Prominence Poker from Pipeworks Studios is a 2016 digital-only free-to-play poker game with a unique emphasis on character creation and is a great entry level buy-in for gamers wanting to learn their flushes from their straights.
Free-to-play games are strange things to review. Inherently, the review is usually to serve as a guide for a purchasing decision but that is negated when the actual game is completely free for anyone to try out. So, really this will serve as more of a guide to showcase if it is worth your time more than anything.
Before you begin playing you are given a ‘daily cut’ of in-game money to spend and prompted to create a Sim-like avatar to take into the games. It’s a great feature and there is a decent amount of options in terms of customisable sliders to make your character as well as a fairly interesting set of clothing options for you to switch out (the default Hawaiian shirt perhaps, or the slick-styled Italian three-piece suit may be your thing?). You can even select a personal table item for your character which can range from a bottle of water, beer, shot of vodka, cigarettes to more flamboyant items like chains, gold skulls or guns and grenades (to intimidate, it would seem).
Some of these items earn you experience points and these points in turn (very) slowly level up your character (which can lead to loot case drops, increased bankroll money or unlockable clothing items). You can increase the amount of experience points you gain by buying Boosters (putting real money in) for the purpose of getting this stuff early but depending on your desire to showcase some expensive looking avatar clothes, it is hard to feel incentivised to throw down real cash for that alone.
The important point is that this element doesn’t affect the actual playing of the game. It is purely cosmetic so a level two player will still have as much of a chance to beat a player at level 308 (yes, there are gamers with this ranking likely due to a known exploit regarding gifting players drink refills, which does sort of reduce the significance of the levelling system).
There are so many ways that you can play poker online from video games to actual poker with real cash at stake. But, the appeal with this version is that there is no danger of losing money so it’s likely geared more towards those wanting to dip their toes into the world of online poker. However, the progression system, in-game challenges and bountiful character unlockables do provide a hook for those more experienced that want to enjoy it for pure entertainment.
As for the actual poker and why it has taken over seven paragraphs to get to it, it’s a digital poker game. More specifically, it is strictly Texas Hold’em rules and is overall a great version of the card game. The user interface is sleek and intuitive so you know quite quickly what is happening and games move at a nice pace.
There is a single player element which serves as a tutorial for those that might want some practice before heading online. Being a relative novice I found this very useful. There are four affiliations which you can join (the Italian Hearts, Russian Spades, American Clubs or the Japanese Diamonds). Each have their own setting – dive biker bar for the Americans, lavish (probably Yakuza-owned) casino for the Japanese - where you face off against a couple members of the group and then against the mob leader. The AI is mostly decent and can be pretty tricky at times but will never match a human player in the way that human players evolve over the length of a game (it didn’t seem like the CPU was changing up too much to my play style). However, once you become confident in beating them there isn’t much more to do in offline single-player.
Online is where the meat of the game is and even over five years after launch there is still a considerable player base. Competitors can play in either ring games (six players in total) or head-to-head and they can be casual games or ranked. The ranked games assign you points which are tallied over a season (a month) and in that month if you can earn enough points (by either winning head-to-head matches or finishing in the top three of tournaments) you can progress from Bronze level to Silver, Gold and through to Diamond. That is where the entry fee is astronomical and the winnings even more so (I couldn’t surpass silver but unfortunately it didn’t look like there were many people online playing beyond the Gold tier). However, it’s a fun set-up and adds some extra stakes to the matches as the Casual Ring games can be ruined by players constantly going ‘all in’.
Of course, there is no way of knowing if players are colluding (chatting together in a private party to theoretically cheat) and there is no way to truly be certain if the game is properly randomised in the card dealings (as there seem to be a large contingent of salty reviews which claim it’s ‘rigged’ to favour those who have spent more money in the game). In my experience of playing this regularly, there are good days and bad days so there will always be games where my calls are spot on and then others where I can’t seem to get anything right but crucially, that is poker. Again, it’s a free game and so looking at it as the truly definitive poker experience seems incredibly naive.
It’s simply a neat way to sit back and enjoy some chilled card games. Thankfully, even with a full table of six players the action is loose and fast. The avatars are animated with caricatured silliness and you can even make them celebrate, dance, play with their chips or even perform a magic trick whilst the others are deliberating. The background music is also suitably bluesy and feels like it wouldn’t be out of place in The Godfather. All of these touches help the game feel more polished than your average digital casino game.
Verdict - Overall, it’s a great simulation of Texas Hold’em and you probably already have an idea going in if that interests. If you are looking to learn how to play poker or simply want to enjoy it without losing your home, then this version on Xbox One is certainly worth your time. And, with its quirky character creator and unique table items as its pocket aces, this is definitely a strong hand if not a Royal Flush.