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Game Mode Review: Texas Heat - The Zotmeister

solving the puzzle of life one entry at a time

Mar. 20th, 2011

02:49 am - Game Mode Review: Texas Heat

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A couple of years ago, the Xbox 360 had a fantastically successful MMO version of the television gameshow 1 vs. 100. It was fun, it was well written, it was well supported (both in software and in prizes), and it was free (hooray for advertisers!). Sadly, it was cancelled after two seasons, with the first considered only a beta of sorts. It was never really given the opportunity to fully reach its potential, if you ask me, but I digress - that show isn't what this entry is really about. The technology behind it, however, is a key ingredient.

The backend system the game ran on was impressive to me. Over 100,000 players could - and did - log on all at once for scheduled episodes (some of which were themed, graphically and all!), and all play together, and all have their stats tracked, and all see the action unfold live... it all just WORKED, and worked amazingly well. After the cancellation, Microsoft pointed out (through the likes of press releases and their on-console shows, such as the excellent SENTUAMESSAGE) that the technology behind it would be reused. And tonight, I experienced how.

Or more appropriately, I experienced how that fantastic technology was completely and utterly ruined.

You see, there's this new game on XBLA called Full House Poker. At first glance, it's just another implementation of Texas Hold'em - nothing new to the console, but it has definite charms. In particular, playing it single-player is surprisingly satisfying: there is a wide variety of AI opponents (over twenty-five of them), each with their own distinctive avatar and VERY distinctive play style. It's very human-feeling. It also plays a very intelligent High/Low game (Lowball-style, eight-high to qualify), while most poker programs I've seen don't even have High/Low as an option, much less play it well. I've played several High/Low tournaments against the AI and have found it a great experience every time. I also like the XP system - yes, XP for a poker game - and how it awards smart play regardless of the bankroll involved (which of course the game keeps track of as well).

But all this is tangential. I'm not here to review the game as a whole. I'm here to review its most vaunted hyped feature: Texas Heat. You see, the name 'Full House Poker' is actually a pun, as it refers not only to the poker hand but also to the massively-multiplayer capability it claims to bring to the - stopped myself just in time for that one. That would have been painful. Anyway, this is the advertised return of the 1 vs. 100 technology: scheduled poker competitions with thousands playing all at once. (I suppose I'm only mentioning this to prove I noticed, but there's another tie-in here: Jen, the fictional co-host avatar of 1 vs. 100, is one of the game's AIs, "Stylish Hostess" title and all. [The non-fictional, incredibly-appropriately-named-for-a-gameshow-host host Chris Cashman is apparently doing a podcast now.])

On paper - and in trailers - this sounds like an excellent idea, and given that the technology was already proven some time ago, one would wonder what could possibly go wrong. Apparently, that's where I come in.

Here's what the game is trying to do: players are grouped into "flights" of up to thirty contestants. They are seated at one of three tables - Diamond, Double Diamond, and Triple Diamond - appropriate to their previous record (or their XP level if this is their first Texas Heat). They have 25 minutes of constant play to earn as much XP as possible. At the end, players are awarded medals - and bonus XP and bankroll - for their overall standing compared to everyone else who participated that episode.

Each individual sentence of that previous paragraph fails to be satisfied by the game, each by an independent glitch. They get worse the further down you go, so let's start at the top, shall we?

Oh, and by the way, all this is contingent on the game actually FINISHING. The last episode I tried to play - my eighth, for those doubting my due diligence - effectively ended for me with 6:33 left on the clock, with myself as chip leader at the Triple Diamond table, when the game crashed. Hard. Sound immediately ceased, and I couldn't even access the Guide - the entire console locked up but good. This is never acceptable, but at least in a game that knows it's shoddily coded and autosaves before all loading screens in case it does just that - like Torchlight - it can be tolerable. But for a game with live shows? It can't even afford that. I can't help but notice Krome Studios listed in the game credits, which of course reminds me of how every time they patched Game Room they made it worse in terms of both usability and stability, to the point where at present it WILL hardlock my console with 100% certainty every time I try to exit it... I thought they declared bankruptcy. When will this blight be wiped from the planet? But I digress, kinda.

Now, when an episode finishes, assuming there hasn't been a crash, a video displays between the end of play and the (failure of) revelation of stats. It currently shows tutorial videos, but the potential for it showing an advertisement video is painfully obvious. Like 1 vs. 100 before it, Texas Heat is free (beyond the ten-dollar price tag for Full House Poker itself), so I'm sure the hope is to get sponsors to fill that gap. Well, guess what: they're not going to find ANY company willing to have anything to do with this debacle as the word gets out, and with all the hype they built up over this - this is supposed to be the greatest feature of the game, remember - that word is getting out FAST, with thousands to spread it. I'm just one of them, doing my civic duty [places fist over heart].

Zotmeister Seal of Approval: NOT IN THE CARDS. [That pun doesn't get the Zotmeister Seal of Approval either - too easy and too trite - but I'm too annoyed to come up with something better right now.] I can't fault you for trying Full House Poker for its other features - I'm sure I'll be playing High/Low quite a bit more and enjoying it greatly - but Texas Heat was the biggest selling point, and if you were waiting to find out how it is before you spend the money on the game, well... now you know. Should they ever fix the bugs, I'll update this entry, but the review stands: hyping up something THAT broken is epic fail.

Someday, I hope to feel compelled to write a review for something I like, something that would encourage me to actually create a graphic for the Zotmeister Seal of Approval. I do know what it would look like. But at this rate, you won't be seeing it any time soon. - ZM

Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
Current Music: the failure horn on The Price is Right