Reviewed: March 7, 2006
Released: December 12, 2005
I’ll admit right up front I’m not a huge poker fan so I am the last person who should be reviewing this game, but with so many poker games flooding the market and so many reviews to do, I think my number just came up.
World Championship Poker 2 Featuring Howard Lederer is the sequel to last years poker title, which I managed to avoid. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against poker, but over the years I have only managed to learn enough to get by with a bit of 5-card stud or whatever variations turned up in other games like DOA Beach Volleyball.
But poker has recently seen a huge resurgence in popularity, thanks to a variation called Texas Hold’em and virtually non-stop televised broadcasts of the game on FX and Spike TV with all sorts of has-been and would-be celebrities playing for charity.
Even while Texas Hold’em was spreading across America like a 21st century plague I still managed to avoid getting caught in the hype until I was literally forced to play the poker game in the recent western, GUN. And despite (or perhaps because of) the primitive A.I. that was designed to basically let you win, I was hooked, so when the next Texas Hold’em game came across my desk I snatched it up.
I hope I haven’t misrepresented WCP2 – there is a whole lot more than just Texas Hold’em. There are 14 variations of poker including the classic 5-card stud, 7-card draw, and others I have never heard of nor played. You can play these in either quick play games or an ongoing career of tournaments set across the world.
Before you shuffle the cards you have to create your character using what has now become a standard character creation engine where you pick body types, features, clothing, and accessories. You even get to pick some personality traits that affect some RPG-like skills later in the game. It’s far deeper than it needs to be for a poker game but doesn’t quite compare to the more advanced systems in games like Tiger Woods and Fight Night.
Once you have your alter ego, a new pad, and a cool $1,000 it’s time to play some cards. As you earn money you can spend it at the pawnshop to buy new items for your pad, creating your own custom space. And of course, if you ever find yourself in financial distress you can sell off those items or even take out a loan, but failure to repay a loan results in repossession of your “stuff”.
Playing the actual poker game is self-explanatory; as this game merely follows the rules of whatever poker variation you are playing. There are some nice electronic features that make the experience a bit more unique like the skill point system that allows you to tweak your card-playing skills with Keen Eyes, Hand Strength, Tough Read, Stone Face, Actor, Convincing, and Stare Down. These abilities either give you obvious on-screen clues or certain benefits behind the scenes as in opponent A.I.
My biggest complaint about computerized poker, or any other social game converted to a video game is that you lose out on the social interaction. Poker is very rarely about the cards; after all, that is the luck of the draw. True poker skill comes with practice and learning to read the players and not letting them read you. While WCP2 takes steps to recreate this on the PSP it’s just not the same.
Case in point, the Bluff/Tell mini-game, which basically tests your dexterity more than your ability to hide your emotions. Whenever you make a bet that the computer decides is larger than your hand would support a ring appears with a marker in it. You must use the analog pad to keep the cursor within that mark as it moves around the ring. If you can keep it in the mark long enough you bluff, otherwise the other players detect the deception.
This system fails for two reasons. First, I was often prompted to play this game when I had (what I thought was) a really good hand. Secondly, what may have worked on the console with a real analog stick is way too twitch to be functional with the A-pad. I have yet to successfully bluff after more than 40-50 attempts.
This leads to the A.I. issues, which aren’t as serious as other poker games out there. Often, you can figure out how to trick the A.I. into betting or folding, but things stay pretty unpredictable in WCP2, although I did see some patterns develop over prolonged gameplay. You can almost always get all but one at the table to fold simply by raising high on the initial bets. Of course you won’t get rich quick just raking in the ante, so you’ll want to bet conservatively to hook them.
WCP2 also plays over the Internet so you when you master the A.I. you can test your skills against real live humans. Just get yourself into an area with a wireless access point and scan for any available games or host your own. It’s extremely easy to do and the game plays pretty much at the same pace as the solo game with hardly any lag. Even better, you can challenge people playing on their PS2 copy, so you have even more potential poker players in the pool.
And if you get tired of playing regular poker you can test your skills and poker knowledge in a nice group of poker-related mini-games like Flop Odds, Know the Nuts, Hold’em Nicknames, Tell Quiz, Know Your Outs, and a multiple choice Glossary Quiz.
I am concerned with the lengthy load times for what is otherwise a fairly simple game. We aren’t loading up complex levels or massive amounts of data here, yet you will have to endure some painfully long load times before you ever get to peek at that first card.
World Championship Poker 2 looks pretty sweet on the PSP; definitely better than the console versions I have seen. Obviously the smaller screen and higher resolution helps things, but the game is overly dark. While you can easily see and read the cards during the game, walking around your pad or navigating the world map looking for tournaments can be difficult in brightly lit areas.
The character creation is decent and you can build just about any type of character you want. Interestingly enough, I started trying to create myself and ended up creating some mean-looking red beret guy, but a few games into the tournament there was a character named Bruce (balding, glasses, moustache) who is a mirror image of me. If I didn’t know better I would swear somebody cyber-scanned me while I slept. Creepy and cool at the same time - I now just tell people it IS me.
Sound isn’t a primary focus of a card game yet we get some pleasant tunes to fill in what would otherwise be silent menus and wandering around the pad and the world map. During the actual game you get the same standard fare mixed in with a dealer voice that isn’t too bad and a lot of character voices that are really poor – not so much the quality but rather the voice doesn’t match the graphics.
It’s poker…you play until you are broke then you create a new character and try again. The game has unlimited potential as both a casual diversion and possibly even a learning tool to perfect your poker skills on and off the PSP. I won’t deny learning a bit about “odds” and I certainly picked up a few new terms in the mini-games.
World Championship Poker 2: Featuring Howard Lederer is a competent poker game, and judging by the scores of others we have reviewed, probably one of the better ones out there. The poker engine is solid, the A.I. above average, and all of your favorite poker variations are here for the playing.
I do like the fact that it is handheld and I can put my PSP in and out of sleep mode playing a hand here and there as time permits, thus avoiding some of the load time issues. I would never block out time and sit down to play this on a console, but for killing some time on a plane or on a lunch break there is a lot of fun buried in this title.