Well, it's official. If there's a poker tournament or TV show in existence, it's got a video game to call its own, too. The lone holdout, cable TV's World Poker Tour, is now covered thanks to 2K Sports and developer Coresoft, the team that made last year's competent but unremarkable World Championship Poker. It's with no level of shock, then, that World Poker Tour's visuals, core mechanics, and, yes, even most of its problems closely resemble that year-old game. Still, the addition of the WPT license has given the game a level of focus and direction that the developer's previous effort lacked. And that, coupled with a revamped career mode and more online play (not to mention its budget price tag), make it a worthwhile choice for poker players on the hunt for a new game for their PlayStation 2 or Xbox.
Poker goes international in World Poker Tour.
First and foremost, World Poker Tour does an entirely decent job emulating its license. Multiple real-life international casinos are represented here in apparently fully realistic detail (although the necessity of said realism is questionable, since you rarely look at the casino itself, and more so the cards and players), and the commentating duo of Mike Sexton and "Hollywood Home Game Hero" Vince Van Patten is on hand to lend its expertise to the game. Well, sort of. Admittedly, the commentary is more than a little flat. Sexton has a few enjoyable quips, but they're repeated far too often. Van Patten also has his moments, but at times he also comes across as absolutely robotic.
There are also a few pro players on hand, like Phil "Unabomber" Laak, Evelyn Ng, and Antonio Esfandiari, though you don't run into them terribly often. Frankly, most of them just aren't as notable as most of the other big-name players who have lent their names to decidedly less-impressive poker games. Seriously, was Phil Ivey too busy? Could Phil Helmuth not be roused from one of his many meditation sessions long enough to sign a licensing contract? And would it have killed anyone to get a little more Shana Hiatt in here?
Lack of big poker celebrities aside, World Poker Tour plays pretty well. There's a myriad of different poker offerings, from the obvious ones like Texas hold 'em and seven-card stud, to entirely esoteric offerings like pinapple, billabong, and double-flop hold 'em. When playing offline, the game has some problems. For one, the opponent artificial intelligence is mostly a pushover. It actually isn't as bad as in Coresoft's last game, but it's much too easy to get free cards in this game simply because opponents get into these checking battles where they'll just check, check, and check away, even if they've got a made hand. It's not that they all play the same, mind you. You'll actually see distinct differences between more-aggressive players and tighter players, but even the aggressive guys will check much too often. Usually it's not until the very end of a tournament that you'll get out of this checking rut. Players will finally start both betting aggressively and forcing you to pay for fourth-street and river cards. And on some level, that probably makes sense, since the better players are naturally the ones that should get to the end of a tournament. It's just silly that any measure of aggression is often reserved for the endgame.
But apart from these nonaggressive tendencies, the game mostly plays it smart. You'll see some really, really dumbfounding calls from time to time, but generally the computer knows how to play a hand pretty well, and it'll even try to steal a pot from time to time. World Poker Tour also tries to toss in a bit of mind-game action into the fold with emotional reactions. By pressing one of four directions on the left analog stick at any time during play, you can make your player show excitement, satisfaction, depression, or disappointment. It's a neat idea that's been woefully ignored in pretty much every other poker game. Unfortunately, it's not exactly clear how much effect your emotional tells have during a game. And it's even harder to properly decipher what kinds of tells the computer might be giving off, since you often don't get to play against the same people for particularly long stretches of time. Still, if nothing else it's a starting point for a better-executed system in the future.