Release Date: December 6, 2005
Although poker has been around for the better part of two centuries, it has experienced a huge popularity spike in recent years. Online poker, along with the televising of the World Series of Poker, has introduced the popular card game into the average household. Poker players have even become minor celebrities, with names such as Johnny Chan and Howard Lederer starting to appear in casual conversation. Because the card game started gaining ground with casual gaming audiences, game developers have taken notice. Crave Entertainment's original poker offering did well enough to merit a sequel, World Championship Poker 2.
For those new to poker, it's a game that is played with a deck of 52 cards. Although the cards that comprise your "hand" differ among poker variations, the basic goal to create the best hand from all of the cards available. That's the easiest part of the game, though; the true strategy and fun come from playing against other players. Using your poker face and acting skills, you try to fake out your opponents, making them believe that you have a better hand or trying to pressure your opponent into folding. In addition the acting, most players use probability to predict their chances of winning the hand, or to determine the cards for which other players may be looking.
With so much depth and intensity in poker, can a video game truly recreate the atmosphere? After spending some time with WCP2, I feel like it will be a while before a video game can give the players the same rush and intensity as an actual game. Crave's offering does introduce several standout features, though.
For one, you can choose from 14 poker variants here, from the popular no-limit betting of Texas Hold 'em to Omaha, Omaha Eight, Seven-Card Stud, Seven-Card Stud Eights, Razz Ace-to-Five, Razz Two-to-Seven, Pineapple, Crazy Pineapple, Five-Card Draw, Lowball Ace-to-Five, Lowball Ace-to-Five Triple, Lowball Two-to-Seven, and Lowball Two-to-Seven Triple. With so many styles of play, the game is very diverse, but if you only enjoy playing Texas Hold 'em, you can't go through your entire career playing it. Within career mode, you are required to play several different variants, and you must win a specific amount of money in order to move on. Luckily, the developers have maintained the accessibility of the game even if you aren't any good at the less-popular variants; if you lose too much, there will always be a game available for you to play, because the game will always "spot" you with at least $200 if you are below that amount. (No loan sharks required.)
The bluff/tell mini-game is the most annoying aspect of WCP2, occurring whenever you bid too much with a weak hand, or bid too little with a strong hand. A little red and black circle appears in the upper right-hand corner, and there's also a little yellow icon that you can control. As the circle spins, you must control the icon and keep it within the designated field for a given amount of time to achieve a bluff, poker face, or tell. If you're successful, you'll give off a poker face or carry out a bluff, but if you fail, you'll botch it up with an extremely conspicuous tell.
It's no fun to lose, so Crave has included skills which you can earn, and they can make the game easier and help you to win. There are three "ranks" to each skill, and as the rank increases, so do the associated benefits. The skills available are: keen eyes, hand strength, stare down, tough read, stone face and actor. Keen eyes makes it easier for you to notice the bluffs and tells of other players; if you attain the third rank in this skill, you will know your opponents' play styles after 25 hands. Hand strength is my favorite, since it gives you a numerical value (1-100) to indicate how strong the hand is, letting you determine if it's a good idea to fold. At the first rank in this skill, you only see the statistic right before the flop; at the second rank, the stat is shown at all times; and at the third rank, you'll also be notified of the pot odds. Stare down forces other players to play the annoying bluff/tell mini-game; tough read makes it easier to play the mini-game, slowing down the speed at which the circle rotates. Stone face is another skill that makes the poker face zone larger and decreases the chance of having to play the mini-game with a weak hand. Finally, with the actor skill, the bluff zone will be larger.
Soundwise, the voiceover work is really generic and lacks spirit. The characters don't seem excited to be there, and listening to them quickly becomes a chore. Thankfully, Lederer does a good job of commenting, although he lacks some of the enthusiasm exhibited by the announcers on the televised ESPN matches.
The graphics for WCP2 on the PSP is truly amazing. When Sony advertised PS2 graphics on a handheld, I certainly had my doubts, but this title shows off some great facial features. In addition to the detailed character features from which you can choose, the match locations are set all over the world, lending even more variety to the experience. Home games will feel like a cheap get-together, while tournaments will give the gamer a taste of the rich and famous. If you have enough money to buy these items in the game, and you can devote enough time to personalize your place, a nice little mini-game allows you to modify it to look like these exquisite locations.
Overall, World Championship Poker 2 does a good job of recreating a few aspects of poker but misses in other areas. The loading time is insanely long, and the experience might have been improved if we didn't have to watch all of the characters load up. The speed of the game is also way too slow for my liking; you can speed up the AI by tapping the X button, but even when it's maxed out, it's barely fast enough. It doesn't perfectly replicate the poker experience enough to immerse you in the game, but if you are a poker fan, WCP2 should definitely be a title to consider, with its 14 different variants, online capability, and decent replay value.
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