Telltale Texas Hold'em Or: Why You Should Care About Telltale Texas Hold'em
A Critical Review written at about 2 in the morning by David "Campy 1960's Hanna-Barbera™ Villain" Eggers
With the resurgance of news and features on The International House of Mojo, I've somehow made my way back to updating the site as well, fairweather staffer that I am. The gobs of news in question, if you haven't been reading the site for awhile, have come mostly from the multiple non-Lucas companies recently receiving fanboy coverage on Mixnmojo: Infinite Machine, Double Fine, Autumn Moon, and Telltale Games.
In case you've been clueless about all the new news categories and stuff popping up on Mojo in the last year, Mojo covers these other companies because they employ, or are run by, former LucasArts people who we have come to admire through their past work on our favorite classic games, for the most part. Telltale Games is no different bec-... well, actually it is. See, Telltale Games was set up by a lot of people who were working hard on the much-anticipated-by-Mojo sequel to Sam and Max Hit the Road, until it was cancelled early in 2004.
These guys, Telltale, jumped ship, and set up a shop of their own, just down the road. The Telltale crew, as they now stand, haven't got a lot for us to look back on fondly... yet. Though Telltale hasn't yet shipped a major title, they've already captured the attention of the MojoSphere™ with what little we were able to glimpse from the sorely-missed Sam and Max: Freelance Police, and their just-announced adventure title Bone has started to raise some eyebrows. So, that said, here we are. Onto the game.
Telltale Texas Hold'em is exactly what it sounds like. It's a card game -- Texas Hold'em -- from recently established adventure house Telltale Games. But "WTF?" you type angrily. You're right, it's not an adventure game. It's a character driven, single-player PC poker game, built with the Telltale engine -- a game-making tool modeled after the engine developed for Freelance Police's (which you may have seen in action in the few screenshots and videos released for that game). Telltale Texas Hold'em stars four computer-controlled opponents, each one with different playing styles and personality traits.
Since Texas Hold'em itself is an already-established game in yon real world, you can't really discuss Telltale's originality in engineering that aspect of TTTH, except to say that yes, it feels like you're playing poker. What separates Telltale Texas Hold'em from your standard PC cardgame, though, is the way it's all presented: the banter between the characters, their facial expressions, the living-cohesive feel of sitting at the table should impress adventure fans, even those who might normally shy away from action/arcade elements.
There are definitely adventure elements to the game, chiefly that you must read the characters' responses to your actions and what gets dealt to them (it helps to turn subtitles on, too). The simplicity and sheer fun of the card game itself is an effective framework to demonstrate Telltale's ability to create a character-driven game, without really having a previous title for players to show that they have the right stuff to create a graphic adventure.
As far as replay value goes, it will vary from player to player. I think, however, that if you've never played much poker and aren't into card games much, you'll find that this one is easy to learn, and pretty addictive once you get started. If you're already a poker expert, however, you will be disappointed by the lack of options for difficulty, number of players, stakes, and other such pokery things. You will probably also walk all over the computer opponents if you're experienced in the game. I suspect, however, that the card game aspect of Telltale Texas Hold'em was secondary to Telltale's wanting to demonstrate their focus on characters and get their name out to the public.