Full House Poker was developed by Microsoft Games Studios and published by Microsoft Game Studios.  It was released March 15, 2011 for 800MSP. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Last year, 1 vs. 100 pushed boundaries for what the digital space could provide on consoles by engaging thousands of players at one time in a game show like format. This year, Microsoft is back at it again with a spiritual successor of sorts in the form of Full House Poker. Players fill the shoes of their own avatars as they play the prevalent form of Poker (Texas Hold ‘Em), while attempting to expand their own virtual bankrolls. But do the cards deserve you going all in?

Here’s what we liked:

Progression System — Not only do players expand their own virtual bankrolls while playing, but they are rewarded XP for various actions, including folding hands they should. This is a welcome reward that gives players an incentive to keep playing with both skill and smarts. You don’t have to win to level-up, since points are given just for being in the hand. As players level-up, new stakes and Pro Challenges are unlocked, as well as clothing and customization options.

Texas Heat — Texas Heat is a short 25 minute online game where players are rewarded not only for how they place chip-wise, but for how much experience they earn. It’s the closest thing in the game to a casino feel, as you hear shouts and cheering when tables near you win large hands. Players will be placed in one of three tiers of tables and will be promoted and demoted during the tournament based on how well they are doing. At the end, you might just earn a new in-game avatar award or casino customization options.

Customization and Personality — This game oozes personality. Players can act both passive and aggressive when they bet with the press of a button. Various chip tricks can be performed in game. Players can customize their casino experience all the way from the room down to the chairs and tables and even the cards themselves. Because players can play with their avatars, it isn’t unusual to see yourself facing a Ghost from Call of Duty or a Spartan from Halo. You might even bust a player decked out in all the regalia of a king from Fable 3.

Pro Take Down — The AI seems to work best in Pro Take Down mode. In this mode, the AI takes on distinct personalities and presents a formidable challenge—especially in the later rounds. Players play heads-up against each AI and unlock new duels as they progress levels. Eventually, players will face each of these AI at one table in a final showdown.

Fast Forward — If you’re as ADD as I am, the fast forward button becomes your friend in single player games. After a player removes themselves from a hand, they can fast forward the action and still see how the hand plays out, but at a much higher speed. It’s a very welcome feature and nearly required because of the AI’s bad betting habits.

What we didn’t like:

Computer AI Calls too Often — In general, it’s nearly impossible to program AI that can play “games of skill” in a manner that truly simulates a human opponent. In the end, there is only so much a programmer can do, and while we applaud what did go well, we can’t help but notice that the AI calls hands more often than the average human would… specifically, when the bets get large and players (including the other AI) push all in.

No Caps on Raises Per Round —Typically this isn’t an issue—like in no limit Hold ‘Em; however, two computer players will often be engaged heads-up in a game. Instead of betting logically, they will continue to re-raise each other the minimum amount until they finally push their whole hands all in. This can become incredibly frustrating as it just slows the game pace dramatically, even when fast-forwarded.

Score: Buy It!

Second Opinion By Ben Fisher:

Full House Poker is just plain ol’ fun. The team did a wonderful job of truly rewarding you, the player, with experience points for doing just about anything. Losing a hand, say by folding, is even rewarded if you made a smart play. Leveling up is also rewarding. Every hand you’re dealt takes you a little closer to a new outfit, a new deck of cards, or a new style of furniture for your avatar. Playing online against live people is fun and the AI is pretty decent for an XBLA game.

Score: Buy it!