The lack of a good poker or Texas Hold’em game on next-gen consoles has been a bit of a surprise, especially when you think about the popularity of the smaller XBLA and PSN poker games last gen. After spending more hours of my life than I’d like to admit playing the small and admittedly dull Hold’em game on Xbox 360, I was more than ready for a game to take up the mantle on PS4 and Xbox One. Enter Pure Hold’em, a game that does nothing more than try to deliver a simple but solid round of Texas Hold ‘Em.
When you boot up the game for the first time, you find yourself with 1,000 chips to start with and the option for a simple tutorial. It spends just a few moments covering the basics of hand ranks and betting, but to be fair that’s about all the time necessary, as the standard rules of Texas Hold ‘Em aren’t very complicated. The chips they give you in the beginning are just enough to get you onto the Queens table to begin, or you can opt for a smaller table with a lower buy-in to figure out what you’re doing.
There are total of six tables to play on, and they range from no buy-in and tiny blinds, to a million chips up front and massive blinds. The table with no buy-in means you can always play something, even if you lose it all, and the game also offers a daily high/low game to try and gain back chips quickly. The problem is that it’s very difficult to work your chip count back once you’ve lost everything, unless you’re willing to spend real money toward more chips via microtransactions. It’s also very disappointing that there’s no offline tournament mode. Each of the offline tables just plays infinitely until you quit or lose out, so there’s very little suspense unless you’re online.
Thankfully, the logic behind the AI players is pretty good. You don’t get the crazy aggression you’ll find online, but other players will go big if they have the hand to back it up. The only real issue I found with the AI opponents is that they don’t ever seem to bluff, or at least not late in a hand with anything real on the line. So you’re pretty much guaranteed that if an AI player is betting strong, they probably have something to play with, which removes a small element from the offline modes.
But if it’s aggression and wild play that you’re after from your opponents, look no further than online multiplayer, which has a very similar table system as the offline modes, but with tournaments and private matches thrown in for up to eight players. I never made it to the higher tables but the strategy at the lower tables is about what you’d expect – go big and go often. In one of the matches I played, six of the eight players at the table went all in right out of the hole. This kind of play was common in my experience, though I assume the higher tables might be a little more conservative because those players have larger chip stacks to protect.
Unfortunately, the online mode did come with its share of bugs. In one game right after I won a big pot, I was immediately kicked due to ‘inactivity’, even though I had just interacted with a bet not 30 seconds prior. I also got stuck in a ‘please wait’ screen on several occasions after leaving an online table. And finally, I had a trophy pop for starting with pocket aces, but it was actually another player that had that hand, yet it gave me the trophy anyway.
Regardless of what mode your pleasure is, there’s an XP-based ranking system in the game that follows you through both single and multiplayer. It appears to be nothing more than a number, but it does give you an idea of what kind of experience you’re up against in online games. The game also supplies a heap of stats from the other players, all of which give you a good idea of how aggressive they are and how often they win. You can also choose from different decks, chips, table colors and music styles if you want to change up the aesthetics and audio, but these options were a little more limited than I would’ve liked.
It’s a shame that Pure Hold’em doesn’t come with a few extra modes and more customisation options, because there’s a large, poker-shaped hole in our current next-gen games lineup. Rather than capitalising on the lack of any competition right now, it merely offers a competent package of one style of poker. That said, it is the most popular of the poker variants, and what Pure Hold’em does well is the core card game itself. So if that’s exactly what you’re looking for, it’s worth the low buy-in, just don’t expect a game that goes all-in on features and options.
Version tested: PS4