Telltale Games' Poker Night 2 review: Ace in the Hole

I'll be honest, I completely expected Poker Night 2 to simply be a rehash of 2010's Poker Night at the Inventory--and for the most part, it is. However, Telltale's solo poker experience adds a number of new features that definitely makes this new installment a more worthwhile effort than the first, albeit with some persistent issues keep it from hitting the jackpot. Once again, the name of the game is Texas Hold'em and the opponents are comprised of Venture Bros. strongman Brock Samson, Borderlands chatterbox Claptrap, Army of Darkness hero Ash Williams (not voiced by Bruce Campbell, unfortunately), and Sam of the Sam & Max series. Just as the first game, one of the main draws is watching the interaction between the four characters. This time around, there are a few more characters that join in the conversation--Portal's GLaDOS (who acts as the dealer) and Max (who also has a new voice actor), who will occasionally add his two cents to any of Sam's lines. Poker Night 2's dialogue remains a major highlight and it's a lot of fun to discover new lines. This game also adds some improvements with GLaDOS's inclusion, since most tournaments will inevitably come down to two people. This allows the remaining character to banter with GLaDOS, rather than have a one-sided conversation with the silent player protagonist. However, repetition is a major issue, especially after checking, folding, or going all-in on a hand.

Buying drinks is among Poker Night 2's new ideas

Speaking of going all-in, AI behavior remains erratic. I've been a part of hands where characters would randomly go all-in without any rhyme or reason. It's all the more frustrating this time around, because there's no difficulty setting to adjust, meaning there's no chance to adjust AI behavior. Characters will also raise the pot randomly, only to fold their hands immediately after. This isn't as chronic an issue as it was in Poker Night at the Inventory, but it remains fairly prevalent in the sequel. A new mechanic will allow players to gain a tactical advantage by purchasing drinks for any of the players at the table. The idea behind this is to make it easier to tell if anyone is bluffing, but it proves to be a bit imprecise. Animations will occasionally jerk around, making it tough to read tells. Buying drinks won't alter anyone's dialogue, either, so those hoping to hear a drunken Claptrap will be sorely disappointed. Most people will pick up Poker Night 2 for the platform-specific unlockables that include Borderlands skins. Unlike Poker Night at the Inventory, unlockables in Poker Night need to be earned differently. Taking a page from iOS games, players will be given a random set of three goals to accomplish over the course of the game. Completing these goals will give players a shot to earn special items from one of the game's characters. It's far preferable to the first game's approach of throwing out the special item at random and gives players something to shoot for. BOOM video 15202 Finally, there's a whole new option for Poker Night 2--Omaha poker. After the initial Hold'em hand, players can switch the game to Omaha, but don't expect an in-game tutorial here. I attempted to play hands of Omaha and felt lost and the game doesn't make clear what constitutes a winning hand. Fortunately, there are game rules hidden within the pause menu for anyone that gets lost. Omaha didn't resonate with me, but the fact that Poker Night 2 is branching out to different card games is a big step forward. Poker Night 2 suffers from several notable glitches. On top of the ones mentioned earlier, PC players may notice that certain display settings won't sit well with Brock Samson's unique character model and will result in flickering and Windows 8 owners will be lucky if they can get the game running at all. Despite all that, not only did I have fun with Poker Night 2, but I noticed a significant amount of progress over the original game. I came away from this game with a genuine desire to see a fully fleshed-out third version, but for now, I'll spend another weekend anteing up here.
The Poker Night 2 review was based on a PC version of the game purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.