Tag: Portal

Game Review: Poker Night 2

I’ve been playing poker for most of my adult life. It’s not a regular thing for me – mostly at family gatherings or parties thrown by friends – but I know the game well enough to not completely embarrass myself, usually. Practice makes perfect, though, and a couple years ago Telltale Games provided a means to practice my game with Poker Night at the Inventory, allowing me the opportunity to throw down cards and chips with some familiar Internet characters. Did it need a sequel? No. Did it get one anyway? Yes.

Courtesy Telltale Games

The doors of the underground gaming establishment open once again to allow for a no-limit high-stakes poker tournament involving some faces you might recognize. Instead of just gaming culture, however, the scope of the invites has expanded somewhat. From the animated series Venture Brothers comes none other than Brock Samson, a quiet but intimidating presence at the table. Balancing the taciturn bodyguard is Borderlands 2‘s Claptrap, who’s vocabulizer seems to be stuck on ‘snark’ mode. Ash from Army of Darkness gives the little robot a run for his money, though, in addition to having any number of catch phrases at the ready. And last but never least is Sam of Sam & Max fame, who replaces his homicidal rabbit buddy at the table. And your dealer, in the interest of computerized fairness, is GLaDOS, from Portal.

If that line-up isn’t enough to get you to drop $6 US on this game immediately, here’s more incentive.

Texas Hold ‘Em, while iconic in terms of poker tournament play, is no longer your only option. The game of Omaha is also available. In case you don’t know, Omaha plays very similar to Hold ‘Em except each player is dealt 4 hole cards instead of two. A player can only use two of those hole cards to make the best hand possible. I feel like this game option is a bit more forgiving to beginners, as you have more options and opportunities to create a good hand, yet at the same time it can be confusing if you’re dealt an attractive-looking set of hole cards but can’t make the right hand work with only two of them. It’s one of the things that keeps the game fresh.

Courtesy Telltale Games

Your fellow players have their particular tells, some obvious and some subtle. This isn’t new, but the ability to make their tells more obvious and their playing more predictable or exploitable is. How, you ask? Buy them drinks. The lovely Mad Moxxi of Borderlands 2 is tending bar, and if you spend some tokens, won from playing or winning tournaments, she’ll bring some booze over to your opponents to loosen them up a bit. It adds a layer of strategy to your gameplay: at what point do you buy Ash that drink so he bets bigger and stops waiting to win on the river? In addition to the libations, tokens also unlock felts, cards, and chip designs that are part of each franchise represented by the game. Unlock a whole set and you’ll change the entire look of the Inventory. The apex of success is the bounty challenges. A random set of them are laid out for you at the start of a tournament. If you complete them all, you get the chance to win an item from one of your fellow players. Winning the item unlocks prizes in the games Team Fortress 2 and Borderlands 2. All from playing poker with some iconic characters who engage in witty banter. What’s not to love?

Functionally, Poker Night 2 is pretty flawless. The AI of its various moving parts seems pretty well implemented. I’ve only seen the occasional clipping issue. As much as I’ll get frustrated when a winning hand turns to a losing one thanks to a lucky draw on the river, that’s down to the nature of poker itself rather than anything the programmers did. Some of the conversations tend to repeat themselves, but this can be minimized by only playing a few tournaments at a time. Like most diversions of this nature, Poker Night 2 is best experienced in moderation.

Still, for its bargain basement price, great execution, and hilarious writing, I’d definitely recommend Poker Night 2. If you’re a fan of any of the characters mentioned, enjoy a good game of hold ’em, or just want the maximum bang for your entertainment buck, this is a fantastic deal.

Concerning Dr. Freeman

Courtesy Valve

March Mayhem over at the Escapist is in its final round. For most of the competition I’ve been rooting for BioWare. However, last round Valve was up against Zynga, and after a tense period of back and forth, Valve emerged the victor. Now, it’s up against BioWare. It’s a very close competition, and since I’ve talked at length about BioWare in the past, let’s discuss the guy in the other corner.

Courtesy Valve

Back in the late ’90s, Half-Life showed us that the protagonist of a first-person shooter didn’t have to be a hyper-masculine roided-out Space Marine. Instead, Valve slipped players into the hazardous environment suit of Dr. Gordon Freeman, theoretical physicist. The hero of this story is pretty much a bookworm, and only becomes legendary due to circumstance and the fact that his HEV suit can absorb bullets just as well as it does radiation. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about Gordon, though, is that he’s a mute protagonist through and through, and Valve doesn’t do any pre-rendered cut scene cinematics. Everything happens within the game engine and, for the most part, we are in control of Gordon the entire time things are happening. This allows the player to experience the action, terror and humor of Half-Life and its sequels without any sort of forced dialog or moral choices.

Just as notable, however, is the way Valve provides for the modding community. Both the engine of the original Half-Life and the Source engine used in its sequels are geared in such a way that anybody with the time, passion and knack for coding or rendering to approach a game based in them can bring their dreams to life. For example, there was a mod for Quake called Team Fortress that some enthusiasts ported over into Half-Life‘s engine, a project that became known as Team Fortress Classic. Emphasizing specialists working together instead of one lone gun-toting badass rushing in to claim all the glory, Team Fortress was one of the most played mods of the original Half-Life. So, when Half-Life 2 was re-released in a bundle called The Orange Box, fans were delighted to see the bundle included Team Fortress 2.

Courtesy Valve

I could talk about the balanced gameplay, the fun aesthetic touches or the fact that the visual style reminds me a great deal of The Incredibles, but the important thing about TF2 is that there’s something for everybody. Still looking to be the rocket-shooting glory-hog? Play a Soldier. Interested in playing a healing class? Look no further than the Medic. Love setting things on fire? The Pyro’s for you. While the similar mechanics of all nine classes mean that anybody with even periphery knowledge of how to play an FPS can pick them up, truly mastering the nuances of a class can really enhance the experience for both the player and their team.

And then there’s Portal.

GLaDOS

If Half-Life broke the mold when it came to first-person shooters, Portal pretty much disintegrated it when it comes to first-person gameplay, period. With a series of testing chambers and the omnipresent passive-aggressive presence of GLaDOS, Valve demonstrated that it wasn’t just violence that drives their games. Even more so than the physics or jumping puzzles in either Half-Life game, Portal is driven more by cleverness and outside-the-box thinking than straightforward shoot-em-up gameplay.

I’m not going to go into the politics or long delays or differences between console & PC versions at the moment, but rather I want to stay focused on Valve as game developers. They’ve really changed things over the years, and I look forward to what’s coming next.

Thank you for your attention, cake will be served immediately.

© 2021 Blue Ink Alchemy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