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STACKED for Xbox Review

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It's got slick promotions. It's got a ‘name player' attached to it. It's got several pro players' images attached. It's got different game types, playing styles and character types. It's got everything you want in a poker game. Except money.

"It" is STACKED, a new video game available on PC, Xbox and Sony Playstation. Sponsored by MTV and featuring Daniel Negreanu, STACKED helps fight the shark-jumpers in the poker world by introducing Texas Hold ‘Em to the tweener set that can't yet sign up for PartyPoker or PokerStars accounts of their very own.

In an unbiased opinion, I'd have to say that if I were going to play only Hold ‘Em, and play for play money only, I'd probably be a huge fan of this game. It offers cash games, sit n' go's and multi-table tournaments so there are plenty of different playing styles to choose from. You can also select a "Career Mode," which allows you to develop your play over a lifetime and increase your bankroll to buy into larger games.

The Xbox live (and other formats, feature that platform's online play capability) feature alone is great for building interest, because now people that can't play internet poker because they are too young or too nervous to sign up with an online poker room can just log into the same network they play Halo on and play poker against live opponents as well as the computer's AI.

Let's start at the beginning. When you fire up the game, you create a persona for yourself. You customize all aspects of your character's appearance from gender to body, selecting hair color and style, clothing, sunglasses (or not) and even what type of baseball cap you wear and whether or not you turn it backwards! Coming from a long-time role-playing game background, this was something I found very enjoyable.

I liked all the options for customizing my character, and found the graphics to be sharp and eye-catching. I chose to be a slightly different player in the game than I am in the real world, because really, why would I choose to be an overweight 30-something when I can design myself as a fit twenty-something with overpriced shades?

So with my character created, it was time to play. The game is obviously created for players of all skill levels, and I think that I may have been a little ahead of the curve for the intended audience, because I found myself disagreeing with the "tips" that the in-game Daniel kept offering, and actually thinking many times, "Gee, Danny, that's not how you'd play the hand." The in-game Daniel advises a very generic, by-the-book tight-aggressive style, which is exactly what newcomers to the game need to be taught. I, of course, ignored most of that advice because I am, to put it mildly, a donkey.

I found the level of play put forth by the games Artificial Intelligence to mimic low-limit live play very well, right down to the table chatter the different characters give off. There were plenty of grumbling folds, a ton of weak-tight play, and several internet-worthy two-outers. So all in all, it played just like internet poker, only much slower. Because so much attention is paid to the physical depiction of the characters and their chatter, the pace of the game is much more like that of live play than the typical online game, which is also good for beginners who can often become bewildered at the speed of online play.

I acquitted myself fairly well, making the money in my sit n' go and increasing my bankroll in the cash game I played. The AI is adaptive, and I quickly found that the same moves didn't work on the same computer-generated player as often as they work on the same real player, so in that aspect the computer is a quicker study of the game than real players!

I think that the game is fine for beginners who want to learn the basics of the game and develop an understanding of strategy in small tournaments or cash games, and that the game overall will be good for poker as it keeps getting young players interested in the game. For advanced players, it's pretty useless, as it gives no opportunity to learn new games like Razz, Badugi, or even Stud, and there's no wagering. But if I were going to play poker for play money, I'd certainly play STACKED, because the graphical interface is light-years ahead of any poker site, and that can only be good in the long run for generating interest in the game.

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