[The following review was reprinted with permission from GamePro.]
Poker Night at the Inventory (available on Steam) is a lot like hanging out with old friends; after a while, you start to pick up on their unique habits amid all the chatter. Strong Bad (of Homestar Runner and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People) always seems to bluff, so it’s never apparent when he’s got a good hand. Max (of the Sam & Max series) plays fast and loose with his chips, so it’s tough to call him on his raises. Team Fortress 2’s Heavy rarely backs out of a hand while Penny Arcade’s Tycho usually folds his cards at the first sign of trouble. But even when their playing styles start to get predictable, it’s the witty banter and idle chit-chat among this motley crew that will keep you coming back.
Like a true gentleman’s club, the titular Inventory is one classy joint. Established back in the 1920s, this Prohibition-era speakeasy functions as a safe haven for interactive entertainment: video games, gambling, and more. Of course, the main attraction is a high-stakes game of Texas Hold ‘Em, with Max, Strong Bad, the Heavy, and Tycho all taking a $10,000 stake in the tournament. While it’s not the most difficult game of poker that you’ll play, half of the fun is hearing the interactions between the characters. In fact, it’s one of the few poker games I’ve played where I was interested enough to continue watching even after getting knocked out before the final two players.
Moreover, the art design really adds to the experience, as each character looks exactly like their video game (or Internet) counterpart. Max’s and the Heavy’s 3D character models look oddly natural seated next to the comparatively cartoonish Strong Bad and Tycho, creating an almost “real life meets cartoon” feel much like that of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It’s further complemented by the natural flow of chit-chat between each player, with the voice acting adding a lot of depth and comedic timing. There’s even various themes that keep popping up the more you play, like Max’s insistence that he doesn’t really know what the numbers on the cards mean, or the Heavy’s awkwardly grim war stories that occasionally make everyone at the table flinch. Each routine’s great the first time you listen to it, and even when you start to hear the same lines over and over again, you can always use the wisely included option of lowering the game’s speech frequency.
By far, the fluidity of the animation and speech is the game’s greatest (and most subtle) aspect, as each character engages in scripted conversations while simultaneously placing bets and checking their hands. It contributes to the overall flow better than any other single-player poker game I’ve seen, and with some expanded dialogue, I could legitimately forget that I’m playing a computer.
Still, it has more than a few odd gameplay quirks that you’ll notice every now and then. While each character can smoothly transition from one action to the next, you’ll occasionally hear someone repeat a line twice in succession due to a hiccup in scripting. Hardcore poker fans will especially take note of the way each character can sometimes unrealistically react to a “heads up” showdown, especially when it comes to hands they have no probability of winning. That, plus the total lack of online content (outside of Team Fortress 2 items), can limit the longevity of Poker Night, especially once you’re done collecting all the card decks and specialty items. If you want to get the most out of the game from a poker-playing standpoint, put the difficulty on “Hard” and limit the chatter to “Idle Chit-Chat” from the very start.
Although you can get a more robust poker experience for free from other sites, the $5 price is well worth the atmosphere you’ll get from Poker Night at the Inventory. Sitting down with the likes of Tycho and the Heavy is something that’s unique, and the banter’s often legitimately funny. Let’s just hope that Telltale Games brings more players to the table next time, both online and offline.
[McKinley Noble is an editorial intern at Macworld and a frequent contributor to GamePro.]