Nowadays when turning on ESPN, it’s hard not to catch a glimpse of the world renowned World Series of Poker. For poker lovers, it’s very intriguing to sit down and watch hand after hand of the world’s best players gamble with hundreds of thousands of dollars per hand. With the 2008 edition of World Series of Poker: Battle for the Bracelets, the rabid fans, along with the novice players, can finally challenge their favorite poker stars and move their way to the driver’s seat to become the “Player of the Year.”
There are many improvements to this year’s edition of WSOP. Compared to last year, the career mode in 2008 is much more in-depth. First you have the option of creating your own pro or becoming a look-a-like of an existing champion, but who wants to play heads-up poker with Phil Hellmuth when you are….Phil Hellmuth? Like most players, I created my own poker champion. You can pick your player’s clothes, hat, and sunglasses and even their voice. It is in the “customize” menu that you can also give your player a tag name that the announcers will use when giving the play-by-play.
The career mode is much more extensive as you are actually playing for a purpose this year. Each poker event comes with “Player of the Year” points depending on how you finish. It is these points that add up to see who is the world’s best poker player for that year. Also, there are special chips to collect during each event. There are specific pros that, when beaten, award you a chip to commemorate their defeat. You can also unlock tools like “Pot Odds” and “Opponents.” These help you to understand your playing and the playing of your opponents. You also have the option of playing “Beat the Brat.” This is where you play a heads-up game against different pros as you battle your way up the ladder towards Phil Hellmuth. Another new addition is your cell phone. After being defeated in a tournament and down on your luck, or ruling the poker world, you will get phone calls from different pros inviting you to play in cash games at famous hotels. These are nice to build up your ever-growing bankroll or to get you back on your feet.
As for the actual poker play, it is as close as you can get without going to Vegas. The AI varies on their aggressiveness and styles of play. Sometimes you have to take into account that you are going heads-up against Johnny Chan and the AI plays like the real Johnny Chan. However, once in a while you’ll come across a pro that will take amateur chances that leave you questioning their decision. As for smack talking and attitude between players, it is still an animated video game and disappoints compared to live players. This year’s title also allows for gamers to play not just Texas Hold ‘Em, but Seven Card Stud, Omaha, and Razz. These games add to the depth of this year’s WSOP.
As soon as you start your first WSOP event, you’ll notice how easy the controls are. Despite the fact that it is a poker game, and there aren’t that many actions to choose from, the game is still easily controlled with the left thumb stick and the “A” button. The controls are very user friendly and a real positive to actual gameplay.
As far as animations and player visuals of your created player go, there is no poker game on the market to match it. I was pleased at the realism of the player movements and voice-overs. However there are a few details about the visual effects that need some attention. First off, just like last year, when a player is betting chips, there is a randomization of motions for him or her to go through. Sometimes you might make a call or raise of $1,300+ and your player will simply take a chip of the top of his stack and literally flick it into the pile. On the opposite end, a call of $80 might involve the player taking a stack of chips and counting out seven, eight, or nine chips. It can sometimes get frustrating because a simple call or check can result in a 10 to 15 second delay in player actions. After I had commanded to check the round of betting, my player might pick a pile of chips and cut them a few times, then put them back and then finally check. Picky players notice minor details like this. However these few slip-ups are almost covered by the graphic intensity that will sometimes make you forget you are playing a video game.
Along the lines of visual effects, the style of presentation has changed from last year, but not all for the better. When starting a WSOP cash event at a new Hotel and Casino, a player unlocks the tutorial video of that casino. This is a positive new addition that makes the experience much more realistic. It is also nice to have Phil Hellmuth, the star of the 2008 edition, give you a tour around your newly unlocked penthouse suites. Activision also attempted to make the presentation of the table more “television like.” They did succeed, however it has its downfalls. The new split screen effect, showing the table cam and the player’s cam (alternating with a close up cam when you peek at your cards) is a great touch in adding realism. The downside is that they have taken the screen and shrunk it down by trying to fit so much on it and then adding black borders that are not necessary. A player trying to sit on their couch and play a game of poker shouldn’t have to get up and walk to the TV every hand because they can’t see what cards are in the flop, or how much money players are betting. The commentating can also get rather annoying, as it can in a lot of games, with sayings such as, “He dropped that faster then my second wife dropped me,” and “He calls more then my mother!”
Online play is once again a pretty big hit. Poker is always fun when it includes trash talking and rivalries. Playing against friends on Xbox Live or PlayStation Network really increases the value of the game itself, but for those can’t jump online, the single player career is exciting by itself.
This year’s World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets is arguably the best poker game on the market these days. The enhanced AI and depth of the career mode make the game more than just poker. However with the overlooks of the few visual effects, it has room for improvement in the coming editions. For those who enjoy great poker against their favorite television stars, this game should be at the top of their list.