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World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions

How do you get a card game on the bus? You just poke... oh, forget it.

How do you review a poker game? It's madness! It's just poker. It'd be like trying to review bread (90%), sliced bread (93%) or a pineapple-upside-down-cake with maraschino cherries and pecan halves (a whopping 97% and no mistake).

Well, we could just take the easy way out and whine about how it's a great deal more expensive than just buying a pack of cards, but then, that's not really a valid argument these days, is it? The demographic of people who own Xbox 360's lead busy lives, and we all know it's not easy to arrange a decent game of poker with your friends on a whim. "But", we hear the lazy choir sing, "it's no fun playing poker against CPU morons". Well, no, it isn't, but then again if you buy a poker game to play on your own, it's possible that there's something seriously, unchangingly wrong with you at a basic molecular level.

See, World Series of Poker could have been fantastic on Xbox 360, and it could have been amazing because of the unique benefits and capabilities that your favourite not-quite-white console brings to the table. As the 'online' console, or certainly the one with the biggest online focus and the biggest sense of community, the 360 is the natural home for this new breed of casual gaming, as evidenced by Uno's massive following on Live Arcade. More proof? Our Friends lists are filled to capacity with people chattering about their most wanted Arcade titles, and it's not the imminent arrival of new, shiny titles such as Novadrome or retro rehashes that have them salivating: it's the prospect of some new board games. But while the demand is there for Live Arcade, is there still a place for full price titles such as World Series of Poker? Our definitive, authoritative response? Erm, maybe.

First things first though: World Series of Poker: Unnecessary Subtitle Edition plays a mean game of poker. The choice of games is fairly extensive, with variations on Texas Hold 'Em, Omaha and Seven Card Stud available to play. Career mode is basic but eminently competent: your opposition understand the rules and behave as you'd expect, and there's a range of 'Tools' to unlock that enable you to deepen your understanding of the game (they're not anything a good poker player won't already know, but it's nice to have the stats available to you instantly at the clammy press of a trigger button).

The 'banter' between the players is as banal as ever, and several members of the audience look like they've dressed up in charity shop cast-offs in preparation for a job interview as a children's TV presenter, but in all the presentation is slick and you couldn't ask for more in this department. Naturally, there's not an awful lot of game modes - you can enrol in a one-on-one tournament, and as you progress and improve your reputation, you gain access to a number of invitational events. But World Series of Poker does redeem itself with a pleasant front-end and a heap of options, that allow you to do anything from play with a four colour deck, to customising the look of the dealer. Hell, even if you're the kind of joyless dullard who spent their Smackdown Vs Raw 2007 time decorating their locker room instead of punching large men hard in the face (Er, didn't you do that, Alex? - Ed), you'll find yourself catered for, with a poker room that you can fit with Japanese rugs and the like until the sun goes nova.

Single player's alright then, is the conclusion we've come to. But this is a game that was either going to live and die on its Live play, and while it is better than the slightly buggy Arcade title Texas Hold 'Em, it's not quite the definitive poker game we'd have asked for. There's plenty that's good - the Live Vision camera (if you own one) is used to full extent and you can even shoehorn your very own face onto your gambler at the table if that's how you get your jollies. There's also a fairly extensive set of leaderboards that chart your every move and give you something to aim for. But it doesn't quite justify its inevitably hefty pricetag, and that's probably because it suffers from being a multi-format title - in trying to be all things to every console, World Series of Poker ultimately ignores the unique opportunities that your splendid Xbox 360 can offer the card game genre as a whole.

Perhaps they're waiting for the 'install base' to increase before going all-out, which is similar to the attitude companies such as Electronic Arts are taking with titles such as NHL 06. Which, in some ways, is fair enough. But the problem Activision has is, there isn't a decent ice hockey title on Live Arcade for under a tenner. The same, naturally, can't be said for Texas Hold 'Em.

The verdict

Aims for the hardcore crowd, when it could have gone and offered a bit of something for everyone. Worth a look for poker fans, though.

  • A good game of poker
  • Overpriced for what it is
  • Texas hold 'em costs about £44 less
Xbox 360