Publisher: Encore Games
Release Date: September 17, 2008
Sometimes, in a review, I've got no clue where to start or end. Something just doesn't give me the inspiration to write a decent introduction for a game, who even knows why. Hoyle Casino Games 2009 isn't one of them. The game is horrible, at times unplayable, and, most damning of all, comes from a lineage that I used to enjoy. Have annual updates seriously ruined things this badly?
See, I have one of the oldest editions of Hoyle Casino from 1998, back when Sierra was in charge of the franchise. (WON, at the time also the hosting for online multiplayer for the original Half-Life, was a very nice service that I was sad to see go.) Back then, you had a generic casino in a loosely Las Vegas style, with all of the different games spread out among sections. There was no exploration because it was all from an overhead view and only required mouse clicks, but it produced the decent feel of an actual casino, as opposed to another generic mini-game collection that just happens to be based on the real-world mini-game collection that is an actual casino. Now you just pick a game from the menu. There aren't even multiple tables for one game; you just poke one corner of the screen to change the betting stakes. This makes it easier to play, though it doesn't just kill any semblance of immersion, but it does so in a ludicrously messy fashion.
Hoyle Casino 2009 consists of "600+" games — or, by an honest count, 21 table games — including 15 poker variations; two variations of blackjack, where the second is just an additional bet option that makes the first wholly unnecessary; 33 slot machines, including a few repeats that just add more betting lines; video blackjack, which is exactly like normal blackjack, making it wholly unnecessary in the context of this game; nine single-hand and three multi-hand video poker variants; horse racing and Keno. By my count, there are fewer than 100 games here, and only if you count each betting scale increase as a separate game does the number begin to approach 600. Even worse, most of the games aren't even any good.
First, we have the slot machines. There is the classic layout, with several variants in different areas, and then we have the "fun" and video machines, probably the most enjoyable to lose on — just like at a real casino. When you look at the names, you wonder, "Who in the world came up with the slot machines named "Alien Disco Safari" and "Ninjas of the Caribbean?" In the 1998 iteration, the roadkill-themed slot machines were bad, but a horribly designed Pirates vs. Ninjas slot machine is one of the worst ideas ever, and they were blatantly writing around the trademark on the actual phrase "Pirates vs. Ninjas" when they came up with that terrible name.
Then there are the table games. As always, no interface will really resemble the real thing, which is a catch-22 of PC-based play. The feel of the cards and chips just isn't there, making the play as soulless as a video slot machine. You can still have fun with it, though, until you have to look at the manual to figure out what the heck some of the bets are. The AI players are also really annoying, and your player voice options are even more so. Then you watch the dealer ... OK, I'll wait on describing that one.
When you load up Four-Card Poker, you'll notice that the "play" and "fold" buttons overlap. You try to click "play," but you automatically fold. Based on the way that the developers have written it, the casino cannot lose this game. I should also mention the slow but present automatic game-updating mechanism that should have allowed them to, you know, fix this. By now, there have been six major patches, but I can safely assume that winning a single hand of Four-Card Poker is meant to be comparable in difficulty to eating the sun.
Then, there is the game's graphical quality — or severe lack thereof. Things look mostly identical to the pre-rendered images from 1998, which isn't so bad, except for the dealer, who is an Uncanny Valley nightmare. The characters are now CGI instead of a drawn style, and they've similarly also moved into the valley as a result of it. At least the cards and betting chips look decent, so the stuff that matters most for gameplay is tolerable. Sound effects are typical casino noises, but there are few enough that it doesn't sound like the actual background in a casino. Then there's the music. It's an old joke that a great way to enjoy Vegas for cheap is to try and find the worst lounge performers on the Strip. Hoyle Casino's dulcet tones make this highly unnecessary, as I am pretty sure I have never heard worse lounge music in my life, including intentional efforts to make really bad lounge music. Wait, scratch that — I ran through a few random albums.
As for the multiplayer, absolutely no players were online during the four separate times I connected. What I saw, however, was ludicrously laggy, to the tune of some load times that went well over a minute. The multiplayer structures are basically a mirror of the single-player structures, complete with plenty of AI bots to fill in when tables are not full (read: every time I played online). Even the primary rewards structure besides the in-game currency is exactly the same.
The rewards structure is about the only decent idea in this entire set. Unfortunately, it's not a new one, as the (far more tolerable) recent Hoyle Board Games collections also feature this system. Players build identities in the game using a face-making system. Unlike the AI players, these produce a drawn look and are moderately customizable. As you play, you can attain various achievements for doing different interesting things (i.e., get a royal flush in poker), and every time you repeat the achievement, it earns you points. These points then let you buy new options — animal suits, hula girl toys, lamps, posters and other random objects — to provide a more customized character that gives you bragging rights.
It's amazing how low game standards can get. Back in the days of Sierra, Hoyle Casino was a decent, if not amazing, game with solid online multiplayer, even on 28.8k dial-up connections. A decade later, on a solid DSL connection that regularly runs much more intensive games without difficulty, Hoyle Casino Games 2009 somehow manages to play many, many times slower. The game isn't just a lazy rehash of older versions, but it also manages to be worse in just about every way. Just like most casinos write their distinct rule sets and don't use the Hoyle rules for games, so players are advised to pull out cards and play on their own. If they want to play online, they should use just about anything else out there. The Internet has plenty of great free options for casino games, after all, and almost all of them are far superior to this creation.