Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Developer: Point of View
Release Date: November 8, 2005
Let's get one thing clear right away: I am not a professional poker player. I don't have the skills, the patience, or the ability to bluff, so a little bit of the charm of World Championship Poker 2 is lost on me. Just because it's lost doesn't mean that I can't see it, however. I find myself thinking, "Hey, if I weren't so terrible at poker, I would seriously enjoy this!" fairly often, a sentiment usually followed by somebody beating my pair of aces with an eight-high flush and completely eradicating any money I had left.
If that last sentence made no sense to you, let's make this perfectly clear: WCP2 is very much not the game for you. This is the deep end of the pool; either you already know how to swim (play poker), or you flounder uselessly for a while before finally sinking, at which point somebody will need to fish you out with that 10-foot hook. There are very brief, optional tutorials, and the styles of poker present are all explained (loosely) in the manual, but when it comes down to it, you won't know very much more than you did to begin with. To this day, I still can't figure out the mechanics behind high-low poker, except it has something to do with the number eight, somehow.
If you know how to play poker, your enjoyment of WCP2 will boil down to how good you actually are at the game. As unfair as the computer's hands may seem, they're drawn by the same random generator as your own, so you have just as much chance to beat them as they do you. As such, poker games like WCP2 rely on solid AI in order to keep the player interested, since the game is far more intuitive and interactive than other casino games.
Does World Championship Poker 2 deliver on the AI? You'd better bet it does. Every computer plays differently – sometimes radically so, and sometimes in more minor ways. Just like playing poker against real people, you'll learn to spot patterns and habits from your adversaries after a while of playing. One player may attempt to scare off his opponents by throwing in all of his chips whenever he gets a disgustingly bad hand, whereas another may keep from raising the stakes until he is absolutely certain he has the better hand. Every single one of your opponents has skill, and that skill varies from computerized character to computerized character. The professional players featured in the game, including the same Howard Lederer mentioned in the title, have mannerisms as close to the real deal as possible, though that also means that they're practically impossible to read unless you yourself are a true pro.
If you aren't up for facing the computer, you can always take the game online as well, although doing so should be at your own risk. Numerous bugs and glitches seem to show up whenever the game is taken into online mode, from games stalling out when someone joins to an almost ominous blank screen requiring a reset of the game. In addition, the two advertised peripherals, the EyeToy camera and the ability to use a USB headset, serve absolutely no purpose, with the camera images appearing too dark to tell anything and the voice in the headset being too muffled.
The biggest problem is that the difficulty curve on WCP2 is hideous, as everyone you will play against, online or off, is going to be well-versed enough in poker that they would be confident betting real money on it in a real-life situation. In addition, whenever you don't play a hand "by the book" – raising on a poor hand or calling bets on an exceptionally good hand – you're forced into playing a distracting, at times annoying, bluffing mini-game. For five seconds, you control a cursor on a small wheel and must keep it inside one of two moving sectors – one for "Bluff" and one for "Poker Face" – for a certain amount of time. If you don't, you naturally just spill the beans, letting everyone in on your little secret. Naturally, this is much harder than it sounds, the analog precision seeming a bit over-sensitive, causing far more tells than any poker player would give to his peers.
About this time, there may be a great number of you wondering how the game actually plays, aside from being a sturdy poker simulator. You start your virtual poker life by creating a Sims-like persona. Once that's done, you can either leap right in to a quick game, or start the extensive career mode, which starts you off with $1000 in your wallet and a place to host games in your mother's basement somewhere in Midwest America. You have a pawnshop situated in Cuba – location placement in this game seems viciously arbitrary – that you can visit at your leisure to purchase swanky goods for your pad or take out loans in order to fund entry fees into more high-cost tournaments.
Each game "week" has one to five games available to choose from, and each has requirements to pass, depending on the game. Sidegames, which are usually expensive but reap high rewards for the winner, have no requirements to go on to the next week, whereas tournaments may require you to place in the top three, or even first place to advance. Alternately, you can host a private game at home. The style varies from week to week, but the game only requires you to win $100 extra off the poor schmoes you suckered in to play with you.
One factor that hasn't been mentioned yet is the loading screens. Each one mentions a handy poker tip, though many of them are common sense like, "Going all-in works every time except for the time you lose," or "Don't play every hand you get." I mention these screens because you'll be seeing a lot of them … a whole lot of them. Going from the main menu into a mode warrants a good 10 seconds of loading screen, as does going in or out of a game. Thankfully, the game itself is load-free, but it's enough to be mildly annoying at times.
Graphically and aurally, WCP2 is quite good, though it's never going to win any awards for either. Players are realistically detailed, although they retain that "action figure" look that many rendered humans have. In addition, while the table and backgrounds may be little more than rendered backdrops, each one has a flair of its own, and – aside from your own pad – each feels like an actual casino poker room that one would visit. Sound is the typical mixed bag: the sound effects and music just exist, neither offensive nor spectacular, and voices are well-acted for the first 50 times you hear the commentator announce that this is the flop, and then become mildly annoying thereafter. Aside from that, you needn't feel like you miss much by having it muted, save for the occasional telling grunt of anguish when a computer opponent bets.
All accounted for, how does World Championship Poker 2 fare? In a sea of look-alike poker game clones, WCP2 stands out as the one that feels most like playing an actual game of poker against actual people, for better or worse. If you're already a diehard poker buff looking for something you can play on your child's PlayStation 2 while he's at school, WCP2 is the best choice on the market. If you're new to poker, however, then you might want to look elsewhere; World Championship Poker 2 is every bit as cautiously paced as real-life poker and gives little to no support to anyone without knowledge in the card game.
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