In real life, I find Poker to be an incredibly boring waste of the finite time we have on this Earth, a paint-peeling awful spectacle. To the point that whenever it’s suggested as an event for a night out/in with friends, I immediately begin to ponder how I can sufficiently injure myself so I don’t have to say no and endure the barrage of ‘why’ or join in. Yet in the realm of games, I’m always happy to give it a crack. I spent hours on it in Red Dead Redemption, and was thoroughly amused by Telltale’s Poker Night at the Inventory series. It’s mostly to do with the lack of risk involved, but you also get to play in more exotic locations than someone’s Kitchen or a shitebag ‘casino’ that used to be a Bingo hall, and now charges six quid for a watered-down Fosters (Four cans of Galahad from Aldi will do me just fine). So I came into Prominence Poker with my knock-off lager in quite an optimistic mindset. Would it be justified?
Prominence Poker is essentially a free-to-play RPG about being a Poker player in a corrupt city, starring your cartoonish avatar in a Hawaiian shirt who is less-than-affectionately dubbed ‘The Tourist’. Your job is to work your way up to face ‘The Mayor’, the big daddy of the Poker scene in the city of Prominence (having already beaten him once as a rookie during the game’s tutorial). This is the single-player career of Prominence Poker, giving you plenty of practice, cash, and experience points as you ascend to the heady heights of the elite, facing off against four powerful factions before attempting to topple the head honcho once more. So it’s like Pokemon, but with money and slightly more unkempt men in fedoras. Reputation is all that matters in your ascent to the top, though thick slabs of cash are also advisable.
The aforementioned practice is for what is the true focus of the package; online multiplayer Poker. In future there will be grand tournaments with huge prize pots (not with real cash, so no bother about selling your kidneys to fuel your new, opulent lifestyle). For now, there’s six player, drop-in, drop-out matches for smaller, more reasonable amounts of money that you can gain higher prestige and fresh clothing and accessories for your avatar. This would be much like any number of Facebook/mobile Poker games if that’s where it stopped, but here we have a more fleshed-out take on it.
Your character avatar and those of others sit around a Poker table in one of several locations. The starter locations are far from exotic, and include a laundromat and a biker bar. There’s customers and the like going about their business in the background, the steady hum of nightlife penetrating the air with its low-pitched thrall. In simpler terms, there’s background noise, and it’s welcome. Visually-speaking, Prominence Poker is hardly glamorous. A functional, Sims-like aesthetic to the game world, coupled with some ropey-looking menus, means there’s little to shout about in terms of style, but there’s just enough to convey a proper sense of place and tone, so a small victory.
You interact with others on the table through preselected emotes for the most part, but there is voice chat too, and you know what? It’s a pleasingly chilled experience from the matches I’ve taken part in. Conversations were pleasant and enjoyable, which considering you’re dealing with strangers competing over virtual money, was quite the surprise. That’s not to say there won’t be some braggardeering eleven-year-old git out there with a mouth filthier than the Thames at some point, but currently, it’s been largely devoid of anything worse than a bit of barbed, competitive joshing.
There’s little to say about the Poker itself. Anyone picking this up is going to be at least vaguely familiar with the game, and the tutorial you’re thrust into at the start does a fine job of explaining how the mechanics of Poker are translated to your controller. There’s also sub-menus for checking how good or bad your hand is, and the whole process of calling, checking and betting is mapped to a simple radial wheel choice system. Though Poker can seem baffling to the uninitiated, there’s been a really good effort to simplify the experience and keep it balanced for competitive play.
The games lack a sense of tension and danger in single-player competition, though they do still instill a dose of euphoria at beating the system and winning big, but against other humans, it genuinely gets competitive. The feeling of outsmarting people always triumphs tonking the A.I., and Prominence is definitely excelling when this happens. I dread to think how utterly miserable it could be in future big money matches for the more casual Poker player, but at least it is tiered to allow a separation from that for those wishing to have some simple, social fun.
The game’s defining difference to most standard Poker fare is the bluff-and-tell mechanic, where your avatar (and others) can give physical representations of bluffs and tells that can deceive or inform other players. It’s difficult to describe in words, and works far better in motion. It doesn’t strike me as being quite as vital as the game wants to make it sound, but it is a cool gimmick to set Prominence Poker apart all the same.
Being free-to-play is a wise choice for any hopes of building a community for Prominence Poker’s future. It’s certainly a place I’d like to visit with friends just to have a casual catch up chat whilst playing a game. Odd as that may sound considering my dislike of doing just that in real life, it just works better this way personally in an age where getting a group of friends together for anything is akin to milking a tank. There’s nothing spectacular about Prominence Poker, but it’s perfectly solid enough to while away an hour or two in an online social setting.