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World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets
Score: 88%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Left Field Interactive
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 14 (Online)
Genre: Card Games/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
You normally wouldn't thing of a Poker game as being a top-shelf game; then again you wouldn't think that poker tournaments would be among the highest-rated shows on ESPN. World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets is Activision and Left Field Production's latest entry into a genre that typically came as a pack-in with a new computer and does a fantastic job at recreating the drama seen during TV matches, as well as providing a great game of poker.

Presentation is key to WSOP 2008. The menu designs, which are your primary interface throughout the game, are slick and easy to follow. The main screen follows a similar layout to television broadcasts, which gives the game a sense of authenticity. This is further pushed along by video packages that introduce each tournament. Topping it all off are the players. The presentation is complemented by a decent amount of voicework. In addition to running commentary throughout tournaments, many of the real-life players featured in the game provide voicework for comments.

As good as the game looks and sounds, there are a few minor issues that crop up. Players look a little too plastic, which lends a certain "creepy" quality to the game. Also, commentary can sometimes stutter or behave like commentary in any sports game.

Other than an online mode where you can play against other players around the world, World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets offers a long, surprisingly deep career mode. You begin as a player new to the World Series of Poker and join the Amateur, Semi-Pro or Pro tour. Each tour defines the initial difficulty as well as determining your initial bankroll and how many tournaments you can play in. Regardless of which tour you begin on, the object is the same - win. While your main goal is to win money in tournaments to increase your bankroll, your other objective is to earn Player of the Year points by performing well in each tournament and hopefully knocking off Phil Hellmuth to win the ultimate Player of the Year honors.

Tournament progression is well done and plays a bit like a typical sports game. You are presented with a calendar of tournaments that you compete in. Between official matches, you'll get invites to cash-only tournaments, giving you more chances to increase your bankroll. These tournaments are usually a little more low-key than official tournaments and feature fewer players; however, you'll also meet some of the better players in these matches as well.

For a novice poker player, World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets can be pretty tough. I am by no means a great poker player and had a pretty difficult time early on in the Amateur tournament. Just like a game with real people, A.I. opponents all have their own play styles which you need to learn in order to get anywhere. Some are really good at bluffing, while others will know exactly how to rattle you and win with a bad hand. This isn't to say that they are impossible to beat, but you definitely have to know what you are doing, especially if you want to challenge the bigger tournaments.

One of the really great things about WSOP 2008 is that it makes a great attempt at trying to snag beginners. There are a number of extensive tutorials that will show you all of the ins and outs of the game. Like the song says, you'll learn to know when to hold 'em and when to fold them. About the only thing it doesn't teach you is how to bluff really well - which is something you can naturally do well or not at all. As you play through matches, you can also unlock tools that you can use during matches, such as one that gives you updated information about how strong or weak your hand is. More experienced players may consider this cheating, but for a novice it is handy to have.

Game Mechanics:
World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets features a number of different poker types. One of the main types is, of course, Texas Hold 'Em, though you can also play through games of Seven Card Stud, Omaha and Razz. Each type features minor variations of the same basic rules, giving each its own strategy. This lends a decent amount of depth to the game since you really aren't doing the same thing over and over again. There is also a custom game option where you can choose to play against certain poker pros or even change the way things happen on the table, such as limiting the amount of time players have to make a decision.

WSOP 2008 isn't the most control-intensive of games. Most of the time, you'll find yourself interacting with menus, so aside from a few button taps and stick clicks, there isn't much to navigating your way around the table.

Without question, World Series of Poker 2008: Battle for the Bracelets is a great poker game. Although newbie poker players may have some initial problems, it does a great job at getting them up to speed while at the same time delivering an experience that won't hold down veteran players.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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