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Texas Cheat 'Em
Score: 63%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: D3
Developer: Wideload Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1, 2-8 (Online)
Genre: Card Games

Graphics & Sound:
With the recent upswing in popularity surrounding the game of poker, the influx of new card-jockeying console games was inevitable. Wideload Games looks to enter the fray through a side door with the recent release of Texas Cheat 'Em. Available as a download via the Playstation Network, Texas Cheat 'Em looks to revisit the standards of the popular poker staple Texas Hold 'Em. Being downloadable content, my expectations were not high regarding the graphic and sound quality for the game. Unfortunately, even my low expectations fell short. If Wideload Games was going for a retro look, they succeeded, as the in-game graphics are reminiscent of games from the 90's. The sound effects were somewhat better, but not by much, leaving another area badly in need of some spit and polish.

Lack of strong visual and audio appeal can be forgiven as long as the gameplay is vibrant enough to capture the audience's attention. Many games from days gone by are still fan favorites despite a dated look and feel based purely on fun-factor and immersion. Yet again, Texas Cheat 'Em falls short in this regard. Using the base set of poker rules, players are given the option of and, as is evidenced by the title, strongly encouraged to cheat, winning by whatever means necessary. To facilitate this, players have 15 different cheats available, each with an associated point cost. Players receive 15 cheat points at the beginning of the various phases of a typical poker hand. Some of the cheats have a low cost and can be used immediately, such as the ability to fold without losing chips, blocking other player's ability to use a cheat on you or bluffing to let others think you have a good hand. Other, more nefarious and game-changing cheats will cost more points, necessitating the judicious use of points early in the hand. These cheats include winning regardless of your cards, peaking at the opposing player's hold cards and even directly stealing chips from an opponent.

When first starting, players are presented with several options. Should the solo option be chosen, players can choose to learn to play poker, learn to cheat or play a poker campaign. The campaign consists of playing in various scenarios with predetermined win conditions. However, poker alone (even against a computer) quickly becomes dull and repetitive. To really experience the full excitement of poker, you need to face a real opponent. Nothing is more satisfying that pulling off a great win (earned or cheated) against a good competitor. This then should be the strong suit of Texas Cheat 'Em, and in fact, the game does offer a fairly robust multiplayer mode, allowing for searching and player matching according to type, venue and buy-in. Sadly, I found very few players actually playing online, making finding a game almost impossible.

If Texas Cheat 'Em has a strong point, it is in training the new player, both in the standard poker rules and in how to use the cheat features offered. Both of the training modes do a nice job imparting the necessary information that novice players will need to understand before playing against opponents, computer or human. Once a general understanding is reached, play is fairly straight-forward. For non-newbies, learning the cheats and when to best use them will take some time, but other than that, no real challenge is offered. As with most other computerized card games, the A.I. starts off extremely stupid and slowly progresses to near god-hood. However, the hardest part of the game, the ultimate killing blow in my opinion, comes in the pacing. Between choosing a cheat, watching your opponents, playing the mini-games and making bets, a single hand can take up to 10 minutes. The slow pacing takes a game that should be fast-paced and fun and turns into what feels like a teeth-grinding trudge through a muddy bog. This single factor made playing the game almost unbearable.

Game Mechanics:
The mechanics of Texas Cheat 'Em are fairly simple to grasp. Players try to make the best poker hand out of the two hold (pocket) cards dealt to them and the five community cards dealt face up on the table. For those with a working knowledge of poker hands, normal rules apply with the exception that, due to the availability of certain cheats, there can be multiple versions of the same card (two Ace of Spades, for instance) in play. Also, because of this, the Royal Flush is no longer top hand, now being trumped by a Five of a Kind. When a player has a good hand (determined by the computer), they must successfully complete a mini-game to be able to curb their enthusiasm. Should the player fail to complete the mini-game successfully, the other players will get an indication that they possess a good hand. This mini-game trend is one of the staple tenets in Texas Cheat 'Em, as almost every cheat requires mini-game success before taking affect. Most of the mini-games are card based, such as high/low and blackjack. Others include roulette, slot machines and even a button-mashing horse race. While initially fun and entertaining, this is the aspect of the game that severely slows the pacing, and in truth, quickly became repetitious and more of a chore and than enjoyment.

Full of promise, Texas Cheat 'Em unfortunately missed the mark. There are some interesting concepts and, with some fine tuning, an updated version could prove to be entertaining. The biggest hurdles to overcome are improving the pacing and getting a player base that wants to play. Currently available at a cost of $10, Texas Cheat 'Em is left not even holding a high card. Maybe next hand.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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