Developer: Wideload Games
Release Date: May 14, 2009
I'll admit that I didn't catch on to the Texas Hold 'Em craze until recently, on the tail end of its insane popularity in the United States. A few years back, some buddies would hold a poker night every week, and while Texas Hold 'Em was one of the games that would pop up, we'd go back and forth between multiple poker types, so I never really figured out why people were so in love with it, or why it was the game to catch on like it did. It is definitely fun, and this somewhat strange variation that's debuting on the PSN and XBLA called Texas Cheat 'Em manages to maintain that same sense of fun, while throwing a few curveballs into the mix as well.
If you've never, ever played a basic hand of Texas Hold 'Em, I'll break it down for you as best as I can. Each player is dealt two cards facedown, and from these initial two cards you make a bet. Obviously a pair is a good sign, as are two matching colors or a possible straight (numerical order, etc.). From there, the dealer will toss down three cards faceup to help you create a hand of five cards, and then you'll bet on that. Finally, the dealer flips up another card, with another bet, and then one final card with one final bet. From the seven cards total (two in your hand, five on the table), you'll attempt to make the best hand possible, but you can only use five cards. It's a high betting game, allowing for multiple bets, raises and so on, which just escalates the fun. In real life, it can be a challenge, having to read hands and figure out what possible combination your opponents are holding, especially if you've got pairs showing on the five visible cards.
Texas Cheat 'Em uses that same formula, but as the name of the game implies, it also allows you to cheat your pants off while playing. You'll be given cheat points after each hand, starting usually with 15 and maxing out at around 30, with over a dozen different cheat options to pick from, each with its own value that'll be deducted from your points once you use it. There's a pretty wide range of selections, from ones that will change the face value of cards in your hand or on the table, change your opponent's card values, cheats that guarantee a win, or ones that will allow you to see your opponent's hand or upcoming cards to be flipped.
There are quite a few to choose from, and the more savvy players will be able to pick and choose combinations during a hand that will give you a fair amount of information to help your betting game along. It really turns up the bluff factor, allowing you to take a hand of virtually nothing and carry it all the way, provided you can figure out what's going to make the computer AI give up. I found the game to be far more interesting against human opponents, but then again, like most video game poker titles, there's the issue with players who realize they're not playing with real money, and they don't always seem to care if they win or lose.
Online mode works really well. I didn't have noticeable problems connecting with other players or finding a game, which isn't too surprising since there aren't a lot of options on the PSN for poker-style games, unlike XBLA. I'm not sure how long the community will hold up, as I do wish there was a simple Texas Hold 'Em game sans cheats to play, but this one works well enough. To let you know when people are cheating, you'll get a little icon over the avatar of each player, but you'll have no idea which cheat they're going for. It's really there to let you know that they're playing instead of wasting time, but if someone sits around for too long, the game will force them fold.
The single-player mode is made up of a series of challenges against AI opponents, but each challenge isn't simply to wipe out all the other players. Instead, you'll have a specific goal to reach, like taking out one certain player or reaching a certain goal for money within so many hands. These challenges are decent, and there are quite a few to check out, along with unlockable locations that can be carried over into other games. The locations don't really add to anything, other than giving you a new background skin for the games, so if you just want to jump into multiplayer, you won't be missing much.
Really, that's my only gripe about Texas Cheat 'Em, in that the presentation is pretty ugly. It's really hard to screw up poker, but I appreciate the developers taking a chance anyway by tossing in the cheat function, and I think that works. I do wish, however, that a little more care had been given to sprucing up the way the game looks. As it is now, the avatar designs are really abysmal, and the AI characters you play against have really lame pun names that are so bad they're cringe-inducing. The music is bland, and everything looks like it was thrown together in Photoshop, with little to no animation or anything that'll really catch someone's eye. Considering you can be stuck staring at the same stuff for hours on end depending on your game and the skill level of others involved, it would have nice to see some visual pizzazz.
All in all, Texas Cheat 'Em plays fine, and the cheating aspect is handled really well. There are a lot of cheats to choose from, and they also contain small mini-games that require you to mash buttons or have a bit luck to complete. The cool thing about the cheats against other players is that both players have the ability to either defeat the cheat or make it go through, which is far more interesting. I enjoyed Texas Cheat 'Em, and I think it's definitely worth picking up. The art style might put players off, but if you can get past that, it's a fun variation on poker that you can easily waste a few hours with.Score: 8.0/10