When Poker Night at the Inventory was announced some time ago, I became pretty excited. A no limit Texas Hold’em Poker game featuring a cast of characters you would never expect to see together: Strong Bad from Homestar Runner and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, The Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Max from Sam and Max, and Tycho Brahe from Penny Arcade. Few details were revealed about the gameplay hooks, but at the time I anticipated a great and unique Poker game. I was wrong; the game is simply a mess.
The game begins with you entering the “Inventory,” a secret club dedicated to keeping games alive in the event any of them suffer from prohibition (Yes, prohibition). You are simply “the player” and you join the current poker table that has Strong Bad, Max, The Heavy, and Tycho at it. The characters introduce themselves and the host announces that a $10,000 buy-in is required; all parties pony up the cash and the game starts.
My first sign of trouble with the game was in the initial setup screen: once I had control, the game defaults to windowed mode and once I found a decent resolution I had to find the full screen option. I noticed immediately that the mouse was very floaty and lagged quite a bit, not a great sign for a game that is all about clicking boxes. After ruling out my PC as the culprit I realized I just had to live with the mouse annoyance.
Entering the match revealed a fairly non-standard interface for poker games. The other players’ remaining amounts and current status are along the top of the screen. Your cards are at the bottom right with the flop, turn, and river cards being dealt on the left just beside the current pot amount. The interface is fairly spread out, and at times you find yourself looking all over the screen wasting a lot of time just trying to see what exactly is happening.
Once the round begins, you are all dealt your initial two cards and then the betting opens with traditional Texas Hold’em rules. This is when the problems really start. There is no ability to set any “house” rules. Blinds are arbitrary, and you have no control over when they are raised. Betting is also cumbersome with a slide rule affair and no easy all-in option or tiered betting structure. You check, call, bet, or raise depending on the current status, and because of how floaty the mouse is, performing some of these functions is almost painful.
Further troubles are added to the process with the creative element of the branded characters. At the start of every round, the players fondle their cards, hem and haw, and occasionally have side conversations. Sometimes these force pauses, other times they do not impede play. The characters look great and are voiced quite well, expect for Tycho who just doesn’t sound right, but the nature of their dialogue adds a huge flaw to the game – because the dialogue is a constant part of the experience, it can get quite annoying quickly, not just because of the pauses in gameplay, but also because the dialogue loops after a while. Hearing Sam describe a Time Travel adventure was great the first time, not the second or third; Tycho quipping over and over about checks not being cool unless you are in fact a Czech is annoying immediately.
The other problem is progression: after I won a couple of matches I realized I would never, ever play the game again. The game is a poker simulation and that is it. This being a Telltale game, I was hoping for some basic story mode, some link to the games the other characters are from, anything. Instead all you get are potential unlocks for Team Fortress 2 and new tables, decks, and art. The game itself doesn’t change, you still start with $10,000, you play till you are the sole winner, and then you do it all over again hearing the same dialogue once again.
If the actual simulation was perfect, efficient, and full-featured, this game could be enjoyable, as the dialogue can be tweaked in the menu. As it is, the game is vanilla in its poker simulation, repetitive, and after a while grating due to the sheer annoyance of waiting for you turn while hearing the same dialogue over the course of a few rounds. Poker Night at the Inventory is a bargain-priced game at five dollars, but if a game is annoying and not fun to play, who cares how cheap it is? This is a failed opportunity from Telltale and one I hope they learn from. Poker Night at the Inventory can be found via Steam and the Telltale Games website.
Poker Night at the Inventory is rated RP (Rating Pending) by the ESRB.