I have issues with Texas Hold’em games. Whilst being a regular real world player, dropping many pennies and pounds into the hands of the dodgiest of casinos and online bookmakers, I’ve never really been taken with the virtual version. The whole excitement and adrenaline that comes about from playing Texas Hold’em stems from the fact that it is my own hard earned cash on the line with each and every hand. Playing for nothing, or playing for virtual money really doesn’t appeal to me.
But after the stunning success that Voofoo Studios and Ripstone had with the Xbox One version of Pure Pool, if I were to put that money on a team to deliver the very best virtual Hold’em experience, then it would be stuck firmly on the head of Voofoo.
And I’d be walking away as a bit of a winner too!
Pure Hold’em, does exactly what it says on the tin. It brings Texas Hold’em to Xbox One, giving you the chance to join a virtual casino, taking on a group of AI players, your real world friends or indeed strangers from around the world in a casino environment. With an absolutely stunning visual style, there are plenty of variations on the card decks, cloth patterns and chip visuals. Along with a soundtrack comprising blues, jazz, hip-hop, funk and more, Pure Hold’em quite easily stands out from the crowd of poker wannabes that you find frequenting the online casino world, with no punches having been pulled in creating possibly the most beautiful Texas Hold’em experience you’ll be able to find outside of a real world casino setting.
Online play, online tournaments, private tables and an offline mode all seem like a bit of a recipe for success too and Voofoo should be complimented on the effort that is present.
But like my initial thoughts hinted at, it’s not all plain sailing.
Firstly, the exact problem that I first laid out, that of not gaining excitement or adrenaline hits when playing for no cash are immediately present. The offline mode is the best place to hone your card skills, but with a pretty faceless bunch of seven AI opponents, reading the game is tough. Yes, there is a brief description to how each player may play their hands, but when in game, throwing chips and cards away is just as easy as going all in on each and every turn. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose and buy back in for a nominal amount. There is nothing to make you think carefully about your hand and the highs of the win and lows of the loss never materialise.
Perhaps though the online world would ensure a little excitement? Well, if you even have any inkling of a plan to play in any of the six tournaments on offer, then you should be thinking again. After attempting to find players of the same mindset at numerous points of multiple days, I have still yet to see a tournament match kick off. Whilst I’ve been unable to earn the required dough in order to compete in the top tourneys, none of the free to enter Jokers Cup, 100 credits buy in of the Jacks tournament or the bigger 1000 purchase of the Queen’s Cup turned up trumps. There are only so many hours in a day and that means there is only so long I can sit attempting to find other players.
Strangely though, the standard online open tables are very well populated. Yes, many of the players may just sit there going all in on a regular basis, but we’re not in the world of professional gamblers here; with the vast majority of players just wanting a 10 minute relax away from the fast shooters of the Xbox One library. With a ‘shot clock’ ensuring that play is run at a steady enough pace and the ability to fold or check your hand prior to the camera sweeping round to your turn, it’s just as fast paced as the real online world that you’ll find with many of the UK’s best known bookmakers.
Being able to delve deeper into each and every player at the table is a nice touch and it’s good to be able to see exactly how many hands have been played, how many credits an opponent has and exactly what type of bad beat they are currently running on, but it’s still very faceless. Hey, you can even use up some of those all important credits in order to send them each a little gift. I’m not really sure of the reasoning behind this and I’d rather keep my credits for a useful purpose, but it’s good fun for all of 2 minutes.
If you do ever find yourself low on funds – mostly from gifting fish to others for a laugh – then the superb inclusion of microtransactions can at least make you believe that you’re playing poker for real. The available credits packs are fairly well priced, and whilst I’d never admit to championing a case for microtransactions in a game, they are well suited to the Hold’em scene and give even the very worst players that chance to keep on going when all previous credits have been wittered away.
Pure Hold’em is the purest Hold’em virtual experience you can find and the small addition of a quirky little hi/lo game allows for a slight distraction from the main event. Unfortunately unless you’re going to get involved with the micro transactions and be able to drag some others along for a private ride, it doesn’t quite replicate the excitement found in the real world game.