Reviewed: July 11, 2006
Released: May 30, 2006
I have said it before, I will say it again – this whole poker thing is getting a bit out of hand. Honestly, I feel like over the past year and a half my desk has been inundated with poker games for review, and I am beginning to believe that the over-saturation is clouding my usually-good gaming judgment.
What I mean, is that with the sheer number of poker titles hitting the shelves, they are all starting to look the same… Is this one better than that? Is it even any different? Hasn’t this been done before? Was it better then, or now? Aaaah!
Thankfully, every once and a while a poker game comes around that has a real hook – and Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is just that game. So what’s the hook? Graphics? Sound? Presentation? Nope, nope and nope – in fact, Stacked looks a bit crappy when stacked (excuse the pun) up against the competition.
No, what Stacked has in its favor is one of the most intelligent poker engines driving in the background – called Pokibot – which is a derivative of the famous Poki card engine developed by the University of Alberta. And just like Ubisoft’s 2004 Xbox release of Chessmaster (which also features a respected gaming engine), Stacked has more than a few poker fanatics excited over its release.
While it might not be the most polished (or even most enjoyable) game of poker on the market, Stacked is a real learning experience and you will be a better gamer for having played it.
No surprise, Stacked features the same old rags-to-riches poker career as the dozen-or-so other poker titles littering the shelves – start out at small local tourneys, work your way up to the big leagues… Blah, blah, blah.
But like I said, what makes Stacked special is its Poki gaming engine – and that makes a world of difference for a waning genre like poker.
So where do I begin? Maybe it should be making mention of the comprehensive and informative training provided by poker pro (and game namesake) Daniel Negreanu? Heck, it’s like getting budget-priced training from one of the best pros in the business.
Negreanu Poker School introduces some of the most interesting strategies, tips and tricks that only a true insider would know. Sure, sitting through an long session of poker class can prove a bit dry at times, but the quality of the information is top-notch.
If the developers were willing to put this kind of insider information in their games, you better bet that they accounted for it in modeling their AI – and boy does it show. In fact, the AI in Stacked follows a handful of different AI routines to mix things up a bit. These characters learn from your play, respond to your mistakes, and bluff and tell with the best of ‘em.
It is really quite refreshing to feel challenged to this degree – and while you can often toy with the AI by playing entirely outside of common poker conventions – those looking for an honest game of poker will find Stacked to be quite satisfying.
And finally, one of the coolest aspects of the game has to be the tie-in to the MTV Stacked Masters Tournament, an international MTV-sanctioned poker tournament played via Xbox Live.
One of the biggest downfalls of any poker video game is the lack of human interaction – not so much for company’s sake, but for the lacking ability to properly bluff, play, or read the opposition. Stacked stumbles over the same issues with its clumsy “tell” system, which has you manually choosing which “tells” to make after peeking your cards. The real problem is that the characters look so placticine and expressionless, trying to focus on the face through the clunky animation is laughable at best.
But on the other hand, the backgrounds are definitely lusher – and have more overall depth – than most of the other poker titles available out there. Otherwise, well – it’s a poker game. The cards look like cards, the tables look like tables.
Other than Daniel Negreanu’s well-produced voiceovers, the rest of the sound is boring and uninspired. Not a big surprise for a poker game, but something a bit better would have been nice.
Stacked is definitely one of the better (if not the best) poker game out there, and at $29.99 it is not a bad buy at all. Unless you already have a dozen other poker games in your collection – I mean do you really need another? Then again, if you already have a dozen others, it’s probably a good sign that you are a compulsive poker fiend, so you probably will get Stacked anyway.
And like I said before, the training alone in this game is top notch – and probably worth the price of admission alone, especially for newbies who could stand to learn a lot from Negreanu’s advice.
Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is one of the best releases in a sea of poker games. The market may be over-saturated, but Stacked has the right hooks to attract the serious players and newbie learners alike.