Co-Optimus - Review - Beyond Co-Op Reviews - April 2011

Beyond Co-Op Reviews - April 2011 - Page 4

Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Microsoft Game Studios
MSRP: $9.99
by: Jim "txshurricane" McClauglin

Step up, pardner: it’s a showdown! No, it’s not high noon - it’s closer to nine o’clock at night. Nonetheless, two contenders are wide awake and unwavering. Onlookers hold their breath. The challenger sneers, and the air is thick with a collective, audible gasp as the defender reaches with lightning speed to his waist...

...and throws eight black poker chips into the pot. The crowd goes wild; the challenger’s bet is called. Yes, ladies and gentlemen: we’re playing poker.

Full House Poker - despite its cartoonish, avatar-laden premise - is full of nuances that will quickly build familiarity. From the music to the background cheers...from the quick-reference info bubbles above players’ heads to the way that the game builds quirky tension during showdowns...matches can be as fun to watch as they are to play.

First and foremost, though: it’s poker. In the end it’s still a game that’s best played with a $3.00 deck of cards. Making an online simulator of an armchair sport is a straightforward process, and done by high school computer science students the world over. So the main hurdle is how to streamline the turn-based gameplay and keep players coming back for more.

As far as an actual match goes: Full House Poker has a decent variety of options that range form as hardcore as participating in a twice-weekly Texas Heat ranked tournament to as simple as playing an offline match against bots. In non-ranked online player matches the host can set a moderate number of options, most of which are basic visual styles of the venue they’re hosting. However, there are a couple of key options that are crucial to the match’s pace, including a time limit for each turn, blinds (compulsory starting bets), buy-in options, etc. These go a long way to determine how long the match will be. Ranked games and tournaments disable most of these and default them at the most restrictive option in order to ensure that experienced players are not left at a table with dawdlers.

The game itself is solid and showed very few instances of momentary lag. Cataclysmic glitches are nowhere to be found - in fact, I didn’t see any glitches at all, in about 10 hours of playing. The only real drawback to Full House Poker is something that is unavoidable in public games: amateurs. I’m not talking about the usual newbie...I mean the players who have no concept of strategy, and go “all-in” every hand just to scare everyone out of a measly 60-chip pot. But even as frustrating as that is, there’s a certain satisfaction to be gleaned from winning a hand against someone like that and watching them bust out. Plus, it’s all part of the challenge, and if all else fails there are the options to play a private match with your Live Party or to play offline with bots.

Each positive action within a match earns you XP points - even folding a hand that would have lost. XP unlocks avatar outfits (usable only in-game), nicknames (a la Red Dead Redemption Free Roam), card back and table designs, and even animations for your avatar - like poker chip tricks and deck shuffling. It’s a fun, harmless distraction.

Once you’re familiar with all of the icons and the match progression it’s easy to appreciate the game’s simplicity and smooth pace. $10 goes a long way on the Live Marketplace these days, but the game is a solid hand and it’s fair to say that you can bet on ongoing support from Microsoft. With an ante low enough for everyone to play, the odds are in favor of Full House Poker.


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