To say that there are a lot of online Poker games is quite the understatement. With how popular Texas Hold 'Em has become, it's no wonder the market has been flooded by them. In this vein, Microsoft has just released a new installment called Full House Poker, a card game where you use your own avatar to compete with both computer players and Xbox Live members. But, is Full House Poker a good experience or is it a few cards short of a full deck?
If you've ever played Hold 'Em before, you know how the system works. If you haven't, it's fairly simple. Each player is dealt two cards that remain secret from everyone else. Throughout the course of each hand, up to five community cards can be played that everyone can use to make the best hand they possibly can. As always, the game is all about playing the odds.
The single player is actually quite fun and the AI don't seem to be complete bone heads. They'll try and bluff you out of betting, will bait you into betting more if they have a really good hand, and much more. You can play at tables with 2, 6, or 10 people and the games move fairly quickly. There are also matches called Pro Takedowns in which you go 1v1 against an advanced AI player and the first person to bust the other wins the tournament.
However, online mode is where all the fun really begins. The tournaments never were fully staffed with players, so unfortunately I wasn't able to try them, but the casual game mode was more than enough to get a good idea of how it would play. Like the single player, you can play at a table of 2-10 players. While the matches move much slower than the single player, the interactions and strategy make this mode much more engaging. With the added voice chat feature, I had an incredibly enjoyable time chatting with the other players, joking about our hands, and admiring our courage when we went all in (to non-poker players, that means that you bet everything you have). I logged on to play, and before I knew it, I had spent 4-5 hours in the same spot on my couch. Needless to say, the replay value is limitless.
Unlike a lot of online poker sites, you don't use actual money but rather digital chips. Even though there isn't the fear of losing your hard earned cash, there is still an intense desire to not lose your chips. There is an infinite amount that you can buy back with (i.e. if you run out of chips, you can "buy back" into the game), but even then, you really don't want to have to do that. The game also offers a leveling system with XP with a max level of 50. Each level you earn unlocks achievements, different poker rooms you can play in, new furniture you can access to make your poker room unique, new costumes, and also new pro takedown challenges.
But what about the presentation. Well, the simple fact that I was able to play for multiple hours without noticing says a lot. The graphics are great and the poker rooms are unique and fun. The design works well and your avatar looks great in the game and also gives it a great personal touch. One of my fellow players said it best: "It finally gives us a chance to show off all the costumes we've bought on the XBLA store." The music is wonderfully lounge-y and jazzy. It's true background music and is not meant to stick out; it compliments the gameplay wonderfully and has excellent quality. I consistently found myself absent mindedly tapping my foot along. The animations are fun and work well. On the whole, the design was a great success.
Being a big poker fan (yes, I have watched the Poker World Series), Full House Poker was an extremely refreshing experience! The great gameplay, the fun multiplayer mode, and awesome design allowed for a truly fun and inviting environment to play in. Poker fans who own an Xbox 360 need to snatch this up. Even non-poker fans will find themselves being pulled into the game. In short, give this a try.