The World Series of Poker continues to gain popularity with cash prizes of $12 million. It’s no wonder that almost 9,000 players were vying for a spot in this year’s championship. Activision is hoping that the same popularity will apply to the virtual form of the tournament with their first Xbox 360 card title, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions. While the core game of poker is in-tact, the developers have added some nice bells and whistles that will appeal to fans of the tournament as well as fans of good old fashioned seven card stud.
The single-player campaign is pretty much what you would expect. Create a character and try to work your way to the bigger tournaments. Character creation is where the Xbox 360 version really stands out in the genre. For the first time, you can use the Vision camera to create a digital representation of yourself in the game. The process is simple enough, but what we discovered in attempting to import our pictures was that lighting is key. If the room is too dark, the game will reject your images and cause you to take the images over. When you finally get your face in the game, it can actually be quite creepy seeing your own face in the game.
There are many other options you can tweak such as clothing and apparel which you unlock as you progress through the single-player campaign. You can also edit your own personal poker room with different items gained by winning certain tournaments. There is also a bevy of “Collector’s Chips” than can be obtained by defeating certain pros.
There is certainly plenty to see and do in the single-player campaign, and of course don’t forget the collection of Achievements which mostly consist of making it to the final table of specific tournaments. You can also take your created player online complete with your own face. It sure will be interesting to see some of the faces behind these Gamertags, or perhaps it’s better not to see them.
The foundation of any good poker game though is the AI of your opponents, and WSoP: ToC is certainly no slouch. Players will bet aggressively and raise you when they think you may be bluffing. While some hands are lost simply to bluffs you didn’t catch or hands that you think you have in the bag, most of the time players will not feel cheated by the AI and once you find your comfort zone, the game will move along at a much nicer pace. You can of course click through the computers choices to speed up the game, which is nice for hands you have folded early in or tournaments with large numbers of players.
The game is also chock full of celebrities from the tournament such as, Chris “Jesus” Ferguson, and even actress turned poker star, Jennifer Tilly. The downside is that the AI is not enhanced for these professionals and they feel like any other opponent in the game. It is still cool to be playing alongside some of these famous poker stars and it really adds to the game, especially if you are a fan of the tournaments in real life.
The visuals are certainly light years beyond any other title in the genre, but they still fail to push the power of the Xbox 360. The Digimask feature (the mode where you scan your own face into the game) is lots of fun, but it also shows some of the flaws in the standard player models already in the game. The animations are also a bit stiff compared to other titles, and little details such as throwing the incorrect amount of chips on a bet are noticeable, but for a poker game it certainly stands miles above in other title before it.
The audio is also a mixed bag. The general player chatter is certainly welcome, but you will hear many lines repeat, early and frequently. The commentary is also limited although it does feature Lon McEachern and Norman Chad from the official tournaments on ESPN, which is a nice touch. Thankfully you can opt for custom soundtracks as the default music seems much like an afterthought and an annoyance.
Overall, WSoP: ToC is certainly a step in the right direction for poker games, and with some tweaks to the AI system and improved visuals it could easily stay on top of the genre for years to come. Activision has done a nice job of taking a popular franchise and doing it justice as opposed to slapping together a cheap card game simply to cash in on the popularity of the World Series of Poker. Definitely recommended for fans of card games and multi-player titles in general.