Stacked with Daniel Negreanu REVIEW

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu Review (PS2)

When I was growing up, there was always that house in the neighborhood that had “the monthly game.” One Saturday a month, cars would line the street in front on my block and guys with silk shirts and fat cigars would spill out with a bottle of scotch in one hand and a pocket full of money.

My friends and I would inevitably try to sneak over at some point in the night to try to steal a peek through the basement window. We’d catch a glimpse of the big green table with stacks of cash and brightly colored chips at every seat in the smoky room. No music. No light conversation. It wasn’t a party. These men were there to win. It was dark and almost a little seedy. That was poker through the eyes of an impressionable Elementary School kid.

Today, poker is everywhere. And everyone is playing.

Church groups. High School kids. Charity fundraisers. My kid’s PTA association has a game. Poker has been brought upstairs from the basement and featured prominently on the frontline in the U.S.

With the growth of the poker industry, comes the emergence of the poker genre in video game circles. Developers have a huge battle when they choose to push their chips into this pot, because they hit the ground with competition that is giving their product away for free. Online poker sites have become a dime a dozen and, in nearly all cases, are 100% free to download and play. At least if you’re content to play with “play money.”

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is the first poker title that has really hit the market with a buzz. Poker rules are universal, so developers have to innovate in other ways. Stacked with Daniel Negreanu was touted as having a revolutionary AI system that would be the most realistic simulation of real poker available on the market. The system (called "POKI") is programmed to read and adjust play style based on your play and the situations in the game. While I’m not sure asking the AI to play a sound game of poker is a radical idea, this game is hanging its hat on it.

So, with the hype machine in full effect, I was very pleased when I unwrapped my copy to find a truly solid AI system. Stacked actually plays the smartest game of poker that I’ve found on a console. Now, because it is a program, a “sophisticated idiot” as my statistics Professor used to say, and you can’t truly program free thought, you can influence the AI to play dumb poker by consistently playing dumb yourself. If you play like some of the 12 year olds online and go “all in” pre-flop on every hand, the AI will eventually get a little buggy and start matching your play. Technically, it is programmed to read and react. You play like a moron, eventually; you’ll be at a table full of them. You play smart poker; you’ll get a smart game in return.

Now if you’re one of the six people left in the world that isn’t playing poker, one of my favorite features in Stacked with Daniel Negreanu is the really deep and informative tutorial with Daniel Negreanu himself. Negreanu, or “Kid Poker” as he has been called, is the Canadian born professional who, until 2004, was the youngest player to ever win a World Series of Poker bracelet. His knowledge of the game is unquestionable, and that makes the training portions of this game top notch.

If you’re a single player person, you’ll most likely want to dive into Stacked’s "Career" Mode. You’ll quickly put together a character from a pretty limited selection of what shockingly struck me as a catalog of stereotypes. The player appearance of the avatars, combined with the voice acting is pretty lackluster and almost bordered on laughable. I created a character, who I later found out was Asian through the dialogue that stopped just short of “me love you long time.” Luckily it doesn’t really detract from the game itself, as your attention should be on the cards, not who’s holding them.

What I did feel took a lot away from the experience was the interface. I was surprised how inefficient the setup was with the horizontal pull out menu. Changing bets with the up and down stack was slow and, at times, difficult to dial into the correct amount. The hands themselves moves slow enough without adding further lag-time trying to place a bet. A more intuitive and natural flowing interface would have done a lot to improve the experience.

The setup in "Career Mode" allows you to play different Hold ‘Em games (Limit and No Limit) for various blind levels and jump into single and multi-table tournaments. You’ll unlock access to the VIP areas at different casinos that will allow you to get into bigger money games. Your pretty standard fare in poker games today. Once again, we’re left with nothing revolutionary or spectacular in this mode to set the game apart from the others. Poker games today are still lacking a truly deep career mode that adds to the gameplay experience for the user.

During gameplay, you can, when available, call on tips from Negreanu himself. Unfortunately, they are inconsistent, annoying, and plain inaccurate at times. I’ve watched and played enough poker in my time to know that going “all in” with 8-4 unsuited to try to steal blinds at a full table is not a great move. The tips, at times, are not only a stretch; they’ll flat out teach you bad poker. Bad poker is easy to play. When you spend the time and effort to develop a smart AI, the game influencing you to be the dumbest player at the table is not going to keep you coming back.

With your network enabled PS2, you can take Stacked online. Finding a game isn't difficult, but finding a good experience was. Because playing against live opponents takes the AI out of the game, you're left with a simple poker game with a bad interface. Dumb play can be frustrating enough, combining it with the slow and cumbersome controls was very difficult to enjoy.

When all is said and done, Stacked with Daniel Negreanu gets major points for the AI system. They did come through with what they touted. It’s the smartest single player experience you’ll find, provided you ignore the in-hand tips. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s enough. Console poker is already starting out with the short stack because “fake money” games are simply less exciting. To compensate for that, you need to give the gamer an experience worth coming back for. Stacked lacks a playable interface and simply does not do enough with its modes to set itself far enough apart from the competition.

Stacked with Daniel Negreanu Score
out of 10