Do you ever wonder what game characters do when their games aren't being played? Where do they go when the computer is turned off? Probably not – after all, when your game isn't running, the characters exist as little more than ones and zeroes on your hard drive.
Or at least that's what we're led to believe.... It seems that they really go to a warehouse where they relax until needed again. One of the ways they have to relax is by playing poker. Or at least that's the premise behind TellTale Games' "Poker Night at the Inventory." Eschewing their usual adventure game model, TellTale offers an amusing Texas Hold'em game featuring characters from four different video game franchises: Max, from the "Sam and Max" series; Strong Bad, from "Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People" and "Homestar Runner"; the Heavy from Team Fortress 2; and Tycho from Penny Arcade. The game is hosted by Winslow, who appeared in "Tales of Monkey Island."
The cost to buy into the game is $10,000, and players are eliminated after losing their money. The game follows the traditional rules of Texas Hold'em. Each player is dealt two cards, and then a round of betting takes place. After that, three cards are dealt into a community pool, and players attempt to mentally formulate a good poker hand by adding those three cards to the two they have in their hand. Another round of betting takes place, where players decide to raise the stakes or fold (get out of the round). After the betting is done, if there are any players left, another card is added to the communal pool, followed by another round of betting. A fifth card then joins the pool, followed by the final round of betting. The player with the best poker hand wins everything in the pot. However, most rounds don't make it that far, with most players folding well before that point. In this way, players can "bluff," or mislead the other players into thinking that their poker hand is better than others.
In "Poker Night at the Inventory," the player also can bluff in order to try to trick the computer-controlled opponents – and vice versa. The other characters in the game have different personalities and, surprisingly, different playstyles. Strong Bad tends to be an extremely aggressive player, while the Heavy is very defensive. Tycho tends to be cautious in his dealings. The most unpredictable would be Max, who can be a very good poker player... but only when he remembers that he's playing poker.
In addition to playing poker, the characters also tend to talk, argue and bicker. The majority of the humor in the game comes from this dialogue, as it seems that only Tycho is aware that he is a character in a video game (the others don't seem to realize this). All of the other characters act and respond entirely in character from whatever stories they come from. Unfortunately, the dialogue does get stale when played for too long. Fortunately, it's possible to turn off the dialogue – or reduce its frequency – if you choose.
The game has other limitations as well. For starters, it only offers one poker game. When compared to other card-game simulators, this is extremely disappointing. Not only that, you only have the option of playing against those four computer opponents. There is no multiplayer option, nor is there any method in changing who you will play against or the initial ante in. As you win games, you do have the option of changing the style of the cards or the setting and camera, but these are purely cosmetic differences with little to do with the gameplay.
As another hook in the game, it's possible to win items for Team Fortress 2 in the game. On occasion, one of the computer-controlled opponents will buy into the game with an item, rather than cash. By knocking out that character from the game, and then winning the game entirely, you can obtain the item. The winning object is purely cosmetic, though, and won't give you an additional edge in playing Team Fortress 2. I believe this option also is available only to those who play the game on Steam.
The game was released in 2010, and the graphics have aged well. Unfortunately, the game is not compatible with the most recent Mac operating systems – it crashes when the gameplay actually begins. Windows users shouldn't have much of a problem, though. The sound effects are decent, but the music is forgettable, and doesn't add anything to the game whatsoever.
One of the main moral concerns should be obvious – this is a game focused entirely on gambling. But in addition to that, there is often quite a bit of swearing from the dialogue – especially on Tycho's part. It's possible to turn off swearing, but the filter only blocks the strongest of the curse words. The game continues to let several "d*mns" and blaspheming through. Also, the Heavy will occasionally relate violent stories from his past, and Tycho will make a few references to bestiality which even disturb the sadistic lagomorph Max. Finally, some of the cards that can be unlocked can have some suggestive artwork.
All in all, "Poker Night at the Inventory" can be mildly entertaining, but it pales in comparison to other games of a similar genre. If you're a die-hard fan of one of the other games, or like the idea of having rare cosmetic items for your Team Fortress 2 characters, it might be worth your while to pick up the game. If you're looking for a good poker game or card simulator, though, you can bet there are nicer options out there.