Can a smarter program make a better poker video game? That's what Stacked hopes to answer - and our hands-on impressions from the PC and PS2 versions make us believers so far.
Stacked's artificial intelligence has been in development for 10 years independently as a pure research project; the game creators simply wrapped it up in an attractive Texas Hold 'Em shell. Of course, this also means that this game has been practicing for 10 years, just to kick your ass. You won't see a lot of reckless play in most cases - the computer bluffs a lot less than you might expect, and if you make the wrong assumption about the cards they're holding, you'll pay for it. At any time, just ask pro poker poster boy Daniel Negreanu for his advice on how to play the hand. It's usually good, though we did catch him suggesting once that we place a small bet during an all-in situation.
All the versions of Stacked we've seen so far look and play nearly identically. Characters can smile and frown to send "tells" - expressions that may or may not give away the strength of their hand. Losing players don't walk away from the table; instead, they stand up, hold their hands up like they're being robbed at gunpoint then disappear. Maybe this awkward animation isn't finished yet, but we're afraid it is. However, the voice acting sounds pretty good, and the speech matches the characters fairly well; wait too long to bet and you'll get taunted by your tablemates with a variety of gentle insults. Only the wimpy-sounding guy who keeps calling you "dog" and "pimp" gets annoying.