App Review: Texas Hold’em Poker VR
Last week, I wrote about my experience with virtual reality poker on the Oculus Go all-in-one VR setup and specifically with the app, Poker VR.* While there was certainly a truckload of things that could be improved upon, it was a very fun experience overall and I can completely envision a future with real-money online poker games in virtual reality. In fact, I really, really want this to happen. I have since dabbled with another virtual reality poker game, this one called Texas Hold’em Poker VR (which I will refer to as THPVR, cool?). While it does add some things that Poker VR does not and it is still essentially the same fun experience, I must say it did not grab me the same way Poker VR did.
The thing that struck me right off the bat with THPVR was that it felt much more like a poker game you would find on a social media platform like Facebook. It was littered with stupid bullshit “special opportunities” to buy more chips. As soon as I logged on, a big window floated in front of my face asking if I wanted to buy millions of chips for real money. I hadn’t even played yet! I didn’t even know how many chips I started with!
Then there is a daily login bonus, which is fine, as it gives extra chips for free and serves as an incentive to play, but again, this makes it feel like a social or mobile app. Then, while I was taking in my immediate surroundings, trying to get the lay of the land, there was an icon in the upper-right corner of my field of vision, telling me I had a “lucky spin.” I didn’t know what the hell this was, but it’s as LUCKY SPIN, so I should take it, right? And again, like the daily login bonus, it was cool – you just spin a wheel and see how many extra chips you win. Additional free spins could be made after waiting a few hours or playing a few hands. Of course, you could buy them for real money, too.
Aside from all the stuff vying for your attention, the lobby is very basic. Only No-Limit Hold’em cash games are available and each stakes level is represented by a graphic of a physical table. Just choose the stakes and you’re off. There is also a quick start option, which I think just seats you at a table with stakes appropriate for your bankroll.
Immersive Gameplay, As It Should Be in Virtual Reality
Once at the tables, it feels a bit different than the Poker VR app. Poker VR’s tables are six handed and part of a larger poker room. THPVR’s tables are nine-handed and are in their own room, so everything feels more cramped. Not-exactly-life-like graphics aside, it still feels really cool and realistic, as you do feel like you are sitting at a poker table with people.
It also feels a little more “pervy” than Poker VR. The female dealer in front of me (I have been seated directly across from the dealer every time) is, shall we say, having a hard time staying contained in her dress. And several of the female avatars have very short skirts. When I was testing the VR feel by moving my head around, I actually – INADVERTENTLY, MIND YOU – peered under the table at the legs of the “woman” next to me. Look, I’m no prude, and, well…whatever, but it was just really noticeable, ok? And there were no similar beefcake avatars for the ladies to ogle.
There are many unique avatar looks, though I think they are all automatically assigned. At least I haven’t figured out how to change my avatar (I don’t even know what I look like in-game). In Poker VR, you can customize everything from skin color and hair to clothing. Again, they aren’t photo-realistic, but they are human enough to not make you feel like you are playing Roblox or something.
More Options, But Betting Isn’t Always Straightforward
The mechanics of the game are quite different than in Poker VR, some for the better, some not. To select an action, rather than pressing the trigger button on the controller, you hover your cursor over the action you want to take for a few seconds. This is fine, except that if you’re thinking, you need to be careful that your cursor is not on top of an action button. It also makes it so that you don’t have the full length of the timer to make a decision, as the timer can actually run out while you are hovering over the action button.
THPVR has pre-made bet options like 3x, 4x, and 6x the big blind, as well as half-pot and pot-sized bet checkboxes, which is an improvement over Poker VR. There is a bet slider, also, like in regular online poker, but just like in Poker VR (which uses your chip stack as the bet slider), it is difficult to fine-tune your bet, since you can’t type in a number.
THPVR also offers a small amount of statistical information, whereas PokerVR offers none. You can pull up your player info screen to see what percentage of the time you fold pre-flop, flop, turn, and river. You can also see what percentage of hands you have won and what your best hand is. That’s all, but it’s something.
The biggest thing I don’t like about THPVR is that it is not easy to follow what is going on during the actual gameplay. What it is your turn to act, the window that floats in front of your face doesn’t tell you what the current bet is. To see it, you have to find the player who has bet or raised and hover your cursor over the chips that they have pushed to the middle. Right next to this is their nameplate with their entire chip stack listed and I have found that sometimes I get the two numbers confused. At the very least, it takes enough time for me to figure out what the bet is that I have to hurry up to make my decision.
It is also difficult to determine what each player around the table has done until you figure out what the color-coded lights in front of each player means. You can hover over their nameplate to see their action, but that takes too long. I believe I have determined that a green light means check, blue means call, yellow means raise, and red means all-in. Once you get that, I suppose it’s not bad, but it took me some time to absorb that info. There is no legend, key, or instructions anywhere to explain these things.
Supposedly, you can chat with people using your microphone like you can in Poker VR, but I haven’t figure out how to do that. I have seen people’s mouths moving and I have all sounds on, but I don’t hear voices. I also see no option for my own mic. There is a menu in the middle of the table where you can choose pre-filled text comments or emojis, but as a grown-up, I find those dumb.
Do Not Expect Opponents Who Play Reasonably
The other big difference I found between THPVR and Poker VR that has made me not like THPVR is that the players are absolute maniacs at THPVR. It’s play-money poker, so I obviously expect a lot of loose play, but every time I have played, half the table is all-in pre-flop. And if that doesn’t happen, the all-ins occur on the flop, even when someone has complete air. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen a hand go through every betting round. I’ve tried to play fairly reasonably, just to get a feel for things, but it’s tough. I have only won one hand and that was because I accidentally went all-in pre-flop. Poker VR has it’s share of strange play, too, but it felt a lot more reasonable, as least as far as play money poker is concerned.
So, if you are choosing between the two, I would say go with Poker VR over THPVR. If you like full-ring games, THPVR is the choice, but the gameplay at Poker VR just feels better and the interface feels cleaner, even if the features are much more basic. Poker VR also has freeroll tournaments instead of just cash games.
*I have since read that earlier this year, the CEO of Mega Particle, the company that created Poker VR, said that it is the highest grossing free-to-play app in the Oculus store. This was before the Oculus Go was released, so this would take into account Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR sales.