If you've ever gathered around a table with a gang of buds who aren't particularly great at playing cards but still carry the evening with their oddball banter, then Poker Night 2 will feel very familiar. Serious poker playing often takes a backseat to the funny interactions that unfold between this group of likable misfits culled from a few well-known game and TV/film franchises. That's fine for the first few hours of entertaining antics, but as the jokes grow stale and the matches become more predictable, the charm fizzles, leaving you itching for actual human opponents to play against.
The original Poker Night at the Inventory sat you down at the card table with the Heavy from Team Fortress 2, Penny Arcade's Tycho, Max from Sam & Max, and Strong Bad from Homestar Runner for rounds of high-stakes Texas hold 'em punctuated by an abundance of wacky conversation. This time around, the return trek to the seedy underground nightclub sports an all-new cast with an equally unusual spread of characters. Brock Samson from The Venture Bros., Ash Williams from The Evil Dead, Claptrap from Borderlands, and Sam, the canine half of Telltale's anthropomorphic freelance police duo, make for a quirky crew to compete against. The addition of Portal's murderously passive-aggressive GLaDOS as the dealer rounds out the group perfectly. A humorous opening sequence leads you down into the Inventory, introduces the characters, and offers enough setup to give a touch of context to the proceedings. From there, it's time to throw down the chips and watch the silliness unfold.
Poker Night 2 sticks closely to the original game's format, though you do have the option of playing either Texas hold 'em or the somewhat more forgiving Omaha hold 'em. In either case, tournaments start with a $20,000 buy-in and progress across numerous hands until you either run out of cash and get knocked out or are the last one at the table. The AI does a decent job of betting and bluffing to keep hands interesting, and plying your opponents with inebriating beverages makes it easier to figure out their tells. That said, even when they're at full cognitive capacity, they rarely deliver the same level of challenge that you would get playing poker with even reasonably skilled human opponents. This likely won't be a big deal for less hardcore poker fans who are drawn in by the game's roster. The gameplay is enjoyable on a casual level, but it's really the characters you're playing against and their distinct personalities that make Poker Night 2 worth experiencing.
The casual storytelling vignettes, funny gags, and random conversations that strike up across the table throughout the course of each hand really make it feel like you're playing with a group of pals. Some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious, while other jokes miss the mark by a hair. GLaDOS' presence is a particular delight, though her dialogue isn't quite as diabolical as her interactions in the Portal series, and she's subsequently less funny as a result. Claptrap is a hyperactive hoot that contrasts nicely with Brock's machismo, Ash's ramblings on demonic possession, and Sam's great one-liners. Well-written dialogue and immaculate voice work draw you into the near-constant character interactions--even to the point where you stop playing at times just to pay attention to what the characters have to say.
Unfortunately, some of the humor relies too heavily on being familiar with the characters' backstories and the franchises they're pulled from. The other problem is that the dialogue grows repetitious quickly. The audio gags and discussions are amusing the first time you hear them, but they get annoying when you start hearing the same ones over and over again from one tournament to the next. While there is a lot of variety, the game burns through its stock of laughs quickly if you play a few tournaments back-to-back, since recycled phrases and stories pop up after only a couple of hours of play.
Despite its repetitive nature and limited scope, Poker Night 2 does have lots of replay value, thanks to plenty of in-game unlockables and extras. Even when you lose, playing a tournament earns you tokens based on your performance. These can be spent on drinks for opponents to give yourself the upper hand, or you can buy chip sets, tables, and other gameplay elements themed after the featured characters. Completing specific challenges within a tournament also gives you a shot at winning each character's special item, and it's possible to unlock accessories to use in Borderlands 2. Additionally, PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 owners can open up Team Fortress 2 items, Xbox Avatars, and premium themes, respectively. While these perks aren't a huge reward, they do offer some added incentive to keep playing.
A great mix of characters and ample personality give Poker Night 2 some strong pull in its early stretches. The poker play works well enough to keep you trucking along to hear all of the funny tales and to experience the dialogue vignettes. Though the outlandish character interactions are the highlight, the lack of multiplayer feels like a huge missed opportunity. Once you've seen the game's breadth of character interactions and unlocked a few extras, there's not much reason to stick around. Therefore, you'll get a lot more mileage out of Poker Night 2 in short bursts. It's fun while it lasts, but that's not very long to begin with.