Reviewed: December 8, 2007
Released: September 25, 2007
World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets is the third WSOP game in as many years from the independent third-party developer Left Field Productions. I daresay the majority of people who have watched a few hands of Texas Hold 'em on ESPN2 have daydreamed about going heads up with the big name rounders at the final table of the Main Event. Since I find myself among their ranks, I was excited to sit down with this game at the felt tables.
The career mode is centered around the WSOP calendar. The player starts with a wad of cash which can be used to buy a spot in tournament events. The name of the game ranges from 7 Card Stud to Razz to Omaha to the all-time favorite, No-Limit Texas Hold ‘em. A strong finish in these tournaments awards cash and Player of the Year (POTY) points, and the first place finisher lands one of the coveted WSOP Bracelets. The object of the game is to collect cash, bracelets, and POTY points.
On the surface the game is admirable. The table tempo, background scenery, chip tricks, and hole card peeks provide an aura of realism. The WSOP calendar, POTY points, and commentators make the player feel like they really are in a race to the final table of the main event. Players will recognize many personalities from the real WSOP (Scotty Nguyen called me “baby” at least fifty times). The game even features special camera angles and odds of winning as a percentage when players go heads up.
All that is fine and dandy. However, this is a poker game. One would expect to find an AI, number-crunching, analytical poker engine under the hood of this highly polished card-dealing machine. Unfortunately, it is quite clear that the developers spent much more time recording celebrity voices, appearances, and catch phrases than actually concentrating on the game of poker. If I was one of the several dozen professional rounders whose likeness was represented in this game, I would be outraged. Their computerized counterparts are practically dripping with incompetence and every single NPC plays exactly the same.
The AI does not consider pot size, pot odds, positioning, visible opponent cards, or community cards. They never limp-in, check-raise, slow play, or bluff. If they have a hand (any hand), they will call, bet, or raise. There could be four spades or an open-ended straight draw on the table, and the AI Allen Cunningham will call an “All-in” with his pocket jacks. The two most irritating things in poker are playing No-Limit Texas Hold 'em with complete morons and the occasional hand lost to said morons when blind luck trumps intelligent play.
During one particularly memorable and equally irritating hand of Limit 7 Card Stud, I watched Chris Ferguson and Johnny Chan go heads up. The two raised and re-raised each other through five rounds of betting. By the end of 7th street, I was ready to see quad 9s get trumped by a royal flush. Instead I watched Ferguson's King High beat Chan's Queen High.
The graphics are not quite on par with the expectations of a next-gen gaming console. Poker chips will teleport across the table, character movements are often stiff and jerky (particularly the dealer), and the player models are on the verge of being disturbing. If I ever come across a person in reality who looks like the short commentator, I expect I will flee for fear of catching whatever disease it was that ravaged his countenance.
It is also amusing to watch every player overreact to every single hand. I have watched many hours of the WSOP over the last several years, but I have never seen Greg Raymer pump his fist and punch the air after buying the blinds, nor have I seen Erik Seidel pound the table and hide his face in shame after losing his small blind. Now that I have played WSOP 2008, I can say that I have.
There are video clips before every tournament that give information about the venue where the event is to be held. These feature actual scenes from the real-life casinos in Las Vegas and are essentially little more than thinly veiled commercials. Unfortunately, these are not the only instances of shameless product placement. Every few hands, the player is reminded to read Bluff Magazine and that it was Wrigley's who provided the “Next-Card Camera.” Spare me. I just want to play some poker.
The commentators in this game are a piece of work. I'm afraid that I cannot make enough derogatory remarks in the space I have alloted to do them justice. I will give it my best shot, though. My first impression of these two was that they had only a vague idea about the game of poker. They seem to have a loose grasp on the rules and the differences between the suits, but that is about the extent of their poker insight. To make matters worse, they call every single hand with intensity. If a player in early position bets heavy and buys the blinds, they will start yelling about the hand like it was a huge, crushing defeat for the players who folded.
The commentators will follow you everywhere. Whether you are playing in WSOP events, cash games on the side, Phil's Poker School, online multiplayer, or in your own garage, they will be right there ready to bother you. What a relief. If those two weren't constantly yelling “Here comes the flop!” I would be completely baffled every time the dealer flips those three cards over. Thanks Left Field.
The majority of the audio clips are painfully obviously multiple clips that have been sloppily spliced together. My favorite was entirely too common: “He bets.” The announcer shouts “He” like he's calling a hockey game and “bets” comes out sounding like he's watching a chess match. Didn't anybody test this game before it hit the market?
Voice acting aside, the audio is tolerable. The shuffling of the cards, the clacking of the chips, and the background music blend pleasantly to create a fairly realistic poker mood. Then the commentators come thundering in with a largely irrelevant, oft repeated cliché and the whole ambiance is shot to hell.
The multiplayer is easily the most enjoyable mode in WSOP 2008. After a few choice clicks and a short wait, you can find yourself at a table with real people. If you enjoy poker, it would be easy to get caught up in this mode for several hours. Voice chat is available, and most of my opponents were fairly friendly. Unfortunately, since there is no real money involved, it is not uncommon to stumble across players who will push All-in every other hand. This goes back to the two most irritating things in poker.
The single player career mode is exciting until you begin to recognize the patterns in the AI play styles. You suddenly feel like you are playing poker against an 8-bit processor with a parity error. Victory becomes shallow and bland. If that doesn't bother you, there are plenty of chips, bracelets and pieces of furniture to collect. Oh, didn't I mention the furniture? Yes, you can unlock furniture and use it to decorate your very own garage, basement, or living room...just in case you picked up this game hoping to revisit The Sims' glory days.
I see quite enough of Phil Hellmuth's tantrums and arrogance on ESPN2. I don't need him popping onto my screen every five minutes offering me advice.
Poker is a great game. It requires intelligence, strategy, patience, and anticipation. World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets is not a great game. It features all the glitz and glamor of the World Series of Poker, but only a fraction of the depth of play involved.