A little uncanny
Epic Games, the developer of Fortnite, gives away a game or two for free each week in its store. As it so happens, one of the current free games is called Poker Club, billed as the “most immersive poker simulation ever made.” After taking it for a whirl, I can tell you that of all the poker video games ever made, this is one of them.
Visually, the game is fine. Not much is required graphically from a poker video game and Poker Club looks perfectly decent. The tables, chips, cards, environments, are all crisp.
the game is played from a first-person perspective
One cool aspect of Poker Club is something you get more from poker video games than you do from real-money poker apps: the game is played from a first-person perspective. When you look at your cards, you actually look down and peel them. You can look around the table at your opponents, watch them measure out their bet sizes. It does help with the immersiveness, to take a term from the developer.
Where opinions will differ on the visuals is the look of the players. Poker Club is going for a realistic look, attempting to make the character models look as true to life as possible. You can customize your character by gender, age, hair, etc., and overall, which is fun, but it also edges into uncanny valley territory. Personally, I would have preferred a more cartoony, less realistic graphical approach.
Controls, layout not well-thought out
The gameplay itself is where Poker Club starts to fall apart. Maybe it’s because I’m used to all the detail of real online poker, but the lack of information and non-intuitiveness of the controls can make the games frustrating at times.
The betting controls are arranged vertically on the left side of the screen and it’s just not immediately obvious how to do anything. In fact, I couldn’t even find the controls on my very first hand and had to timeout in order to fold. There’s a menu option for “controls,” but even that doesn’t explain things fully.
Betting is done via slider, which is imprecise, and you cannot type in a custom bet (or at least I haven’t figured out how yet).
you can’t see all of your opponents at the same time like you can in regular online poker
And because the view is first-person, you can’t see all of your opponents at the same time like you can in regular online poker. Thus, there is a player list on the right side of the screen. The problem there is that, for some unknown reason, it’s not always visible. There were times in a Sit-and-Go when the action was on me and I wanted to see stack sizes, what action people ahead of me had taken, and the like, and simply couldn’t.
I did not get the chance to play in a multi-table tournament, because a) the developer was updating the game over the weekend, making it unplayable, and b) the selection is extremely limited and there were none available when I was online. In Sit-and-Go’s, though, there is no display to tell you anything about blind levels or payouts.
Right idea on gameplay incentives, but misses the mark
My issues with the gameplay lead into my biggest problem with Poker Club: it’s just not fun. Look, poker games that don’t involve real money are always going to have an incentivization problem and therefore most of the poker is going to be terrible. You just have to live with that.
Without real money at stake, games like Poker Club need to incentivize players more. Poker Club fails to do this. There are three main methods it attempts: leaderboards, cosmetic items, and career.
The leaderboards are basically useless. You aren’t going to climb them by playing solid poker. I would bet all my fake chips that the people at the top of the leaderboards got there by buying chips (yes, you can spend real money to buy fake chips) and then playing boom-or-bust poker so they can double-up quickly.
By playing, you can earn XP and level up like in a lot of video games. When leveling up, you get cosmetic items like shirts, hats, and trinkets for the table. But first of all, who cares, and second of all, you still have to buy them with chips. No thanks.
doesn’t make advancing in one’s career particularly satisfying
The career is what I thought would be fun – you start in the backrooms and work your way up to the grand world stage. But it turns out that again, you don’t really need to play good poker to do that, at least in the early stages (I have not played enough to get very far). Only a few venues and game types are available at the beginning. To advance, you have to accumulate stars, which are earned by achieving certain goals. These goals can be something like placing top three in a six-handed Sit-and-Go or getting a three-of-a-kind in a cash game. That’s all fine, but at least at the outset, it doesn’t make advancing in one’s career particularly satisfying.
Through it all, the game moved achingly slowly. Much of this is because of the attempt at realism, as there is animation involved with everything. Every chip move, card muck, winning hand celebration, camera pan…it all takes time. Poker is a slow game normally, but at least in regular online poker you can multi-table. Live poker is social. Poker Club is just plodding, which made me not want to try move up in the career mode. I just didn’t want to keep playing. Frankly, the game was boring and I was just waiting for my matches to be done.
Should you grab Poker Club? It’s free in the Epic Games store until 11am ET on Thursday, May 4, so sure. But at its regular price of $20, there’s no point. Just play a free mobile or VR game instead.
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