Texas Cheat'Em Review
Developer: Wideload Shorts
Platforms: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Texas Cheat'Em is a variation on the recently popular Texas Hold 'Em variety of poker that allows players to cheat, changing the values of cards, stealing chips and looking at other people's hands to change the fundamental style of Texas Hold 'Em play.
More than most varieties of poker, Texas Hold 'Em is a game about bluffing. You have to understand the cards and the odds to play the game, but success in Texas Hold 'Em comes down to being able to read your opponents without them reading you. While many people enjoy electronic versions of Texas Hold 'Em, playing Texas Hold 'Em online takes away the single most interesting aspect of the game – watching other human beings to learn their tells while faking or hiding your own.
When considering whether to make and sell a game, first think about whether the game concept adds to or detracts from the original game. Frankly, Texas Cheat'Em seems to further undermine what makes Texas Hold 'Em most entertaining. No longer are you engaged in a bluff showdown, or even riding the probabilities to victory. In Texas Cheat'Em players have a portfolio of 15 cheats that transform the outcome of the hand. When you can change the values of your hole cards, or change the community cards that everyone shares, it's no longer Texas Hold 'Em. It's simply a game about using the right cheats at the right time.
That could be fun, but it turns out not to be, when implemented as Texas Cheat'Em approached the problem. Every cheat requires a simple minigame, such as pulling on a slot machine hoping for a particular symbol, mashing a button faster than your opponent, or simply rolling higher than a particular number on two dice. Anyone, after a few plays, can win a hand by using the right cheats at the right time. But when you fail the mini-game, the cheats don't work. So, while every hand of cards requires a lot of decisions and button presses, it really comes down to a roll of the dice that interrupts play (or, at least, a randomly generated number). If there are multiple players competing, it comes down to who was more successful at cheating.
He with the best random number generation or fastest button-mashing finger wins. Despite its poker trappings, it feels like Texas Cheat'Em is the same as having all players roll the dice and giving the hand to the person with the highest roll. The betting makes things a little more complicated, in that you are, essentially, handicapping the success of people's respective die-rolls, but that doesn't make the game fun. Frankly, it feels like a lot of work to bet on the roll of dice. I'd rather play Craps. At first, it seems like a slurry of frenetic activity as everyone tries to manipulate or fix the cards, but the cheating quickly becomes irritating. Also annoying is that in an effort to keep things moving by having players bet simultaneously, it can be hard to keep track of who is betting, making it hard to remember who to screw over.
Complaints about the game's fundamentals aside, Wideload Shorts (part of Wideload Games) did a great job polishing the interface and presenting a smooth game that works exactly as it should. You even use your Xbox Live avatar as your representation at the poker table. There are a series of simple campaigns in which you deal with particular opponents and try to achieve goals ranging from cleaning out a particular player to earning a set amount of cash within a time limit. It's really difficult to lose competitive minigames to the AI, so I often found it simpler to just steal chips from other players and fold rather than bother trying to change cards around. There doesn't seem to be much point to the campaigns other than unlocking backgrounds that can be used.
Given how easy it is to manipulate cards, you can pick up 145 gamerscore points in a flash. After that, the campaigns get slow as you have to wipe out entire six-player tables. And while I was able to find the occasional multiplayer opponent, I was never able to match with more than one person at a time, and the matches became interminable exchanges of minigames to steal the other players' chips. Simply put, Texas Cheat'Em isn't much fun.