Poker as a mini-game within a bigger game isn’t overly new. As far back as 2003, Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball had a five card draw game. It was a somewhat odd addition to a generally odd game – anyone remember the “butt battle” mode?
By 2012, things had gotten more logical, with Far Cry 3 incorporating poker as both a way to earn in-game currency and as the key part of a mission in the latter stages of the story. It proved such a popular feature that for Far Cry 4 developers Ubisoft released a companion app, Arcade Poker, that was an individual game in itself.
There’s a myriad of videos online where Minecraft modders give tutorials in how to build poker tables. For Red Dead Redemption 2 developers Rockstar Games, poker as a minigame was a fairly established concept. Carl ‘CJ’ Johnson plays video poker in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the protagonists of GTA V Online can hit up the Diamond Resort & Casino to play 3 Card Poker. RDR2, however, is where they went all in.
It’s a Long Ride
While the Grand Theft Auto games flirted with poker, the formats of the poker on offer didn’t lend themselves to much depth, and the device was more useful as a quick way of building in-game currency. RDR2 scraps that concept and makes it an intrinsic part of the thematic experience. The ability to play poker is introduced fairly early in the story, after completion of the Chapter 2 mission ‘Who Is Not Without Sin’.
There are 5 locations in which to play, all of which pay homage to the realistic gaming scenarios of the Old West – 4 are saloons (in the towns of Valentine, Saint Denis, Blackwater and Tumbleweed) with the other being the waiting room of a railroad station (Flatneck). Poker in RDR2 is an immersive experience that rewards skilful play, and with 4 of the tables being for pretty low stakes (Saint Denis being the exception), it’s far from a get rich quick scheme of accumulating virtual dollars. Indeed, two of the locations – Tumbleweed and Blackwater – are only unlocked when you reach the game’s epilogue.
Play Like The Pros
After the slightly off-kilter poker gaming of the Grand Theft Auto Series, RDR2 cuts to the chase. The game here is the one you see in casinos, and the one you see on ESPN. Texas Hold’em will be a familiar variety of the game to a lot of players. Just to recap though for those who may not be familiar, this game involves each player being dealt 2 personal (or ‘hole’) cards. From there, up to 5 community cards will be dealt that each player can combine with either or both of their cards to make the best hand. The two players to the left of the dealer – or the player with the ‘dealer’ button in front of them, at least – are mandated to bet before any cards are dealt, with a ‘small blind’ and a larger cash amount ‘big blind’ to ensure there’s action on every new hand. From there it’s a battle of skill, perception and nerve as players try to force each other off the table – or alternatively entice other players to bet more so they can scoop a bigger pot if they’re holding a monster hand.
While it’s a good idea to have a solid understanding of what hand beats what before sitting at the table, Rockstar has added a feature able to be triggered during poker games that tells you the hierarchy of hands if you need to double-check on the hop.
Poker in Red Dead Redemption 2 is an integral part of the game. It’s the key to Chapter 4 mission A Fine Night Of Debauchery and a key part of the cinematic experience of the game. As graphical power, storytelling and budgets draw video gaming ever closer to being akin to an HBO series, the saloons and railroads add authenticity to its turn of the 20th century setting. There are 3 poker challenges to complete if you wish to finish the game with a 100% rating ¬– win 5 hands, win 3 hands in a row and bust a player (taking their entire stack) in 3 different locations. The latter being a fairly hefty task. Further, it’s a popular feature with players. Gaming forums have a wealth of discussion on the poker games, with the Flatneck Station seemingly the most popular location. The lack of a piano player, which all the saloons feature, enables gamers to put on their headphones and listen to their own music as they’re playing.
Oh, one other thing, the poker in Red Dead Redemption 2 is also available in the game’s online mode, allowing you to play other gamers as well as the AI of the main quest. It’s worth spending some time in the story mode to get good first though; you don’t want to have another player being able to repeat Arthur’s angling exclamation back at you: “you sir, are a fish.”