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Texas Hold 'Em (Xbox 360) artwork

Texas Hold 'Em (Xbox 360) review

"It was only a matter of time until poker arrived on Xbox Live Arcade. However, is it worth it?"

It was only a matter of time until poker arrived on Xbox Live Arcade.

We already had Uno, Hardwood Hearts, and Hardwood Backgammon (don’t know what is up with the “Hardwood” title), but something was missing. Oh yes, only the most anticipated and most played card game in this day and age -- no, not Solitaire –- Texas Hold’em.

Now, unless you have never been to a party, or watch any television whatsoever, you know the gist of this particular card game. It is a game that is truly dependent on knowing when to go in, what to look for, and how much to wager per hand. You, of course, have your optimistic players that go in with an off-suited three and seven; the conservative group that will only bet if they have pocket aces; and lastly, the casual who goes all-in on every hand, hoping to bluff the opposition out of the winner’s seat. All these can be found within the world of Texas Hold’Em, and even though you cannot see your fellow competitor’s face, it is quite simple to point them out based on the first couple of hands.

The first thing that you will notice about Texas Hold’Em is the incredibly bland presentation. Though it is exciting to finally see poker on the 360, the lack of additional flair makes the title seem extremely dull. If not for the online play, this title probably wouldn’t have even sold a copy. This was actually alright for some, because if you were lucky enough to download it last week you didn’t have to pay a dime. For the first 48 hours, the game was a free download. This went unnoticed by a lot of people, and many will be forced to pay the 800 points (around 10 dollars) needed to purchase the game. Is it worth it?

You decide.

If you have absolutely no idea how to play this game, then you will have to turn to the tutorial mode. The available instructions will teach you the basics, but if you want to get a hold of the latest strategies, then you will just have to learn the hard way. And there are two ways to do this: offline or online. Both share nearly identical game options, with traditional and tournament play being the main features. You will be given a set amount of money to go in with, and with enough wins, you will be able to continue up the proverbial ladder. Perhaps with enough practice, you might one day join the ranks of Chris Moneymaker or Phil Hellmuth . . . or Chris Moneymaker anyway.

To be honest, don’t even bother with the offline mode. Unless you are really desperate for those achievement points, you’re better of spending your time online. The computer is easy to exploit, and those with any knowledge of this game whatsoever, will have no trouble picking apart the brain-dead AI. For example, throw in a meager amount at the beginning of the round to force the computer to bet. Continue to keep the betting at a minimum for a few hands, and then on the final card of the flop, go all in. Nearly every time you do this the computer will fold, giving you all the money they foolishly threw into the pot. Bluffing your pre-coded antagonists is blissfully simple and reading them is even easier.

However, the difficulty lies on the other side of the fence, and the ones responsible are the unknown denizens of Xbox Live. Unlike in reality, where you can read people through their facial expressions, the best chance you will have online is your knowledge of the game. As said before, knowing when to check, bet, and fold is essential, and playing too conservative or too loose will lead to an embarrassing defeat. Voice chat is available throughout matches and provides an interesting way to get to know the people alongside you. Trash talk in Texas Hold’em is surprisingly at a minimum (see opposite of this game), and you will find most matches to be surprisingly tame and enjoyable.

As far as your bankroll goes, you start the game at around two thousand dollars. It is persistent, so whatever you win or lose, both online or off, will be saved to your account. If you get a stroke of bad luck and forfeit all your dough, you can head over to the register and re-buy some more chips at no extra charge. What needs to be remembered is that to get into certain tournaments, you will need a high chip count. Continually playing like the drunken extra man who only came for the beer will not get you into the more heated competitions. Nevertheless, the interface is easy enough to get accustomed to, with little to no learning curve required. And if you had any plans to get rich off this, forget it; the game does not tangle with real money.

Graphically, the game sports an overhead view that makes it seem as if the camera is resting on the ceiling. The view is adjustable with the control stick, but the default setting is far and away the best choice. Unfortunately, the makers of Texas Hold’Em were not dead set on improving the visual quality of the game through high definition. There are no player models to speak of, and there is little difference between viewing the game on an SD or HD television. The text is also very small, which will occasionally cause the viewer to mistake currency numbers or player names for something else. Don’t expect a brilliant auditory experience either. The repetitive elevator music the game provides is extremely annoying, so be sure to mute your sound system before playing.

Probably the most interesting feature to look forward to in Texas Hold’Em is the Xbox Live Vision support. If it is anything like Uno, then you will be able to see your opponent’s face where their gamer icon usually rests. With this function, the game may actually play like real poker. Being able to see your friend’s reactions to opening cards, flops, and river cards is always fun to see and will certainly allow you to improve your game. The camera will be out in mid-September, so look for it around that time.

If there was one word to describe Texas Hold’Em at the end of the day, it would be this: average. Little effort was put into this to distinguish itself from similar titles -- and it shows. The mediocre presentation, aggravating music, and lame AI make it a questionable purchase, but this game will always have one advantage over its competitors. And that is its price tag. If you were lucky enough to download this within the first 48 hours, then enjoy. Otherwise, you will have to pay a fee, but truthfully, it is worth it. The online play coupled with the upcoming camera functionality will definitely provide a fun way to pass away the afternoon. Come on . . . this is poker we’re talking about here!

destinati0n's avatar
Staff review by Branden Barrett (September 01, 2006)

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