May 10, 2007 - Casino and especially poker games are hot these days, each year seeing the latest release in a handful of ongoing franchises with a few scattered new titles here and there to mix things up a bit. Newest to the genre is Hard Rock Casino, Crave Entertainment's go at an all-encompassing gambling experience.
The point of Hard Rock Casino is to put you in total control of your money and let you play whichever games you want, whenever you want. After creating a character, you'll enter a full casino with more than 15 different casino games at your disposal. There's a story here that you can follow as well, with your progression working to open up new casinos and bonuses.
That's one cluttered inferface you have there.
While the setup here sounds good, most everything in the package is about as bare-bones as you can get. Each of the games works about as well as they would on a cell phone, with about as much flash as you'd find on the talking boxes as well. No single game is worth playing on its own, unless you're a big fan of pushing the X button to spin a slot machine. The more complicated games like craps have a rather utilitarian interface that feels quite a bit mechanical to use.
The game's story mode is told via a series of comic book-esque sequences with gamblers that usually ask you to prove yourself at a game. Once you've finished enough challenges at any casino, you're able to go for the final challenge (which usually involves earning a large sum of money at any game) and then you can move on. Some of the challenges are decent in nature and aren't dependent upon a number of wins, while others are strictly based on luck. The first blackjack challenge tasks you to make 10 correct plays in a row, regardless of whether or not you win the hand. This works reasonably well and helps you learn the game, though it doesn't exactly explain why you've made a bad play if you do.
On the other hand, some challenges, like keeping the dice in craps for 10 consecutive rolls, is simply a matter of luck. Worse than this, some game goals challenge you to double your money regardless of how much you have in the bank. If you roll up to the table with $100 in your pocket, this won't take long. But roll up with $10,000 when you can place a maximum bet of $200 and you'll be there for a long, long time.
Randomized games like roulette just don't pay out in videogame form.
Half of the experience in any gambling game, especially those based entirely on luck, is directly tied to the presentation. Hard Rock Casino also falls flat here, offering up odd-looking and rather shoddy visuals and casino navigation that could have been implemented a little more naturally. But by far the biggest problem here is that there aren't any instructions inside of the career mode or even the manual. In order to learn how to play a game, you need to quit out to the game's main menu. The tutorials are decent, sure, but on more than one occasion I neglected to play a table game simply because I didn't feel like going back to my room, saving the game and quitting to the main menu before learning to play, and then having to load my save all over again. Bah.
Hard Rock Casino is a poor attempt at a decent idea. Mixing a ton of casino games into one package and then tying a goal-based story around it certainly works on paper, but when you use low-budget implementations of each and every game to put it together, the whole thing falls apart.