In the mid-late 1980’s the chess scene was massive. Gary Kasparov, Nigel Short and later on, Deep Blue were hitting the headlines and with videogames still in their infancy, it was the tabletop strategy world that ruled the roost.
It was about that time when I learnt the game of chess, taught by my father as he passed on years of knowledge in the hope that one day his son would be able to challenge the grandmasters of this world.
But alas, whilst the intentions were good, the mindset and skill levels required fell short, instead leaving me with a life of pain. Or at least a life with something less tactical.
Now though chess is back and I’m glad to say that it’s available on the modern day gamers systems of choice. It therefore seems like a great time to relearn those skills and attempt yet again to become a master. A grandmaster in fact.
Indeed Pure Chess Grandmaster Edition is, aside from the awesome Battle Chess that graced our systems decades ago, quite possibly the finest chess title to date, delivering one of the best tactical experiences I’ve ever seen.
Much of this is down to the visuals and there is absolutely no debating that Pure Chess looks unbelievable. The Pure series of games have always been built on the back of stunning graphics and that is never more true than with the chess variation. The few distinct environments that are in play are well created even if they don’t bring an awful lot to worry about. Chess is after-all focused solely on what is going on on the board and whether I’m playing the game in a virtual penthouse, library or even down in the slums, all I’m really worrying about is my next move. And the one after that. And that. The environments do however bring a relaxing feel to the gameplay and when combined with the smooth jazz, classical or chilled notes that plays away in the background, Pure Chess delivers.
The various chess sets included build upon this deliverance and whether you are using the Staunton set (your basic bog-standard chess pieces), or the more imaginative Roman, Park Animals, Easter Island themes or more, then they all look delightful. If I’m being totally honest, the different pieces do confuse matters somewhat as once the initial game opening is out of the way and we move into the mid-game battle, it’s always nice to know exactly which is your Queen, which is your King and which are the Knights at a glance. Substituting the usual pieces for rats, statues and more might seem like a nice touch, and I’m sure it’ll appeal to some, but for me I would rather do without. All too often I’ve found myself playing with one of the other sets provided and completely lost track of where my pieces are, succumbing to some sneaky underhand move. But if you like that kind of thing and want to customise your experience a little, then you won’t ever be disappointed.
But to compliment the visuals, Pure Chess needs to come with enough game modes and match opportunities as possible. And thankfully it pretty much nails things on the head here too.
Whilst it would be nice to see some form of league in play, the included local options pitting you against a fellow sofa companion, or against ten different levels of AI will ensure you won’t be leaving Pure Chess in a hurry. These levels work well and it’s great to know that after 35 years of honing my skills, I’m actually talented enough to beat a monkey. It’s a little more disheartening to see that I still struggle when up against an opponent who begins to actually think things over though.
Aside from the one-off games, and three small tournaments allow you to really put your skills to the test. Whilst you may find yourself beating the AI rather easily throughout the beginners tournament, it won’t be long before you discover that both the Challengers and Masters tourneys are a different kettle of fish. The same goes for the included chess challenges – a number of tests which have you trying to get your opponent into checkmate with just a few moves left on the table. Initially you’ll find these fairly simple to complete, but much like the AI levels themselves, they ramp up pretty damn swiftly and will bring many taxing hours.
If you’re a newcomer to the world of chess and need to swot up on all the moves or some of the more in-depth tactics, then Pure Chess comes complete with not just a legal move highlighter, but also a very thorough ‘learn to play’ tutorial mode. It’s not an essential part for those who know the game like the back of their hand, but should you wish to brush up on the finer details then it does a great job and has helpfully been included.
Pure Chess is a rather brilliant chess title, but it’s not all perfect though. In fact, there are a couple of issues which really do need fixing should Ripstone Publishing wish Pure Chess to be a master hit.
The first is quite possibly the most important of all and that relates to the online side of things. Whilst no chess game would work in a modern day without the option to play against friends, family or strangers via online networking, it is that same community which could well be its downfall. You see, chess is a game of skill, a game of tactical nous and a game of patience. But the latter is something which is most definitely needed should you wish to climb the worldwide Pure Chess ELO leaderboards. See, whilst multiplayer works brilliantly when you find yourself micced up with a friend, it does all hinge on the fact that you know your opponent is there and willing to get involved. Without that confirmation, the online side of Pure Chess leaves you constantly on edge, wondering if your opponent is actually there and competing, or whether they’ve shot off for a blast on the latest AAA game. A gentleman’s agreement is essential with a game like chess, but unfortunately many need a reminder on how to behave properly.
All too often I’ve been sat for minutes on end, wondering when on earth my next move will be, only to find my opponent has disappeared, leaving me praying to the gods that they will come back and make their move on another day. There is no notification of this though and until Pure Chess gets something put into place to allow the player to actually know what is going on at all times, it is quite possibly heading towards a future filled with nothing but dread. Time is key in this modern day world and I don’t know a single person who would be willing to sit around in the hope that their random online matchup is actually bothered about competing.
Additionally, there is currently no option to take the timed moves option found in the single player game, online. And this is a big, big problem as there is no reason for a losing opponent to bother completing a match. We all know the negative reputation that much of the online world has and this is no more apparent than when looking at my online matchup record. Of the six games currently open and available in my profile, four of those have seen me sat, waiting for an opponent who quite obviously has no intention of continuing the play. I’ve even resorted to messaging a couple of them, in the hope that it may give them the kick they need, but to no avail. One kindly got back to me to express his desire (in the only way Xbox Live members know how) to sit and wait for me to forfeit…despite him having nothing more than his King left and me sitting pretty with two rooks, numerous pawns and a Queen. Even with my skills there is only going to be one winner there and unfortunately he knows it. And is happy to put his reputation on the line for it.
Edit: It now transpires that there is indeed a time limit in place…of one week. If your opponent hasn’t made a move in that time, then you should receive the option to ‘take the win’. Now, whilst this is a great addition, I can’t help but feel in the ever fast moving online world, one week is just too long. Giving us the option to customise this in match settings would be ideal. But hey, at least it’s been thought of.
A slightly smaller issue with Pure Chess is that it took me far too long to actually work out how to change from the default ‘glass’ pieces to one of the other set types that the Grandmaster Edition brings. Why on earth there is not the opportunity to change your pieces at the start of any match I don’t know and dragging yourself in and creating an offline local match, just in order to change equipment before jumping out and attempting to go deep online is ridiculous. It’s not a game changer, but it is hugely irritating.
Overall though and Pure Chess is a visually stunning chess title that delivers exactly what fans of the game want. Chess. It does however need the online side fixed rather promptly, as without some kind of repercussion for those online players who wish to cheat the system, it’s unfortunately destined to failure.
And that would be a huge shame because I really need that multiplayer scene to help my lifelong Grandmaster ambition. Or at least find some friends who are willing to help an old man out.