While I am not an avid gambler, I do enjoy the thrill of a good game of poker. Before the events of 2020, I was in Las Vegas for work and lost a good chunk of change at the tables. One of my colleagues (who won a lot of money) would always ask “What does the book say?” before he made a decision, referring of course to the proverbial manual on how to properly play poker.
Poker Club on PS5 feels like it was made with this hypothetical “book” in mind. Advertising itself as an immersive poker simulation, the promise rings true from a developer like Ripstone that has made the most faithful chess games I’ve ever played. The game isn’t afraid to throw its own book at you, but does the experience come together to truly capture the spirit of the game? Let’s find out.
A Cut Above Other Poker Titles, But Not Quite a Winning Hand
Considering Ripstone’s other work on chess titles, I think what worked really well there was a combination of excellent presentation, detail, and customization. It also did a superb job of teaching how to play the game, which really helped the experience feel complete.
The first thing I noticed in Poker Club was how it kind of throws you into it without much care for those who may not know the rules or strategies. There is a spot on the main menu to learn more about these things, but the delivery is simply walls of text instead of interactive training sessions or something more engaging.
It also doesn’t help that the text is incredibly small on a 4K display. Not even squinting could save me here, I had to get up and approach the screen just to read what it was saying. In terms of onboarding or welcoming beginners, it feels very much lacking compared to what it could have been.
Moving past this, exploring the menu reveals options for single and multiplayer modes, along with variations like single or multi-table tournaments, and a number of other variations. In all, you’ll have 10 variants to choose from, but thankfully it’s quite easy to just get into a game quickly.
While the loading times are incredibly fast on PS5, the pace of the matches may be slower than some expect. People will take their time online in some cases, which is unavoidable, but the animations, the dealer themselves, and the other aspects of the game all flow in a relatively calm manner. The way the cards are dealt, the slow slide of someone placing chips onto the table, it all feels authentic but can be a little slower than other poker simulators.
One thing I found particularly satisfying was how you could hold the right trigger to flip your cards up and check what you’re working with. The close-up of the hands and cards here really added to the immersion for me, making me feel like I was truly at a table, stealing a glance at what could be the winning hand.
While some reported technical issues at launch, I have been playing in the last week without any real issues. Hands went decently fast and at no point did my connection drop or the game seize up, so I can’t speak to any technical problems, but know that they have been reported by the community.
As part of your efforts online and throughout the single player PCC Poker Tour, you’ll pull from a starting bank of 50K and buy back into table as you’d like with your limited funds. Completing objectives in the single player tour, or just playing in general awards XP that unlocks the ability to purchase cosmetics with your in-game currency.
Character customization is decent for the player model, but the real customization comes from clothes and other accessories, which help give you more of a defined look as you level up. While I didn’t run out of funds in-game, I did look to see what would happen in such a scenario, and the answer comes in the form of daily login bonuses that give you currency for the game, as well as the option to play at free roll tables to earn your way back in.
For all but the most reckless of players, I don’t think this will become an issue, but since you have a finite amount to work with, I wanted to consider that scenario. There are also clubs that you can form or join, but beyond the ability to showcase your clan association, they don’t offer much in the way of encouraging players to use them.
The clubs are kind of a microcosm of the larger issue with Poker Club. It feels like some aspects of the game could have used more depth to truly capitalize on the potential of the experience.
Immersion is (Mostly) Excellent
The presentation in Poker Club is, for the most part, exquisite. The environments, ambient audio, and variety of locales all combine to deliver on the promise of immersion. While I would have liked to see more DualSense support that could have made the cards feel more tactile, the only real downside to the presentation for me was the characters themselves.
The arms and hands are perfectly fine, but the facial expressions and animations leave a lot to be desired. When you win a hand, for example, the stiff smile that briefly shows up on our face is more uncanny than anything.
Opposite of this is the first-person perspective you see when you lose a hand, which conveys frustration very well as you throw your cards down on the table. A similar effect comes from when you’re forced to fold.
Where Ripstone’s other efforts felt like deep and detailed dives into their respective games, Poker Club feels like it nails the fundamentals but doesn’t go much further than that. Specifically, the lack of tools to improve player’s skill and welcome newcomers to the fold really hurts the first impression you get when you first enter the game.
While Poker Club certainly lays the groundwork for an immersive poker simulation, it’s within the follow-through that the cracks start to show, and the things that could have really elevated it become more apparent.
Final Score: 7.0/10
Article by – Bradley Ramsey
Insert date – 5/20/2021