Pure Hold'em Review (PS4)
VooFoo Studios has quietly staked a claim as the premier "table sports" developer, despite the studio's indie status. VooFoo has had critical hits with its pool games Hustle Kings and Pure Pool. The studio's latest game, Pure Hold'Em, brings the studio's quiet sensibility to the ever-popular poker variant.
Pure Hold'em is nothing but...pure Texas Hold'em, done digitally. The focus on only one card game, instead of a suite of poker or casino games, allows VooFoo to -- pardon the pun -- go all in.
It begins with a deep tutorial for those unfamiliar with the game. From there, you can enter single-player games against a variety of AI opponents or take the action online. Tournaments begin with low buy-ins, but higher stakes options are available as you level up. Your funds are collected not only for winning, but also by earning XP through a relatively opaque system. I felt the progression was at just the right speed to encourage future plays while minimizing frustration.
All of the controls are handled nicely, including the ability to swipe down on the touchpad to peek at your cards. The game has a nice flow with almost no meaningless downtime.
First, the game looks great, from the tables to the backgrounds to the customizable chips and cards. There is a real slickness to the atmosphere, albeit one that may feel a little cold and/or industrial. This Texas Hold'em is "pure" and about as far from the Wild West as you can get. If anything, the game could use a little more personality.
One of the biggest reasons Pure Hold'em can feel so lifeless is the lack of true in-game avatars. Opponents, both online and named AI characters, are represented by iPad-like tablets. Static pictures and stats adorn the pads, which are placed around the table as if someone set up a Skype-based poker night. Imagining the tense scenes from Casino Royale played out via James Bond's mobile tablet is rather humorous.
In keeping things this streamlined, I think Pure Hold'em misses a chance to bring some of the more psychological aspects of the game to the platform. The lavish atmosphere does not mean much when you could essentially get the same experience from seeing only the cards from above the table, much like in 1990s PC casino games.
The only other strange design decision is that you never get to see what other people are holding once they fold. I want to make the rest of the table weep when I bluff with a pair of 2s. As it stands, once everyone else folds I am simply declared the winner.
Despite the lack of in-game avatars, Pure Hold'em is a nice package for fans of the genre. It's a technically proficient game with great visuals, slick controls and a very well-done leveling/money system.
That it's relatively devoid of any distinctive personality or humor may or may not bother you. Again, the adjective at the beginning of the title holds: it's all about the cards.
Score: 7.0 (Good)