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Poker News: September 26, 2006

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HEADLINE: World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions Review.

Author: Robert Workman

I liked last year's offering of World Series of Poker...and it seems that I was one of the few people to do so. Magazines and online media slammed the game hard for its lack of AI competence and minimal presentation, calling it the worst of the bunch. I found it to be better than that. Sure, the AI is about as balanced as my checkbook, but all the same, I felt that the engine was no slouch, and the online play made things worthwhile. I played it just last week, coming in second during a tourney, falling on a pair of five's (which soon became three five's after the flop- damn flop).

This year's version, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions 2007, raises the stakes a little bit. The series makes its debut on the Xbox 360 this year, and adds some more faces from the tournament to make it feel more like a complete poker experiment. But there are two questions that are probably going to be asked...

Number one, is the game worth dropping $40 on? That budget price is definitely more reasonable than a $60 price tag, but keep in mind that Texas Hold 'Em came out for the Xbox Live Arcade service a few weeks ago- for free. Some people might already have the poker fix in their XBLA library, so whether a purchase of World Series of Poker would benefit said players is definitely a query worth visiting. Secondly, is the game any better than last year's edition? Despite the fact that I like World Series of Poker just fine on my Xbox, there are a few things that I felt needed to be addressed and bumped up for this edition.

Well, let me answer both questions for you. Regarding number one, it depends on how much you like poker. Texas Hold 'Em runs down a much more basic path than World Series of Poker, and if playing a no-frills game is something you're up for, it's worth the 800 points. However, if you're an enthusiast or die-hard poker player that attends weekly bar contests and knows his (or her) way into a full-blown bluff to get a stack of chips, there's something to be discovered here.

As for the second question, well, yes, there are some improvements worth noting, but there are also some problems. Remember when I was telling you about the snags with the AI from the first game? Well, some of them have returned, with the AI players making lame-brained calls off of a raised bet that you'll either find yourself giddy with overconfidence when you slam down the dream hand of three-of-a-kind or better, or frustrated to shit when you find they've created an accidental straight off of a blind bet.

But World Series of Poker, despite this flaw, still knows how to lay its cards down. The general flow of poker is well furnished here, and you can make adjustments depending on how you feel like playing. If you're up for watching how AI opponents react and listening to commentary, you can go at a normal speed. However, if you just want to get through a match and see who wins each hand, you can speed things up. There's also a wide variety of games to be found here, aside from the Texas Hold 'Em matches. Feel like some Omaha? Or maybe even a little bit of Horse? You have the option of setting up your own custom matches. Or, if you're not up to all that, you can just jump into a quick Texas Hold 'Em match to test your mettle.

World Series of Poker also adds an ingredient that Texas Hold 'Em is sorely missing- implementing your personality into the game. Sure, the XBLA effort is Xbox Live Camera-friendly, but World Series of Poker lets you map in your own face onto a player via "Digiface". While it isn't always an exact fit, it is a pretty cool feature that saves you some time on your customization. You can also give yourself a few wardrobe changes to match up your personality (and some that don't), and unlock even more accessories over the course of your career. The option of setting up your own poker room and allowing outsiders in to play is a nice touch as well, although I'm still trying to figure out how to put a deer head on the wall. (Why can't I just import one from the Cabela games you offer, Activision?)

The Career mode is loaded, and will attract many hardcore players. You'll work your way through a series of matches, just like the real World Series of Poker pros do, before you find yourself in the Tournament of Champions, where you'll be facing off against a number of fierce opponents. Scotty Nguyen, Eric Seidel, Jennifer Tilly (the Bride of Chucky herself), and Chris "Jesus" Ferguson are just a few of the faces you'll run into along the way. However, I didn't really find their playing styles that well inbred into the game. Their voices are present, providing a little bit of personality, but they play about the same as "Player A" and "Player B" at the typical table. Fortunately, the ability to play against the pros and earn Achievements and Collector's Chips still make you feel like you're part of a real match.

Those who want to learn more about poker will find learning tools aplenty here. Over the course of your play, you'll unlock said player tools that will help tell you more about the odds of the pot and opponents during your play. Some people won't get into this feature that deeply, as their mathematician sides probably won't come bubbling to the surface, but it's a fascinating feature that tells us more about the technical nature of the sport. For further assistance, Chris "Jesus" Ferguson provides you necessary poker tips via tutorials to help shape you into a better poker player. Some mini-tips are also provided during the game's loading screens, and you'll have time to read them. The loading time is a bit longer than I expected. For such a small poker game, you'd think that the loading time wouldn't drag on like it does.

Where players will find themselves right at home with World Series of Poker is online. You can set up your own matches, or take part in other tournaments being offered, and your custom character is thrown right in. It's here that the competition really lays it on the line, not making lame-brained decisions like the lazy AI players and instead showing some real personality. The Xbox Live Camera features are well-supported, allowing you to see who you're up against better than Digiface could ever represent. This is probably the most supported more in the game, and I give Left Field praise for paying so much attention to it.

Now if only the presentation could've gotten a push for the Xbox 360. The visuals in the game don't really rise above regular Xbox level, although some of the player models (particularly Ms. Tilly) are impressive. The movements of the players are simplified to the point that they barely show any life at all, save for a quick standing-up after going all in on a hand. There are some new camera angles that are helpful, including the dealer showing you a river card well after the hand's been played out, the ability to "quick peek" at your cards just like the pros, and even a first-person camera, in case you want to get a better look at your opposition from up-close. But it really is minimal at best. I know it's just a poker game, but some more attention should have been paid here.

The audio isn't really that well done. There's barely a hint of music in the game (the main guitar twang theme song from the show), and the commentary, by World Series of Poker hosts Lon McEachern and Norman Chad, seems slapped together. Instead of sounding like a free-flowing conversation about the action on the table, you just hear bits and pieces. The pros provide their own voices, but are again edited to the point they don't really say that much. And, really, who keeps sneezing at the table? That's all I need, to lose my bankroll and THEN come down with the flu. This game could've used more audio workings.

World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions 2007 still doesn't have what it takes to be the poker champion of the video game world, but at least it gets the right things down to make it worth the reasonable $40 price tag. The presentation may not hit the mark as much as it should, and those AI issues will frustrate a few of you, but the game still engulfs you in the poker experience through deep Career and Multiplayer modes. The Xbox Live Camera-supported features are a plus as well, especially if you just picked one up and you want to see what it can really do. World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions 2007 doesn't play the greatest hand, but it still wins the pot...for now.

Exclusive Titan Poker Bonus Code: TPF150

Article downloaded from the World Wide Web on Sept 25, 2006:

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