Texas Cheat 'Em Review
Have you ever been sitting there, playing Texas Hold ‘Em, saying to yourself, “damn, what I wouldn’t give to see that guy’s hand right now”? Well, if you’ve been in this position in the past and have always wanted to snag superhuman powers for just a few seconds in order to steal a pot, then Texas Cheat ‘Em is for you. Basically, it’s exactly what it sounds like: the popular card game of Texas Hold ‘Em with the twist of cheating. The bad news is that such a production doesn’t quite have the staying power to keep the average player entertained for extended periods of time, but the good news overrides such a drawback. If you love the game in question, a darker side of you has most certainly wanted to try cheating at some point, and in that way, Cheat ‘Em is a Godsend after losing a particularly frustrating match in real life. Also, it may appeal to those who aren’t quite familiar with the card game, if only because they’re curious about the aforementioned twist. Wideload could’ve taken a few more steps and amped up the presentation, and we would’ve liked to have seen more in the way of creative mini-games, but other than that, we had fun.
The graphics aren’t really a focus and they’re almost not much of a factor at all. We’re talking about a card game here and if you’re expecting cutting-edge visuals, you’re not familiar with the world of video games. What we have is mediocre or perhaps passable; the silly character avatars replace any 3D character modeling, the backdrops range from quaint parlors designed in the Southwestern motif to a boxing ring, and the table is…well, it’s a poker table. In this same vein, we won’t spend a lot of time on the other side of the technical assessment: the sound. There isn’t much of a soundtrack – what’s there is mostly downplayed and repetitive – and the standard card-playing sound effects aren’t going to turn any heads. But the effects that accompany those mini-games are amusing and don’t seem to grow old, and they reflect the deceitful, playful mood of cheating. It’s difficult to explain, but let’s just say that the sound works for this format and type of game, even if it’s lacking in certain areas. All in all, there’s really nothing about these technicals that can be considered “good” or “bad;” it’s just…there. The emphasis sits squarely on the gameplay, as one would expect.
If you’re not familiar with the game of Texas Hold ‘Em, we’ll catch you up real quick. All players are dealt two cards face down and players make their initial bets. If you want to play, you have to at least meet the “blinds,” which dictate your minimum buy-in for that particular hand. There’s the small blind and big blind and once these are in, you can fold if you wish. Then, three cards are turned up in the center of the table; these are known as “community cards,” which all players use to combine with the two cards in their hand. There’s another round of betting and provided players are still involved, a fourth card is turned over; this is called the “Turn.” Again, another round of betting, and if necessary, the hand goes to the fifth and final card, or the “River.” Whoever forms the best hand by combining the community cards with his or her two cards wins the round and takes all the cash in the middle. Now, this is the same game you’ll find in Texas Cheat ‘Em…but with a few significant alterations that make the experience fresher and yes, more backhanded.
The first big change is that the player with the best hand doesn’t take all the money in the pot. They get the largest portion, but the second and third-best hands also receive a portion of the money as well, so sometimes it makes far more sense to stay in a hand than to fold. This immediately makes the game more interesting but that’s only the start. Things speed up even further due to a 30-second time clock, but it’s strangely interrupted if you simply cycle through the available Cheats. That’s actually a good thing from our standpoint but what’s the point of putting in a time limit if we just have to move a cursor to stop it? Anyway, those Cheats represent the heart of the game (duh). You will expend Cheat Points to attempt any one of fifteen available Cheats and if you succeed, you will most certainly have the unfair edge. A mini-game accompanies every Cheat, and you will either be attempting a standard Cheat that changes something about your own hand or the cards in the deck, or you will “attack” another player. The opposition can also cheat, of course, and because of this, you can opt to protect yourself from “PVP” (Player vs. Player) attacks by setting up a Shield (the lone defensive Cheat on the list). It’s a lot of fun to ponder your cheating strategy.
For example, you can start off every hand by attempting to steal a few chips from another player. You won’t play the same mini-game every time, but we usually found the one that had a meter going up and down and we had to hit it as close to the top as possible. If we did better than the other player, we got those chips. Now, this is an example of a skill-based mini-game, but there are others that are based more on luck. For instance, there’s the High/Low game, where you see a card and you simply have to say whether the second card will be higher or lower. Than there’s a roll of the dice (we found that one when trying the difficult Guaranteed Win Cheat) where you have to roll higher than a certain number, and a slot machine mini-game, which is partially based on luck (you can stop it in the right spot if you watch close and have good reactions). You never know what mini-game might pop up, and if you don’t keep an eye on your opponents, you may never know what they’re scheming. The only problem we have with this system is that it became a little too mechanical for us. All we did was steal chips right off the bat all the time, then do the X-Ray Vision Cheat to see an opponent’s hand, and proceed accordingly.
Of course, when there are three players, seeing one player’s hand won’t guarantee victory, but you earn more Cheat Points with every new round, so you can actually see everyone’s hand if you spend all your CP on your way to the River. Furthermore, fiddling around with the Hole cards of your opponents isn’t quite as effective as other more drastic Cheats, and they shouldn’t have restricted the “change card” Cheats. See, you can change the value of a card in your hand, in an opponent’s hand, or on the table, but you can only change the value by 1, or switch it to a different suit of the same value. We’re cheating, aren’t we? Shouldn’t we be able to change it to whatever we want? It’s only one card and while it’d definitely be a big deal, you could make it an especially difficult mini-game – like the Guaranteed Win – so we’d have to really ponder an attempt. And as we said in the intro, while there are 15 Cheats, we could’ve used more, or at least a wider variety, and the same goes for the mini-games. What we have works but it gets a little old after a few hours.
The game’s setup is pretty standard. You have a tutorial and practice option, and the meat and potatoes of the experience centers on the Career mode. It’s not exactly in-depth as you can’t customize a player or learn anything new, but you can participate in a bunch of different events. They proceed in a linear fashion but that’s okay; you won’t be trying to achieve the same goal twice in a row, and that’s a big benefit. There’s actually more originality in the event goals than there are in the Cheats, but even so, the entire production comes together in a solid package that will appeal to anyone who has always wanted to cheat without repercussions. Playing on Medium difficulty can be a definite challenge and heading online is also entertaining; it’s the first game where cheating is welcomed and encouraged! The bottom line is that Wideload has a good foundation here, one that many will likely enjoy for a little while, but it just needed a bit more in the way of diversity and panache. Not much, mind you, but enough to keep us interested for days and weeks rather than hours. It would be a better buy at half the price but at $9.99, it’s worth it if you’re a Texas Hold ‘Em fan.
5/26/2009 Ben Dutka