a freelance police badge as well.

Poker Night is, above all, a cheap and efficient poker game. It does exactly what it says: you can play poker with four incredibly popular characters and watch them interact. The unlocks are nice and the presentation is great, but it feels like it is missing something. Maybe it's the fact that the roster, bets, and rules never change. Maybe it's because once you've heard a piece of dialog once, it loses all humor. Maybe it's the lack of additions to the formula, such as cheating. Still, for $5, you can't do much better. It's a simple game with funny writing and gives you the chance to earn TF2 items while you play. Plus, it's hard not to justify a $5 purchase. Thus, this is a must buy, at least for those that have heard of it (which will be almost all PC players).

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