Friday, September 04, 2009

Texas Cheat 'Em Review

Texas Cheat 'Em, developed by Wideload Games and published by D3Publisher.
The Good: Cheating elements make for unpredictable and strategic gameplay, perfect for multiplayer, active AI opponents
The Not So Good: Mini-games are too repetitive and involve reflexes and luck rather than skill, unpopulated multiplayer servers
What say you? Rampant cheating makes poker just as fun: 6/8

I've reviewed my fair share of poker games, from good to nude. Most of these have centered around the extremely popular No Limit Texas Hold 'Em rules used in the World Series of Poker, airing approximately 1,342 times a day on ESPN2. While cheating is obviously discouraged in the real tournament (something about being fair, or something), Texas Cheat 'Em wants you to cheat, early and often. This game removes the boredom and inactivity of normal poker and introduces a realm of constantly changing cards and other questionable activities. Do these actions accentuate the gameplay, or just make it more pointless?

Neither the graphics nor the sound in Texas Cheat 'Em are notable. The game is in 2-D and your opponents are simple portraits that are never animated. There are some subtle effects with some of the cheats, but none of these beyond what a layman could make in Paint. Compared to a 3-D accelerated game such as STACKED (which came out more than three years ago), Texas Cheat 'Em is clearly behind the curve and offers nothing beyond what a free online environment would provide. This goes for the sound as well: a minimal bunch of effects and forgettable background music. In short, I am not impressed.

Texas Cheat 'Em features Texas Hold ‘Em poker, but with cheating! Single player features include a career mode of four circuits consisting of four events each. You unlock additional venues with wins (which grant no in-game bonuses or changes) and earn money that can be used in the multiplayer portion of the game. Each event has a goal you must meet: earning a certain amount of chips, eliminating a specific competitor, or being ahead after a pre-determined number of hands. The combination of varied goals and earning money for multiplayer makes the career mode both interesting and purposeful. In addition, Texas Cheat 'Em lets you play a practice game with custom rules: location, difficulty, game length, and buy-in. There are no bonuses to be gained here, though. Texas Cheat 'Em also features a number of tutorials that teach the basics of the game through non-interactive screens, from basic poker rules to the changes made here. Texas Cheat 'Em is really designed for multiplayer, and the game does have a server browser where you can search for games with specific buy-ins and seats (in addition to listing all games at once). Unfortunately, Texas Cheat 'Em is not very popular, as I have yet to see anyone else playing. Finally, Texas Cheat 'Em has superficial features like leader boards and achievements to round out the package.

Like traditional poker, Texas Cheat 'Em lets you bet on your hand. However, all bets are done simultaneously and you only need to call the maximum bet as there are no re-raises. This is meant (I guess) to speed up gameplay, and it works just as well because the strategy lost in re-raising bets is gained back again in the cheating portion of the game. In addition, the top three hands win at least some money, which encourages aggressive playing even when you only have a marginally decent hand to start with. Now, the cheating: it’s actually interesting. Everyone starts out with the same number of cheat points that can be used to affect cards: seeing, changing, or swapping an opponent, the community, or yourself. You can also invest in stealing chips, automatically winning, or bluffing. Since everyone has the same ability to alter the cards, Texas Cheat 'Em quickly becomes a game of out-maneuvering your opponents, as any good strategy game is. There are also numerous viable strategies you can use: should I change the community, mess with the chip leader, or defend against attacks? The various actions make for some interesting game outcomes. There are certainly some cheats that I used more often (all of the community ones) and some I never use at all (swapping cards, because of the uncertainty of what you will get). The cheats are balanced well and the variety is certainly intact. Success in cheating depends on successful completion of a mini-game, and this is one aspect of Texas Cheat 'Em that I wish was more skill-based. You are normally given a timing game, such as a roulette wheel, slot machine, or strength tester. I much prefer the blackjack game or even the high/low game (think Card Sharks) as they rely on actual thinking and strategy rather than quick reflexes. I’m sure the developers could come up with some more skill-based events rather than relying solely on luck and timing. Changing the difficult makes the mini-games more difficult (a smaller window of success) and more frustrating overall. Still, I like the added dimension that cheating brings to the poker equation and Texas Cheat 'Em is just as strategic as the vanilla game.

It turns out cheating simply adds another layer of strategy, as Texas Cheat 'Em provides actual depth in the effective manner it uses cheats. I think this mechanic is more suitable for online play: since you can't read your opponent, there must be some other avenue to introduce skill instead of simple luck. The wide variety of cheats, where you can influence cards or view opponent or community hands, give you enough options to allow for a lot of different strategies, both offensive and defensive. It's a well designed and balanced system. It's too bad, then, that the mini-games are generally terrible, relying on quick reflexes almost all of the time. I would like them to be more along the lines of the Blackjack mini-game, where skill is emphasized, rather than the remainder that has you hit a keyboard button at the right time. The mini-games are also quite easy, resulting in rampant cheating and decreasing the difficulty level overall. The features are solid: a career mode where you can earn money for online multiplayer in addition to customizable events. The game is meant for multiplayer, so it's too bad that I never, ever found other people playing online. Still, the basic gameplay is executed very well, and with some more skill-based mini-games, Texas Cheat 'Em would be a very notable product.