World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets Review
By Jesse Alley |
Activision has quickly become the company to beat with its World Series of Poker franchise. In a few short years, it's gone from a lackluster title to a game that almost encapsulated the gambling experience perfectly. Building on the strengths of last year's title, Activision and Left Field Productions have recently released World Series of Poker 2008: Battle For the Bracelets. Thanks to a slicker presentation, larger sense of WSOP Tournaments and some additional features, Activision has once again produced one of the best poker games around.
The main career mode has a different twist on this year's play. As the fresh face on the WSOP block, players are no longer being taken underneath the wing of Chris "Jesus" Ferguson like they were in last year's game. Instead, you join the tour along one of three difficulty levels: amateur, semi-professional or professionally ranked player, which determines the number of events that you can enter and your starting bankroll. Of course, the object of the career mode is to expand your starting stack with prize money that you win in tournaments, but the other end of it is to gain additional Player of the Year points by performing well in tournaments to end your season with the overall Player of the Year award. Considering that means that you'll need to knock off Phil "The Poker Brat" Hellmuth, that could be a tall order for some beginners, but it's an interesting challenge to extend to people.
Think you can beat us for our bracelets?Once again, like last year, the progression from tournament to tournament feels a bit throttled back since you're dealing with events on the calendar as they come up. On open days, or those moments when you end your tournament run a bit early, you'll sometimes receive phone calls from fellow gamblers inviting you to cash only events at different hotels. This will give you another chance to increase your bank roll and points totals, with a much further reduced number of opponents. As you play, you'll earn different awards, such as collector chips for earning different hands or defeating tour pros, which you can wager online against opponents or rivals. Rivals in WSOP 2008 are online players that have defeated you in internet games or showdowns, affecting your overall standings on the online leaderboards.
While the inclusion of rivals in online play provides an additional competitive nature to the game, you won't particularly find the same thing extended to you in the single player experience. Defeating someone like Annie Duke or Mike Matusow over a series of tournaments isn't going to make them antagonistic towards you, or talk extra smack to you whenever you get to the table. Since some of the "entertainment" of watching WSOP is to witness the wilder personalities clashing over the tables, you'd think that having a poker rival or two over the course of your career would be a natural fit for the game, but it's not to be. That isn't to say that the computerized versions of the tour professionals won't give you a challenge at all; for the most part, they'll intelligently play their hands, making effective bluffs or wisely getting themselves out of losing hands without giving up a ton of money. However, you'll still run into a couple of situations where pros and random players will try to make runs with a pair of twos or a junk pocket hand, keeping their fingers crossed for a card that just isn't going to come.
WSOP 2008 features many variations of poker, including Omaha, Razz, Seven Card Stud and of course, Texas Hold 'Em, as well as extensive tutorials and tutorial options for beginners. Players can also play No Limit Hold 'Em against specific pros, create their own custom games and tournaments, or enter a speed game with continually increasing blinds and limits, as well as a clock that limits the amount of time you have to weigh decisions at the table. It also features video poker and blackjack, which is an interesting diversion, but feel like an afterthought compared to the other game modes. As you play more hands, you'll unlock tools that can be used through every round of poker. For the most part, novices will probably rely upon the pot odds tool, which continually gives you an update on how weak or strong your hand is across your initial deal, as well as the flop, turn and river. However, some of them aren't nearly as useful as they could be. While the opponent's tool gives percentages of raises or folds on a hand, I'd rather have a sense of a particular tour member's playing style as well because that dictates whether or not they're following typical behavior for that person.
This year, players will have a slicker television styled presentation.A lot of extra attention has obviously been placed on the presentation of WSOP 2008, sharpening up the menus and the look of action at the tables with the screen split into three areas: one that focuses on the table, one with a close up on the player and another one at the bottom of the screen that has an extreme close up on the cards in play. While this doesn't particularly help you as far as tells or getting a sense of what your opponents have in their hand, it gives an additional television styled presentation to the action at the tables. This is evident with the large amount of video that's scattered throughout the title, including the introductions of tournaments at Las Vegas casinos and poker tutorials. This re-tooled presentation also makes it easier to determine information like how many players are still in your particular tournament, or who the chip leaders are. Some of the video aspect ratios can be off here and there, particularly with the cell phone tutorial sections, but it's nothing major.
However, even with the increase in attention to making the game seem slicker, the game still has a number of issues with long pauses between command inputs and onscreen character responses, as well as incorrect chip count animations during bets. This is something that should've been fixed from last year's title, and is a nagging hold over that slows down and hampers the feel of the game. It also winds up exacerbating some of the other visual problems that stand out with character models, such as some of the seams or texture pixilation that crops up in hair or other parts of the body. Hopefully this will be smoothed out in future titles.