We had an opportunity to check out 2K Sports' upcoming poker video game at a recent press event. World Poker Tour is based on the real-life poker tour of the same name and includes all the graphical accoutrements that fans who watch WPT events on cable television are already familiar with. The theme song and the style of the interface overlay are lifted directly out of the WPT television broadcasts. WPT commentators Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten will also provide play-by-play commentary, solidifying the connection between the game and the TV show. Even Shana Hiatt, the fetching WPT TV show host, makes cameo appearances in some of the game's video tutorials.
The game is endorsed by a number of actual poker pros, each of whom has contributed advice on both the game's general poker AI and the poker style of their in-game characters. These well-known pros include Phil "the Unabomer" Laak, Antonio Esfandiari, Erick Lindgren, Michael Mizrachi, Evelyn Ng, and Lyle Berman. Sexton and Van Patten also appear as poker players in certain modes. Further completing the game's sense of authenticity are a handful of real-life card rooms and casinos, such as the Bicycle and Commerce Casino near Los Angeles, The Aviation Club in France, Foxwoods in Connecticut, and Bay 101 near San Jose, California. Rounding out the settings available in-game are a few fantasy locations, one of which is a fictional casino in Aruba.
The first thing you'll do in World Poker Tour is create your avatar. There are 50 different variables you can tweak to build your character's body and face, as well as 500 different clothing accessories. However, most of those accessories will need to be unlocked. As you play through the game and achieve special goals (which can include hitting a three of a kind or beating a full house), you'll earn tokens that are used to unlock the more desirable clothing items.
Your character starts off with a mere $1,000. You can earn money by playing a single game, known as a quick draw. Here you can select from different options, starting with the game type. World Poker Tour will ship with 14 styles of poker ranging from your more typical hold 'em and seven-card stud, to exotic types like pineapple and Tahoe. You can also select a casino to play in, the betting structure (limit, no limit, pot limit), the skill level of your opponents, and even the amount of time before the blinds are raised.
There's also a career mode in World Poker Tour that mimics the real-life version. You'll start off on the amateur circuit, attempting to win your way into events via satellites or super satellites. Once you've achieved a big enough bankroll, you'll be able to outright buy into the big tournaments for a $10,000 buy-in. Over the course of 18 different events in two different tiers, you'll be fighting to stay within the top six on the money list, which will qualify you for the Battle of Champions finale. The only game type played in the career mode is no-limit Texas hold 'em, and like in the real-life World Poker Tour, tables are limited to six players, not a full 10 or 11 like you may be used to in most casinos.
Perhaps the most exciting feature in World Poker Tour is the create-a-game option. Using this option you can create almost any variation of poker you can imagine--you can specify wildcards, drawing rounds, shared boards, and discards, and you can even have players pass cards to their left or right in between betting rounds. The developers boast that the poker AI is flexible enough to adapt to any game you create, and you'll be able to take your special game creations online over Xbox Live and challenge up to five other players with your created game type. Of course, the 14 standard game types are also playable online.
As for how the game actually plays once you're seated at the table, the action in the build we tried was quick and crisp. You can see your hole cards even before the dealer has finished his dealing animation, which lets you immediately think about the move you're going to make. There are a number of useful menu options available to you at the table. One option tracks the stats of every other player at the table, so you can see what percentage of flops that person sees, how often that character will raise or fold, and other useful information. All of that information is tracked online as well, so when you sit at a table with a bunch of new players, you can quickly appraise from the statistics what sort of competition you're up against. You can also get a recap of the hand's action if you forget, so you can quickly remind yourself which player bet out or raised on current or previous rounds of betting.
With its numerous features, including online play over Xbox Live and the PlayStation 2, World Poker Tour promises to be a worthwhile poker video game for home consoles. Currently World Poker Tour is slated to ship this fall for the Xbox, the PS2, and the Game Boy Advance.