|World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions (2006)
Available for: Xbox 360, PC
Shuffle up and deal, because the World Series of Poker is coming to a city near you. Or, more specifically, right into your very own home with “Tournament of Champions,” Activision’s latest entry in the next-gen poker wars. Featuring the most top professionals ever in one game, inside tips and strategies from Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and a new digimask option that enables Xbox Live Vision Cam owners to map their likeness onto a custom character, “Tournament of Champions” may just be the most comprehensive poker title on the market. But is it really worth the $40 price tag when Xbox Live is offering their own version of the popular table game for only ten bucks?
For serious fans of the Texas Hold ‘Em craze, the answer is a resounding yes. This is the only game that offers players the opportunity to challenge top pros like Scotty Nguyen, Men the Master, Phil Laak, TJ Cloutier, Antonio Esfandiari, and even Jennifer Tilly, all while learning the ins and the outs of the sport (yes, sport) by one of the most respected players on the circuit. Before you start dreaming of becoming the next world champion, however, you’ll have to work your way up the ladder by participating in smaller Limit, Pot Limit, and No Limit Hold ‘Em events, building your bankroll and unlocking tons of extra content.
Along with earning new outfits and accessories to customize your character and poker room (including replica bobbleheads of all the pro players you personally take down), players are also rewarded with Collector Chips for completing various tasks like winning certain hands, taking out players, and other gameplay milestones. They don’t really stand for much, other than that they can be used as bargaining chips during online play, as well as creating extra incentives on top of the already implemented Achievements.
The pace of the single-player is brutally slow, and though the tutorial doesn’t tell you this, searching through the menu screen will reveal an option to speed up gameplay, as well as activate the ability to skip through AI decision making. And let me just tell you that it’s well worth it. Unfortunately, the AI system isn’t quite as impressive the one that was highlighted in this year’s other major title, “Stacked.” The computer players are overly aggressive, which leads to them winning more hands on lucky flop draws. Equally upsetting is that the pro players seem to follow the same pattern, and while the likeness of the characters is there, their playing style is not. So are you really playing with the pros?
The graphics are noticeably last-gen quality and the programmers’ attempts at humanizing the CPU don’t go quite as planned. For instance, you’ll see (and hear) lots of players sneezing throughout any given tournament, but they’ll never cough, take a drink of water, cross their arms, or just about any other “spontaneous” movement you’d expect in a real-life environment. The graphical representation of chips is also seriously flawed. You could bet $100 on every hand, but the amount of chips your player moves into the pot will always be different, all the way from one chip to several stacks.Still, “Tournament of Champions” shouldn’t be completely discounted for these problems. The game is great at delivering a solid poker experience, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that what fans really want? You’re probably bound to enjoy yourself just as much if you go the other route with Live’s generic version, but for those of us who would rather have something pretty to look at while we play, “Tournament of Champions” is definitely worth the extra thirty bucks.