Like 1999's Monopoly Casino, Monopoly Casino Vegas Edition attempts to bring the allure of the casino to the PC. For this year's edition, developer/publisher Infogrames has thankfully toned down the seemingly nonsensical Monopoly connection, added several new variations of casino games, and generally spruced up the presentation to make things look and sound less cartoonlike. Nonetheless, the series remains a lackluster substitute for the real thing and therefore is recommended only to the seriously addicted or those who want to learn the rules of certain games before their next trip to the desert.
It's not that this iteration of Monopoly Casino is a bad game. In fact, it effectively translates the workings of virtually every popular casino game in existence--and then some. The coin-popping crowd will satiate its urges through no less than three progressive jackpot slot machines, three more animated video slot machines, six standard slots, four progressive jackpot video poker machines, and a half-dozen standard video poker machines. Table fanatics can head on over to the roulette wheel, the black jack or craps tables, the more complex pai gow poker and sic bo stations, or any one of six variations of poker. Of course, no self-respecting casino would be complete without a glowing keno board or spinning money wheel, and Monopoly Casino obliges on both these counts as well. The old church favorite, bingo, rounds out what is a truly impressive array of games.
Yet, Monopoly Casino goes much further than that. If you don't like the rules and regulations as they're handed out, you need only move and click the mouse a few times to change them. You may opt to begin with a $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 limit. You may opt to increase or reduce table and machine limits or the number of participating players, or you can modify a battery of betting options. In the end, you'll find most every gameplay variant available to a real player. But in spite of all this, you won't find the most important ingredient of all--the thrills and spills of a true Vegas experience.
To begin with, the game offers no multiplayer support and therefore lacks the excitement that comes only from playing with and against real people. Apparently, the Internet multiplayer element of the original game simply wasn't popular enough to warrant another go, although why Infogrames couldn't build a head-to-head single-computer option remains a mystery. Furthermore, none of the virtual competitors have a face or voice and are instead represented merely by Monopoly tokens. Certainly, some of the dynamics that come from trouncing your poker-playing peer are lost when that peer is nothing but a tiny race car or thimble. By comparison, Microsoft Casino didn't support multiplayer gaming either, but at least it had the common decency to put an animated head and voice to each of its virtual players.
What's rather more problematic is the simple fact that Monopoly Casino--or any PC casino game, for that matter--doesn't give players the opportunity to win and lose real money. Few would argue that the most obvious allure of most casino games is the potentially big payoff that lies at the end and the very real hoops you have to negotiate to get there, but you won't get any of that in a computerized depiction. The hard truth is that games of pure chance, such as slot machines, video poker, roulette, and keno, can become horribly dull very quickly when the entry fees and rewards are merely imagined. Games that require more skill, like poker, do offer more substance and therefore are more interesting, particularly if you've previously been too shy or too uninformed to step up to a table in real life. But even then, the very digital nature of your opponents and Infogrames' generally uninspired presentation hamper any potential excitement.
Essentially, Monopoly Casino's ambience is far removed from that of a real casino. You're initially offered a third-person image of a casino floor, which, although substantially prettier and less Monopoly-obsessed than it was in the 1999 original, remains motionless and very two-dimensional. From this static viewpoint, you'll select and immediately be transported to your favorite game--and you won't be able to walk the floor, take in a show, order a libation, or foolishly hit upon a cocktail waitress along the way.
Once "seated," you'll look on at your attractively designed table or machine from a pseudo-first-person perspective. At the lower left of the screen is a multifaceted little icon-based menu that allows you to modify gameplay options to your liking. You'll initiate actions through a button bar that appears just across the bottom of the screen and adjust and place your bets through another icon-based menu at the lower right of the screen. Certainly, this system lets you do practically anything you want, although its layout does seem more confusing than it needs to be.
The only voice you'll hear is that of the dealer or table person. Otherwise, the game's soundscape is dominated by low-volume casino clatter and an assortment of marginally enjoyable jazzy musical selections. The realistic sounds of shuffling cards and your own noisy slot machine do serve to make things less generic, although big wins and big losses do not, unfortunately, activate any special effects. Even complete and total bankruptcy means nothing--you then merely reenter your name and bankroll and start again.
If you're in training for your next Vegas excursion or if casino games are a deep dark mystery, Monopoly Casino Vegas Edition does supply a solid stomping ground. The mechanics of each game seem believable, and the game's manual supplies a good introduction to a bevy of the most popular betting pastimes. But for the thrills of a true casino experience and the ecstasy and terror that comes only though gambling and losing and winning real money, computerized simulations have a long way to go. Tumbling dice, spinning dials, and rotating roulette wheels are far less compelling when the environment is this sanitized and this safe.