Hard Rock Casino
What are the odds on this scoring well?
PSP, PS2, PC
Some things are hard to understand, like the theory of relativity, Jar Jar Binks and why Mark Lawrenson is paid to commentate. Another one of those seemingly unanswerable questions is which group of gamers Hard Rock Casino is aimed at? Surely it's not kids - turning youngsters towards gambling would not go down well considering the spotlight gaming is under at the minute thanks in part to Manhunt 2 and the Church of England fiasco. Maybe adults then? Perhaps, but surely those who gamble will already do so in the infinitely better environment of the real-world, whilst non-gamblers are non-gamblers by definition and so will unlikely be intrigued and converted by this title.
What about the hard-core gamblers? Well, even those will find little comfort in the play-on-the-go advantage that the PSP has to offer considering that it is the risk/reward balance of gambling with real money that most addicts truly crave. Casual gamblers then might be the only target - those who like to dabble when the Grand National comes around but not too often otherwise. With that in mind though you have to wonder about the logic of the Hard Rock Casino license. The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas is hardly what these casual gamblers would expect or be accustomed to - or even comfortable with.
Set in a 3D representation of a real casino, the player must complete certain objectives to unlock further objectives and new casinos. It's pseudo-3D really as - in a Myst-like fashion - you can only move left, right, forward or back to the next viewpoint. Get to a table or a slot machine that you like and you can play that game. Virtually every game you can think of is covered. All the obvious like poker, blackjack and roulette are there as well as variations such as no-limit Texas hold 'em, Omaha hold 'em and 7 card stud. There's also the more obscure games such as casino war, fortune pai gow and baccarat. You'll also find sports betting available as well as poker tournaments.
With so many games on offer there's thankfully some tutorials to teach you the rules - perhaps a further nod to the casual gambler demographic that this title is targeting. These are nicely presented animated videos but can still leave you with some questions. For instance, does anyone really understand craps? It seems an overly complex and incomprehensible game even after watching the tutorial. So, is it too much to ask for a nice gentle introduction to the game itself, taking one aspect of the rules in turn, building upon the basics until you are familiar with them all? Seemingly, yes. Once in the casino you can only play the full game. To make matters worse, the tutorials are only available before you start the main adventure mode so once you begin, it is impossible to watch them again and familiarize yourself with the rules. Unless you quit out of the game of course which is a further hindrance. Why no hints and tips as you are playing? Why not have some advice from a seasoned gambler? These factors are a major oversight as unless you are indeed a regular gambler, you will probably need to access the the tutorials often. But then, regular gamblers will probably not find much solace in this form of pseudo-gambling.
Some things can't be faulted though. Visually it's very clean and very Vegas. The audio is good with cheerful tunes, background ambience and table chatter. The latter is interesting for a while but does become bothersome. Thankfully it can be turned off. Technically and as a feat of coding, the game is impressive. But as a concept it doesn't hang together and that's when the design needs to be looked at. As these are based on real-world games, does anyone actually play them in isolation, by themselves and with no money involved? Sure, with friends they can become fun, but then even when no money is at stake it often comes down to the social aspect and the one-up-manship involved. Playing solo feels almost pointless, no matter how much polish the game is given.
At its base level, Hard Rock Casino reduces your PSP to an expensive dice thrower and card shuffler. Is that a game? Is guessing the next card from the top of the pack a game? Or guessing the next number to be rolled on the dice? One could ague that the further removed the activity is from a skill and the more it involves luck, the the more it is, well, a game of chance - a rather unfortunate turn of phrase. Typically these 'games' are not fun for long, not unless there is some other stimuli involved such as the rush of winning money and the despair of losing it all.
Perhaps if this 'game' was re-imagined, if it was more of an RPG-lite, where you move around different casinos, meet people, build your gambling skills, unlock new games, challenge players, complete meaningful side-quests, then maybe, just maybe Hard Rock Casino would be more fun. As it is, in its present form, it's just no dice.