Poker Club Review (PS5) – Hitting The River
After overcoming some early issues, Poker Club has become an adequate poker simulator that’s a little too cumbersome to challenge the stars in the genre. The Finger Guns Review.
Patience is a virtue for poker players. Whether it’s waiting for the right cards to play or if its grinding out hands to outlast those impulsive players, patience can be the difference between an early exit and making the final table. Patience is something the developers Ripstone Games have asked players to exercise with their new title Poker Club. Described by Ripstone as “the most immersive poker simulation ever made”, Poker Club had its fair share of issues in the first 2 weeks after release.
Invisible player models that never load. Rejections when joining a table. Getting kicked from a match and losing any cash involved in the game. Games that just hang up and fail to proceed despite everyone at the table having performed their actions. Simple game crashes. Maybe Ripstone underestimated how popular their game would be or maybe there was a bug in the system – either way, the launch window for Poker Club was beset by problems. Early reviews certainly reflect that.
To Ripstone’s credit, all of those issues with Poker Club listed above have either been fixed entirely or happen far less frequently. I played for 6 hours straight on the day before publishing this and I hadn’t experienced a single technical hiccup like those above. There’s still the occasional moment when there’s a few second delay between a player call/fold/checking and the next card being drawn. These have yet to evolve into anything other than an opportunity to check my phone while the game catches up. There’s a few other issues that should be addressed too. Some times a sound bite will play when someone takes an action and it doesn’t match what the player has just done. A player can call a bet but still have a load of chips left over when the game triggers an “All In” sound bite. A touch frustrating.
The one aspect of Poker Club that has been the most consistently functional is the most important. The poker itself. Following the usual online Texas Hold ’em format for Poker, this game flows quite well now that many of the server issues have been fixed. So long as you’re playing on a table with engaged players, hands can fly by quickly. Like any poker simulator, if you’re playing against someone who hangs on until their timer is almost up before doing anything, matches can drag. That’s the nature of the beast and there’s no solution to this, here or in any other poker sim. Get a few slow players and a few second delays on play on the technical side and it’s enough to make you want to quit a table.
Even without these slumps, Poker Club plays much slower than that of online poker simulators. That’s because the game runs at a place closer to a real match rather than the rapid fire pace of online poker. This is both a blessing or a curse depending on your point of view.
This game prevents cheating by using the same method any gambling site uses (at least since 2007). Cards to be drawn aren’t communicated to the game until they’re drawn, held on a server instead. I imagine this is the reason behind the occasional hang in play.
Playable varieties including single & multi table tournaments, freezeouts, shootouts, turbos, super turbos, headhunting bounties and more totalling 10 variants to play, there’s plenty of rules to amend in your own custom/private matches with friends.
This game also has an extensive single player campaign called the PCC Poker Tour. Here you have to tour various modes and venue’s to both win money at but also complete objectives in. Complete objectives and when you reach specified targets, more tables will unlock. These tasks include winning X number of hands in a session, eliminating X number of players, landing a particular hand type in play and more. While it’s played solo, you’ll be facing off against both AI opponents as well as other players who are also competing in the same mode. This poker tour is a smart inclusion as it continually mixes up the play and allows the player to experience everything Poker Tour has to offer while gradually increasing the chip requirements for buy in and fee’s.
Poker Club aims to be “the most immersive poker simulation ever made” by doing something that’s a bit of a rarity for the genre – having the play be in first person in a virtual world. The table, cards, chips, surrounding area and – an evolution from Ripstone’s Pure Hold’em – the player avatars are all presented in a 3D world you can look around. You get the same view in Poker Club that you would sat at a real poker table, controlled with the right thumb stick. This is only hampered by the inability to look behind the player.
Poker Club has a number of different venue’s to play at from a swanky high rise studio to the inside of a boxing ring, all of which have their own ambience but all of which are presented in 4K on PS5. Visually, these environments are top quality. Unfortunately, they’re paired with soundtracks and ambient noises that might as well not exist. In the boxing gym, there’s no music. Instead there’s unintelligible voices and the sound of passing traffic from outside. In the backroom of a restaurant, there’s a bit of music but it’s far too quiet to enjoy. While this might increase the “immersion”, aiming for a real feeling, it doesn’t make the game any more pleasurable to play than any of the 2D poker games on the market. I’ve found myself putting podcasts on to listen too when playing because the ambience of most of the venue’s in Poker Club is dull.
