|Stacked with Daniel Negreanu (2006)
Publisher: Myelin Media
Available for: PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC
Let’s get to the point. Video games centered around gambling are pointless. They have been since “Casino” and “Blackjack” debuted way back when on the Atari 2600, and they continue to be in the present. Can someone please explain to me what the hell the point is of playing a virtual gambling game if there is no real payoff? Sure, you could say that you could use such games for practice, but then you’d just be developing a game for a niche group. Still, the whole Texas Hold ‘Em poker fad seems just as bewildering as the Tamagotchi craze, so there’s obviously a big group of people out there who dig this kind of thing, making it all more than a mere “niche.”
Still, that doesn’t mean these kinds of games are really any fun. The latest installment in the whole video game poker craze is “Stacked.” It boasts that it is “’Halo’ with chips” on the back of the box. Sorry, but there’s no convincing any FPS fan out there that any little card game simulator is going to come close to their favorite title, be it “Halo,” “Half-Life,” or “Quake.” You try to equate running through corridors and over alien landscapes blasting the hell out of everything with a nice, quiet game of sitting down and bluffing. Oh yeah, that’s the ticket. Whatever.
The big claim to fame for “Stacked” is that it features an AI based on the “Poki” system created by the guys at the University of Alberta. It supposedly tweaks itself to your level of playing, making it a more personal experience. Again, whatever. The AI seemed to play no better or worse than that of other titles in the genre, except that it actually tried a little harder when you crank the difficulty up. Otherwise, everyone’s folding away one by one, every goddamned hand, so that it’s usually only you and two other people at the most playing in a hand, and usually even they wind up folding. So much for that “Poki” creation.
Also touted in the game is the inclusion of poker champ Daniel Negreanu, who’s there to help you in the tutorials and during game play. His advice is usually as hare brained as the AI, though, and his voice is definitely one of the more annoying to listen to while deciding what to do. If you already know how to play the game, you’re better off sticking with your own instincts than listening to Negreanu attempt to bullshit his way around the hands. If you’re a newbie to the whole thing, you’re still better off just giving it a whirl on your own and getting the feel for it all. After all, it’s not like you’re actually playing with real money, so go ahead and screw around as much as you want. No one cares.
There are also a bevy of other poker champs you’ll get to play against, though again, thanks to the dippy AI, who cares? “Stacked” is a championship game of dull mediocrity that plods along at the slowest pace, even when you choose to speed up the action. Character creation is a trifle, and the game doesn't look any better from when the PS2 first debuted. But then, it is just a card game. Still, you’ll get tired of hearing the same lifeless voice actors mumble through their words as dust collects on top of your TV set. Oh, and how about those load times? Nice and leisurely as well. Go make a tuna casserole while you’re waiting, it’ll still be there.
There’s online gaming with “Stacked” and this is undoubtedly where the poker fanatics get their jollies. I’m sure it’s undoubtedly some kind of thrill when you can totally own the whole table, but again it just doesn’t seem to have the same kind of satisfaction of killing off ten assholes with a nail gun. Call me kooky, but these kinds of games should just be put to bed as far as the consoles go. There’s more fun to be had in the dullest of golf sims or the most rote of shooters. “Stacked” should at least have some boobs thrown in. Sadly, it doesn’t even have its own sex appeal. You’d be best off taking your 40 or 50 bucks and wasting it on the lottery or some slot machines…or even some real poker rather than waste it on this mess.