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Texas Hold 'Em (Xbox 360) artwork

Texas Hold 'Em (Xbox 360) review

"The question here should not be whether Texas Hold ‘Em is fun or not, it should be whether TIK Games did a faultless job of converting it to the Live Arcade environment. The answer to that question is no. "

I may not quite be World Series material, but I’ve played enough Texas Hold ‘Em to know that holding off-suit K-Q when you’re sitting to the right of the dealer is a good place to be. I was swiftly losing patience with the whole thing after a succession of what had to be more than “bad luck” (I have my suspicions, TIK Games!), but then I landed this hand. So there I was, feeling damn confident about my position while watching everybody limp in by calling the $20 Big Blind. Just as I was considering how much to raise these suckers, HALOFAN124 placed a bet of $500.

Now this shook me. I was slightly worried about the pair, of course, but I held my nerve and called to see the flop: King of Clubs, Four of Hearts, Six of Hearts. There was a possible flush, but I had my pair of Kings, so when the option to check came round to me, I opened with $250. Then HALOFAN124 raised me another $250.

At this point I was really worried and hoping that I would see another King. After a Two of Diamonds, a Jack of Hearts and a lot of chewed nails I got just what what I wanted: the King of Spades. Me and HALOFAN124 were the only ones left by this stage. He checked, I raised -- then he went all in! I had to call. Then you wait, ‘cause the XBLA version of Texas Hold ‘Em likes to make you sweat as it slowly reveals both the cards and the winning percentage... ... Janus79056: 100% -- three of a kind.

HALOFAN2222124: 0% -- one pair. He went all in on a pair of sevens!

There’s bluffing and then there’s outright stupidity, but so it goes in the unpredictable world of XBox Live poker. Each table gathers a maximum of eight players, and initially you can never be sure who knows what they’re doing and who’s going to take some wildly embarrassing risks. Turning your cards over to reveal sevens after you’ve gone all in with Kings and three Hearts on the board doesn’t make you look particularly cunning. In tournaments it’s easier to avoid these lunatics, as the “all in, all the time” strategy doesn’t fair too well, but things can get frustrating when there’s no consistency in $50000 contests. Scoring massive wins over these suicide players may not be too difficult if you wait for a great hand, but being shut out by moronic all in bets grows tiresome.

That’s always going to be the way when people aren’t throwing their own money down the drain, however Texas Hold ‘Em is still a lot of fun when you find a good crowd to play with. You can play no-limit, limit or pot-limit, but it seems most people congregate in the no-limit rooms, which can lead to some nerve-wracking encounters as you hold onto the desperate hope that no one betters your trip tens, even as a second Queen comes out on the river. Unlike most other Live titles, the trash-talking nerds are at a minimum, too. Most of the time people don’t seem keen to talk, so the relevance of the Vision Camera seems debatable, but when they do matches tend to be that much more entertaining.

It doesn’t take long for the morons to rear their scheming heads, though. Tournaments, which should really be the ultimate test of XBLA poker ability, are reduced to a farce as players sit and let the computer auto-fold for them in order to limp into the later stages. These idiots receive no penalty for their behavior. The other players do, though, as they’re forced to suffer through stop-and-start matches. There really needs to be some sort of way of countering this auto-fold strategy, because it can wreck the experience of tournament play and lose you a lot of money. This means you have to go back to the low buy-in tables and work your way back up again, hopefully avoiding the cheaters.

This is poker on XBox Live -- that’s about all you say about the talent TIK Games have shown in developing this title. They’ve brought it into the online arena, but you can’t say they have excelled at this. Aside from the auto-fold issue, connecting to games can be a real challenge and the usual “custom game” option that lets you see all the tables and pick one is redundant. Instead it basically serves the same purpose as the “quick match” feature, inserting you blindly into any old game. When the host leaves it never switches to another player, either, which means that you can spend ages connecting and waiting to become active in a game, only to find that there’s no chance of new people joining.

I’m skeptical of the whole “random chance” element of this brand of Texas Hold ‘Em, too! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve made perfectly legitimate folds only to go on to discover that I would have had a flush or a full house, and I had a Royal Flush within 200 hands which, when I’ve never had one in years of real-life poker, is beyond lucky. But hey, beating those odds of 649,739-1 will never feel quite as good online.

Texas Hold ‘Em is tense, frustrating and deeply rewarding all at once. It’s a game that can consume your life as you hold out at 2:00AM for that one last great hand to finish on, but I already knew all this. I already knew how much fun it would be to play on XBox Live with my custom soundtrack blaring over the immaculate tables and with seven other players in my ear constantly. The only way I couldn’t have an incredible time with this set-up was if TIK Games had proved totally incompetent. While they didn’t ruin it completely, they made a pretty good go at it with the niggling faults that have crept into the experience. The question here should not be whether Texas Hold ‘Em is fun or not, it should be whether TIK Games did a faultless job of converting it to the Live Arcade environment. The answer to that question is no.

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Staff review by Freelance Writer (September 03, 2006)

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