The same can be said about the the 3D player avatar’s. Every action a player takes in Poker Club rewards them with experience which culminates in levelling up. With each new level up comes a set of fresh customisation options for the player’s avatar. These can be purchased with the chips won in game. The aesthetic options here are quite extensive after levelling up a few times as everything from head to…well, not toe as they’re hidden beneath the table… To waistline can be customised. Despite the variety of looks you can form here, all of the avatars share some common themes. They’re all of an athletic build with razor sharp cheek bones and chiselled jaw lines. No matter what you alter or who you play against, Poker Club can be like playing poker with waxwork models of the cast of Zoolander. Everyone’s ridiculously good looking.
I imagine that these 3D models were included to try and replicate the feeling of playing the game in real life within Poker Club. This is where I feel this game falls down the most. There’s no in-game voice chat, further compounding the odd subdued feeling to the ambiance. The 3D avatars have their own idle animations like occasionally stretching but for the most part they stare into the distance. When betting, these models move the chips onto the table and they also move when the player checks their cards. The player can also play emotes. These range from doing tricks with chips from the table, looking happy or even disappointed. In a real game of poker, you’d be reading tells or looking for hints. Here, the player gets to outwardly display an emotion on purpose. This feels like a poor replication of the bluffing tactics employed in a real game. Sure, if a player triggers one of these optional reactions, they might be trying to blag or they might be being genuine but because you’re staring into the dead eyes of a 3D avatar, you can’t tell either way. Instead, much like any poker simulator game that doesn’t have these 3D models, it’s better to play the cards and the betting patterns than the player.
The only time these emotes make a difference to play is when you’ve playing against another human who wants to communicate rather than bluff/double bluff. During one tournament, another player and I got into a bit of a rivalry when I hit 4 of a kind on the river, beating his trips. Every time I’d lose a hand, even to another player, he’d trigger a cheer via his avatar. He’d also trigger a disappointment emote when I’d win a hand. This is no way replaces the banter you can achieve in voice-chat but when used like this, the emotes can make the play a little more spicy. The AI opponents don’t ever seen to use these emotes however.
Talking of AI opponents, the CPU players on Poker Club might be the most divisive element of the game. Some of these AI opponents will play conservatively, only betting when they’ve got the cards to back it up. It’s the manic AI players, going all-in pre-flop with an off-suited 2 & 8, that can ruin a game. They should in theory be easier to beat but when you’re on a tournament table with a few of these types of AI player, it’s difficult to get involved in the game. In one tournament when I was the only human player, on the very first hand, 4 of the AI opponents went all in. A pair of 2’s won the lot. At this point, it’s an uphill battle against an AI opponent that bets big and recklessly and has 4 times the chips as anyone else in the game. All it takes is for a lucky flop to have you out of the game with a pocket pair of aces (yes, I went out this way).
I also need to mention the UI in Poker Club. For the most part, it’s excellent. Player names, levels, chip totals, bets and hand status are all displayed on screen and as you look around the table, it highlights the appropriate player details. The smart UI design decisions during play are offset by some baffling choices during the menu’s. For example, when you click on a match to join, the text is displayed in white. That’s fine until the match you’re trying to join has white in the background. The text at this point is totally incomprehensible.
Finally, we need to talk about Clubs. Earn enough moolah ($100k) and you can start your own club or you could simply join an existing one. These clubs attempt to help people play together, have their own competitive leader board and set of collective goals to be completed. The addition of Clubs is a nice touch from Ripstone but they do very little to elevate the community in their current form. They’re just… there. You join, get a clan name next to your username during play and unless you’re invested in the Club aspect and go looking for it, they fade into the background. There needs to be more incentive to join these clubs to make them worthwhile.
After overcoming some issues in its launch week, Poker Club has stabilised as an ambitious, functional yet unremarkable poker simulator. The innovations that aim for increased immersion manage to slow down the action to the point they become almost tedious. There’s more than a few issues that still need to be remedied in Poker Club and Ripstone have promised fixes are on the way. The potential is not yet realised but there’s every chance this game might fluke a win at the river.
Poker Club is available now on PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S | X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Developer: Ripstone Games
Publisher: Ripstone Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, a copy of the game was purchased. For our full review policy, please go here.
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