Like any casual poker game, the quality of Poker Night 2 hinges on the players involved. So when the conversation runs dry during an already boring--and sometimes flawed--game, it's time to fold and go home.
The multifarious cast of characters is the immediate draw of Poker Night 2. Brock Samson from the Venture Bros., Ash Williams from The Evil Dead films and video games, the robot Claptrap from Borderlands, and Sam from Sam & Max are all here to take your money, or lose theirs trying. Overseeing the proceedings and dealing the cards is none other than the malignant super computer GLaDOS of Portal.
The context for this roster is scarce: you arrive at a back-alley dive bar, complete with poker table and bar, the latter of which is tended by Borderlands' Moxxi. After the initial setup, dialogue is center stage and, for the first hour or so, the charming stories and hilarious quips make the experience worthwhile.
Claptrap's "malfunctioning speech drive" and Max's rants over Sam's shoulder are entertaining, but that's only until they're repeated. After only three games of Texas Hold 'Em, Sam told the same two-minute story he did when the first game began. Claptrap powered down because of a bad hand three times in that same time period. In a game supported mainly by its writing, it's foreboding to see it repeated so early into Poker Night 2.
Characters' lines are often tied to specific events, like Brock losing all of his money in a showdown, or Ash waiting for the flop after a lucky hand. There are a lot of laughable taunts and stories to be heard when these situations arise, but you'll likely hear the same ones repeated over and over again before you stumble upon something new; it's all the more tedious when the game mechanics themselves don't work.
In a game of Omaha--essentially Texas Hold 'Em but with four-card hands--I was waiting with bated breath to see the three I needed to make a straight, beat my opponent's two pair, and win the hand. The three came up and, while I was busy celebrating, I heard GLaDOS' voice declare that all I had was a pair. I lost the pot, and most of my money, too. Poker Night 2 didn't recognize that I had a much better hand than my opponent, and I lost because of it.
From then on, I was nervous every time I placed a bet. I couldn't actually play poker, because I wasn't confident that Poker Night 2 would let me. Although there are minor miscalculations with players' chips and bets every once in a while, the infamous "chainsaw debacle" made me hesitant to let the characters drive the experience while I suffered through the flawed gameplay.
The screen froze about 30 times over the course of a couple dozen games, making the wait until the next hand or endearing comment from Sam, the bipedal canine, excruciating at some points. There isn't much happening on screen, so it's surprising to see such frequent pauses in the animations of every character at the table.
The interface is streamlined for a controller, and it succeeds in simplifying the HUD, but sacrifices a few valuable pieces of information in the process. There was never any indication of how much money I had riding on each pot, so I either had to base my bets off of how many chips I had in reserve, or just throw caution to the wind and not care. After a few games, this paid off, and I completed my first bet of bounties.
These sets of three challenges task you with objectives such as stealing a pot, placing in third or higher in a tournament, or winning a showdown with a better kicker, in the hopes of acquiring each character's specific bounty item. These range from Sam's banjo to Ash's Necronomicon. Once earned, these items can unlock character skins in Borderlands 2; with all of the technical problems in Poker Night 2 though, they're not worth the trudge.