Though there have been a glut of poker video games since the popularity of Texas hold 'em spiked a few years ago, casino video games are nothing new, and Payout, the new casino game from Namco Bandai, mostly treads on familiar ground. It plays a decent game of poker, and it offers some mildly exotic games like baccarat and red dog, but its promise of delivering an authentic real-world casino experience is left largely unfulfilled, and most players simply won't care about most of the games of chance that are on offer.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2006/233/reviews/928249_20060822_embed001.jpgPayout invents a reason for you to play the slots with imaginary money.
One of the hurdles of turning games of pure chance into video games is fabricating some incentive to play. Playing games that require a modicum of skill, like poker and blackjack, can be satisfying enough, but in the real world, you play slot machines, craps, roulette, or the wheel of fortune because there's real money on the line. Payout comes up with a pretty clever way to entice you to play the pure chance games with its "star system." You start off creating your own gambler, though the options here are a little thin, and regardless of whether you choose a male or female gambler, the characters look kind of pasty and stiff. From here, you walk into an Egyptian-themed casino with a bankroll and no other pressing engagements. This casino has all of the games you'll ever see in Payout. There are three-row and five-row slot machines, video poker, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, craps, red dog, the wheel of fortune, and a poker room.
The poker room offers several different variations beyond the popular Texas hold 'em, including Omaha, Tahoe, super hold 'em, pineapple, and crazy pineapple. You can choose between a sit-and-go and an open table, and you also get to decide the buy-in, the betting limit, the starting blinds, your position at the table, the frequency of blind raises, the number of bets allowed per round of betting, and the number of opponents you'll play against. If you're unfamiliar with any of the games, there are a few paragraphs of text you can read to get the gist, though more thorough tutorials on the finer points of the more obscure casino games would have been appreciated. As you play, you'll find that the poker players at the Egyptian-themed casino are total pushovers and that there's also a relatively low bet limit in place.
There are three more casinos that you can gain access to, each of which offers more-challenging poker players, a higher bet limit, and its own goofy theme-park motif. To gain access to them, you'll have to earn a number of stars first. Stars are earned in different ways in each casino, but they all revolve around making specific moves in each of the games. For example, you might earn stars by winning a poker showdown with a specific type of hand or by winning a hand of blackjack holding a 16 or less. This effectively manufactures incentive to play the pure chance games like the slot machines or the wheel of fortune, which is frankly a bit of a feat in itself, but it still doesn't make hitting the X button to watch the wheels spin on the imaginary slot machine over and over again fun. As you earn stars, build up your bankroll, and gain access to additional casinos, you can further customize your gambler with new hairstyles, hats, glasses, tops, bottoms, and footwear, but the options are limited, and none really compensate for the fact that your gambler will still look generic whether or not he's wearing a sombrero. In fact, the whole presentation of the game is rather generic.
http://image.com.com/gamespot/images/2006/233/reviews/928249_20060822_embed002.jpgUnfortunately, many of the games still feel superfluous.
The game makes a halfhearted attempt to make you feel like you're in a casino by having you walk your character around the casino when you want to switch from one game to another, but the casinos are all incredibly small and vacant, and though the themes are relatively authentic, you never get the sense that you're in a real casino. Add to this the fact that your gambler moves painfully slow and that you can press the start button to access a menu that will let you switch games almost instantaneously, and it makes the game's attempts to evoke the atmosphere of a real casino a moot point. The presentation of each of the games is serviceable but fairly bland as well. The poker game focuses largely on the awkward-looking characters sitting at the table, while most of the other games just display some basic table and card designs with minimal flourish. There's some chintzy elevator music that plays in the background and some tinny-sounding exclamations from the dealers and the other players, all of it sounding cheap, and none of it doing anything to help create the buzz of a real casino.
The variety of games on offer is decent enough, and the star system is an effective way to create value for throwaway games like the slot machines, but Payout still isn't enticing. There are already several superior options on the PlayStation Portable for players looking to get their poker fix, and it seems unlikely that there are many players out there chomping at the bit for portable versions the other casino games that don't involve real money.