Pure Hold’em Review

I’m going to start this review of VooFoo Studio’s and Ripstone’s Pure Hold’em with a confession: I don’t know how to play poker. Already I’ve been on this planet more years than I’d necessarily care to admit and yet the art of the game just hasn’t sunk in (and when I say “art” I mean “rules”, but “art” sounds much fancier).

That’s not to say I’ve never played poker, either in the real world or video games, but often – usually in video games – it’s been as a mini-game, as a small part of a larger whole. Such as in Red Dead Redemption: sitting around a table with questionable gentlemen sipping whiskey is great, and knowing that the wrong move could earn you a bullet in the hip (because everyone’s too drunk to shoot straight) really spices up the occasion, but there are vagabonds and ne’er-do-wells to round up, treasures to find. Sitting at a table for hours doesn’t hold quite the same amount of appeal.

At this point if you’re some poker aficionado you’re probably thinking “well, why on earth did they give the review to him? What a bumbling moron.” Brushing past the quaint but fundamentally cutting insult, the very point of me reviewing the game is because I know little: can Pure Hold’em teach me how to play poker? How to play it well, to win, how to enjoy the game?

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The first option Pure Hold’em gives you is which language you’d like to pick. We resisted the unfathomable urge to pick Italian and went for English. The next question is whether or not you’d like to learn how to play, and while the confident may skip on by, for anyone who’s unsure of the rules of Texas hold’em poker or how Pure Hold’em operates it’s a simple yet effective tutorial.

You’re introduced to the controls – hold LT to view just enough of your cards as required to know what they are, the right stick to look around the table and inspect player information, the inputs for betting – and guided through a game of hold’em.

Although obviously fixed the round is perfectly orchestrated to take you through the steps – the dealing of the hole cards, the flop and river – as well as betting with, for example, small blinds, big blinds, checks, calls, and buy-ins.

The cards in your hand are also explained and there’s a “Hand Guide” available in the pause menu, though in my opinion it would have been far more helpful to have the guide also accessible while the game is being played. When against offline opponents there’s no time-limit to how long you’ve got left to make your move and for novices, perhaps unsure of all the cards that might be on the table once they’ve reached the flop, being able to check against a list while their own hand and community cards are visible could quicken the pace at which they learn to spot winning combinations.

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Once the tutorial is over you’re free to pick from the few game options available. Simply separated, there’s offline play where you’ve got the choice of various tables to play at with increased small blinds, big blinds and buy-ins; and online play which features “Open Tables” such as those in offline play, “Tournaments”, and the option to host a “Private Table” for you and your friends only.

Playing offline means going up against the game’s A.I. opponents. When sitting at a table there are no character models representing them, however as with online players’ Gamertags, there’s a small picture of their face and a placard displaying their name. Alone that wouldn’t make for a sense of personality but after reading the short yet entertaining bio’s of the A.I. characters in the main menu, covering a range of both female and male characters with different backgrounds, it adds a flavour of personal competitiveness to what would otherwise be a faceless computer.

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How much satisfaction you get out of the offline mode is ultimately dependant on how much you enjoy beating a computer though. The difficulty rises as you win more chips, which convert into credits, allowing you to buy into higher priced tables, but there’s no story mode present and no incentive to play offline unless your internet connection’s dropped or you’re not in the mood for contending with human players.

Online play therefore is where you’ll probably spend most of your time, and though the “Open Table” mode is the same table selection as offline play – ranging from Jokers Table to Masters Table – the satisfaction of winning or disappointment of losing is far more amplified here.

You can dip in and out of “Open Table” easily and it’s a quick way of increasing your credits, however the “Tournament” mode will likely be the highlight for avid poker players in Pure Hold’em.

 

Entering the Queen’s Table we had a short while to wait before the requisite seven other players joined. Everyone starts with exactly 1000 credits and from then on it’s a knock-out tournament, with players who lose all their chips out of the game. You can stay on and watch if you fancy it, of course. Eventually there’ll be fewer and fewer of you left and the tension becomes palpable; any chat through the headsets dwindles. You’re dealt a hand, will it be good enough? What do the other players’ have? Are they bluffing? As these questions went through my mind I finally understood the thrill of poker, realised why it attracts everyone from the poor to the rich and why the game on its own, even when there’s no real money to be won, is incredibly compulsive.

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There may be no real money to win but you can certainly lose real money. There’s a range of microtransaction packages available, from £2.39 for 10,000 credits up to £15.99 for 10,000,000 credits, but you’ll never see any of it back in reality. Factor in the initial cost of £15.99 to buy the game and you come to Pure Hold ‘Em‘s greatest flaw: value for money.

With Pure Hold’Em the title is indicative of all you get – there are no other card or casino games to play. There are neat additions: you can customise your card skins and chips from a range of three designs, the colour and pattern of the table from more. Leaderboard rankings, a levelling system to show off your poker credentials, a payout game of high/low accessible from the main menu free once a day or more often if you’re willing to pay. But that’s pretty much it.

Gameplay is sharp in Pure Hold’em, it’s fun, and while before playing I knew almost nothing about Texas hold’em poker I would now happily sit at a table and try my skill and luck with a few hands. But at its current price I’d warn even die-hard hold’em fans that it’s not great value for money, and as for casual players? The buy-in on this one is a little too steep.

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