Mediocre Gameplay, Fantastic Narrative
Poker Night at the Inventory is a poker game developed by Telltale, which drops you into a seat at one of the world’s most secretive gambling dens, and lets you face off against four famous characters from video games and the internet in a good old-fashioned game of no-holds-barred Texas Hold ‘Em. Considering that Telltale first got their start with a poker game back in 2004, it’s not surprising that six years later one of the most notable poker-based video games on the market has been developed by the same company. Your charming competitors in this game of gambling, intimidation, and judgement are Max from the Sam & Max games, Strong Bad from the web series Homestar Runner, the Heavy from class-based shooter Team Fortress 2, and Tycho Brahe from the Penny Arcade web comics.
For the most part the rules are that of a simple poker game; everyone buys in with the same amount of cash, there are no limits to the amount you can bet, and the blinds are raised at specific intervals. As an added bonus you can also unlock items for use in Team Fortress 2 through play, but the real draw of Poker Night at the Inventory is seeing all of the characters in one place, displaying their characteristic flairs, and interacting with each other in a bizarre yet fantastic clashing of fictional worlds.
All the characters are visually well-recreated, with Max looking just as good as he has in the recent Sam & Max games, the Heavy appearing to have even more facial detail than he did in Team Fortress 2, and Tycho and Strong Bad being fittingly rendered with an eye-catching cell-shading effect. The animations for the characters are enjoyable to watch, with each character displaying body language indicative of their personalities, from the Heavy slamming his fist down on the table when folding his cards, to Tycho coolly slouching back in his chair while everyone else is playing. The UI, the environment, and the smooth jazz soundtrack are also effective at invoking the atmosphere of the old-fashioned gambling den you’re playing in.
By far the best part of the game is the dialogue. Telltale manages to capture the personalities of the characters perfectly. Max is still a scatterbrained lover of violence, Strong Bad is still an arrogant braggart, the Heavy is still a trigger-happy stereotypical Russian, and Tycho is still a cold-hearted nerd. Voice acting for Max, Strong Bad and the Heavy is as good as ever, and although it takes a little getting used to, they do a good job putting a voice to Tycho, a character who has never before spoken outside of the confines of speech bubbles. These strong voice performances are backed up by equally good, if not better writing. The characters off-the-cuff quips are almost always entertaining and often highly amusing, and the game’s golden moments lie in the situations where the characters talk amongst themselves.
Unfortunately, despite the undeniably high quality of the script, and the way in which it is delivered, the dialogue itself can occasionally be the downfall of Poker Night at the Inventory. The speech will sometimes get in the way of the gameplay, with players being forced to sit through dialogue sections before the next hand is dealt, but a far more relevant problem is that there’s only a finite amount of dialogue in the game, and after a certain amount of time the dialogue will repeat itself. Several hours in I felt like I’d heard most of what the game had to say, and while the game’s library of well thought-out rants and light-hearted one-liners is by no means small, the game hits a point where it runs out of tricks. While the “chattiness” of the characters can be turned down and dialogue can be disabled entirely, doing so disables the very thing which defines the game to begin with.
When the sound, visuals, and other charms of Poker Night at the Inventory are stripped away you aren’t left with a whole lot. Remember that the game only lets you play one variant of poker, has no multiplayer, and does not let you customise your games in any way, making it a very character-centric experience.
In the end whether Poker Night at the Inventory is the game for you all depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re just looking for a video game you can play poker in then there are far better alternatives to Poker Night at the Inventory, however, if you know some of or most of the characters in the game, and are willing to put down £3.25 for a few hours of soaking in the quirk and fun nature of Max, Strong Bad, the Heavy, and Tycho, then this game is everything you’ll want it to be.