Right off the bat, I’ll be honest: the only other time I’ve played poker is in Poker Night at the Inventory. Before that, I had no idea how you were meant to play poker. I don’t lose every tournament, but I’m certainly not bringing home a whole load of bacon.
For those not in the know, the first Poker Night game brought together four characters from different series to sit down, play cards and share stories. Our main lagomorph Max was joined by Strong Bad, The Heavy and Tycho. It was great fun to see the interactions and imagine what they get up to when they’re not ‘working’.
Poker Night 2 follows the same formula. With the main draw here being the inclusion of Sam, he’s joined by Claptrap (Borderlands games), Brock (The Venture Bros TV show) and Ash (The Evil Dead films). GLaDOS (Portal) games also pops in every now and then to comment on the game.
Sam aside, the only character from the main four I knew of when the game was announced was Claptrap, having played the first Borderlands. I decided to watch a few episodes of The Venture Bros to find out about Brock – he’s violent and voiced by the always awesome Patrick Warbuton. Frankly, though, I wasn’t as interested in these characters as I was in the first Poker Night. If Sam wasn’t in it then I wouldn’t have brought it.
Luckily, both Claptrap and Brock provide a welcome addition to the table. The former is a funny, slightly cocky little robot and the latter is a no-nonsense muscle machine. The weak link here is Ash. Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen The Evil Dead films, but he isn’t an interesting character. He doesn’t seem to have many lines, the others don’t talk to him that much and his personality isn’t very strong. He by no means ruins the game, but he never shines.
Sitting behind Sam at all times is Max, oddly voiced by David Boat this time instead of Telltale’s usual William Kasten (although I didn’t notice until the credits, so full credit to Boat). It’s great to see the pair back together. Sam’s at his best when his little buddy is bouncing off him. Including him by himself might not have worked as well Max did in Poker Night; although both funny, Max’s slight insanity plays better by itself than the more straight shtick that Sam provides.
The draw here is listening in to the conversations that these characters have with one another. The writing is provided by Mike Stemmle (whose link with Sam & Max goes all the way back to Hit the Road) and is great. One of the stand out exchanges is when Sam & Max’s changing voice actors is picked up on by the other players. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a great reference that fans of the series are sure to appreciate.
Although there is apparently more dialogue than the first Poker Night, it doesn’t particularly seem like it. There is so much repetition in what the players say; not so much in the actual conversations, but one liners like Claptrap exclaiming “look at all that cheddar” or GLaDOS mocking your move. It would have been appreciated for there to be a higher cap on how often these lines get repeated, because they seem to do so multiple times a game.
The actual poker itself seems, to my amateur self, decent. The game is definitely much more challenging than the first. Most of the time I used to be able to scare everyone off by going all in when I had bad cards. That doesn’t work anymore. If another player has a solid hand then they’ll likely call your bet. I don’t think I ever folded in the first game and I was winning most of the time. Again, that’s not a good tactic here either. The increased challenge is welcome and makes it more realistic.
Each player has their own tell for you to look out for and see whether they’re bluffing. You can order drinks for players to make these tells more visible, but I never found myself doing it that much. Another additional handy feature for us pokerly challenged is a percentage rate that tells you how likely you are to win money from the pot. This’ll only come up when the final cards are being revealed, though.
As before, you can also win prizes that players enter into the tournament. These will be put up when you complete three specific challenges, like winning with a certain move. The prizes vary depending on what platform you’re on, but for the PC it’s unlocks on Borderlands 2 and Team Fortress 2. It’s a fun additional motive to win the challenge, but a bit more exciting is the ability to win tokens if you succeed in a tournament.
Tokens can be spent to unlock deck, chips and table designs relating to each player. For Sam & Max it’s all themed around their 25th anniversary. The astute of you will notice that this is actually their 26th year, but apparently they don’t count 2004. The card set is especially nice, with some really good art. Deploy the same themed deck, chips and table and the room will be designed to match. The Sam & Max room offers some noir style and harks to their office. These unlocks will keep you playing and striving to win.
Poker Night 2 is a lot of fun, even if you’ve never played poker before. It’s great to hear all these characters chew the fat with one another. Although Ash is a bit of a weak addition, it’s worth the purchase just to see our favourite detective duo in another video game outing. It might be a long time before that happens again. The unlocks are a fun addition and the writing is funny. For a couple of quid you can’t go wrong.