World Series of Poker: TOC (2007 Ed)ESRB:
Developer – Left Field Productions
Publisher – Activision
2-8 Players Online
The World Series of Poker video game franchise makes a triumphant return with World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions 2007 Edition for the PSP. Based on the popular gambling tournament World Series of Poker, this years version takes a story based approach where you start out as the new kid in town trying to make a name for yoruself. As a young pro playing pro tournaments and circuit events, your goal is to qualify for the ‘Big Show’ of all Poker games, the invitation-only Tournament of Champions at the Rio Resort in Las Vegas. Overall, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions is a giant leap from last years version of the franchise however there are some concerns which hold this game back from being the Royal Flush of Poker games.
In terms of the visuals, I was impressed considering the limitations of the PSP. For a Poker game it appears the developers did spend considerable amount of time on the overall presentation and look of the game. The following visuals really stood out for me:
- The player models look good and the poker stars are easily recognizable;
- The environments including backgrounds look realistic and vary each tournament; and
- The load times are decent and the frame rate is smooth.
As far as the player visuals are concerned World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions does a pretty good job compared to other Poker games on the PSP. Poker stars such as Chris Ferguson, Scotty Nguyen, and Tom Franklin do look like their real-life counterparts. There also seems to be some nice variety with the AI players clothing and appearance. It’s hard to find any two players that look similar which is something I did not expect with a game of this nature. Also, Ienjoyed the fact I could customize my players looks with such things as hair, facial features, clothing, gender and even voice. Bottomline, the players looked sharp and appear improved over last year’s version of the franchise.
In addition I was impressed with the poker environments of the game including the varied tables, spectators and lighting. Even the ugly casino carpets are accurately represented in the game. You certainly get the dull and often intense casino room feeling when playing the game. This is not a bad thing, but there is just no joking around at the poker table in World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions. The spectators in the background are also a nice touch. The only problem is that they do not move or interact in any way throughout the game. Perhaps a little more could have been done in this area, even a simple little applause motion at the end of the game would have been a nice addition.
One of my main areas of concern with the visuals is the chip count at the table as the players never seem to play the correct amount of chips. I understand the PSP has limitations however when I have 5 bucks left and go ‘all in’, I should not have a stack of chips in front of me. This was often the case in this game. I seem to recall some chip issues in ‘Stacked’ as well. Makes me wonder if it’s an issue with PSP or is it something developers aren’t paying much attention to. In any event it’s area which should certainly be addressed for the next instalment. I should not always have to rely on the dollar count indicated beside each player’s name.
As far as the sound is concerned, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions is sufficient and on par with other card/puzzle games for the PSP. As with the graphics, the following sounds stood out for me:
- The players and announcer dialogue is clear and to the point;
- The noisy Las Vegas casino atmosphere adds to the gameplay; and
- The overall presentation and sounds of the game are true to their real-life counterpart.
The first thing I must mention is the horrible hacking/coughing sound which seemingly sounds off every minute or so. The sound is really bad and incredibly distracting. There was one point when I brought my PSP into the kitchen while I was chatting with my wife. The only time you could hear the game in the background was when the guy with the bad throat hacked up a lung. The first time she heard the hack, she said “what the heck was that?” I laughed and said it was the game. It was so bad that it was even distracting the conversation I was having with my wife. I eventually had to shut down the game. Although funny in the instance described above, the hacking is a sore point and a huge annoyance in the audio department.
As far as the players and announcers are concerned, their voices are clear and sound quite sharp. I really enjoyed the fact I could customize my players voice and it is certainly a nice little touch which only adds to the depth of the game. The comments from other players around the table are perfect too. So in other words there is not too much yapping and it is basically what you would expect from a real poker game. The commentary by ESPN’s World Series of Poker announcers Norman Chad and Lon McEachern is good and adds yet another element to the realism of the game.
With regards to the Vegas-like casino atmosphere, the background noise (with the exception of the guy with laryngitis) is enjoyable. It is repetitive but doesn’t really distract you from the gameplay. The good thing about World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions is that all the audio options are controllable. So if something really bothers you there is the option of turning it off.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions is enjoyable. Much of my time was spent in career mode. You start out as an ordinary Joe in a weekly home game against some buddies. Chris “Jesus” Ferguson shows up at the game as the dealer and eventually recruits you on route to the Tournament of Champions. Even though I finished last in the game against my buddies, “Jesus” saw something in me and took me under his wing. Initially there are four casinos with four events each and after you build some credibility and win some events you play the final round at the Rio in Las Vegas. In order to move on you must earn points in the various preliminary tournaments. So you have to win or at least get to the final tables to advance but if you loose and you stay put. The concept is simple yet effective and addicting.
Throughout your quest to get to the ‘Big Show’ of Poker tournaments you will match up against over 20 of the worlds top poker players. Apparently, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions features the most poker pros every collected in a video game. Some pro players included in the game are Scotty Nguyen, Men Nguyen, Antonio Esfandiari, Phil Laak, TJ Cloutier, Kristy Gazes, Clonie Gowen, Andrew Black, and Joe Hachem. Also, Jennifer Tilly is also thrown into the game. Initially I was quite surprised to find out Jennifer is an avid poker player. For instance, in 2005, Tilly won a World Series of Poker bracelet (and $158,625) in the Ladies' No-Limit Texas Hold 'Em event, outlasting 600 other players. She followed up this accomplishment on September 1, 2005 by also winning the third World Poker Tour Ladies Invitational Tournament held at the Bicycle Casino in Los Angeles. It was certainly a nice touch adding her into the game. Unfortunately, local British Columbia, Canada poker legend and good friend Greg Mueller (aka: ‘FBT’) is nowhere to be seen in the game.
Fortunately, the pros in World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions do not play much like their real-life counterparts. In fact, I didn’t notice much of difference from one player to the next. Some are a little more aggressive than others but that is virtually the only difference. Nevertheless, the AI is intelligent and you realize quickly they are not predictable which makes the game realistic. My only complaint in this area is the amount of re-raises prior to the flop, however other than that I have no real concerns with the gameplay itself.
Overall, World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions is meant for someone who has played the game or at least dabbled in a game of Texas Hold em’ or two. Unlike Stacked, there is no poker school or tutorial, however the left trigger option provides you with a strength of your hand stat which I found very handy. In many ways, I found that particular option better than the Stacked’s tutorial school. At least this way I don’t have to listen to Daniel Negreanu’s annoying voice every time I need a poker tip.
I should also mention the unlockable tools available throughout the game. Again a nice touch and they serve to only assist you in getting to the Tournament of Champions. For instance with successful wins, you can unlock tools where you now have the ability to check the odds of hitting various hands at every stage of the deal. The unlockables also allow you to check the rank of your hand, and the percentages of the hands your opponents.
There is also a multiplayer component in World Series of Poker: Tournament of Champions. The multiplayer option includes up to eight players. The majority of your time will be with the online tournaments. As like any other online poker game, it moves at a snails pace. After playing the single player on ‘fast’, where you blast through player hands, the online game is incredibly slow. When there is real money on the line, it’s not a problem but as you already know there is no real money when playing on a portable console. Overall the game is a lag free experience and pretty enjoyable online.
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