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SummaryGreat way to play chess when all your friends think they're too cool for it!
The GoodI love chess, it's a very entertaining game that requires one to be smart, tactful and watchful. A game where you can spend five minutes on every turn, just to find that one perfect move. Sadly, none of my friends really seem to share my love for this sport and I can't always rely on family to come over for a quick game. That is why a virtual version of this game with computer controlled AI is such an appealing premise, especially when the designers didn't do anything crazy with the core game (like what Disney did with Tetris on the Nintendo 64).
The greatest selling point of this game is the great difficulty curve and AI. The game is designed in a way that allows complete newcomers to learn the basics of the game (through a classroom function), fans of the game can practice their skills and the professionals can take on some of the most insane challenges imaginable. The aforementioned "Classroom" also has a section where you can learn about some advanced moves and strategies.
You can customize the chess-pieces and boards that you play on by choosing from a large amount of styles. These varied from simple wooden pieces, to glass and even to seasonal pieces with a Halloween theme to them. These options are all available from the start, so you don't have to perform some kind of challenge to get the pieces and boards that you like.
In a way, the game feels very similar to the Fifa series (or any other sports series you care to name). It doesn't add anything new to the existing formula, but it upgrades the graphics and irons out the flaws. Normally I'd object to this, but to be honest, the graphics we ended up with could still be considered good by today's standards. The chess pieces look very detailed and beautiful, the pictures of your opponents are all fine and overall the visuals have aged very well. I can understand why this is one of the last games in this franchise, there was just nothing left to upgrade.
Talking about opponents, there are a lot of them. Normally you'd be able to select a difficulty in a game like this, but aside from been an indication of the difficulty, the opponents are all genuine characters. Each character is displayed by a picture, but they also have background information that you can read and the game displays their favorite strategies. This might sound very simple to you, but considering the 100+ opponents this game contains, it's pretty amazing stuff and you can clearly see the designers put work into this.
I also like how you can filter your opponents in any way you want. Only want to see opponents with a ranking beneath 500? You can! Only want to see Male opponents? You can! Only wan- Never mind, I am sure you get what I mean. There are several filters and it makes it a lot easier for the user to track down a specific opponent.
The BadWhen you start the game you will instantly notice the Windows-like menu at the top of the screen. It's not a big deal, but it just looks really unprofessional to have drop-down menus up there, because it makes the game look like one of those built-in card-games, like Solitaire. No self-respecting game would place a menu up there, instead you should use a menu that players can open themselves by pressing the escape key (or some other key).
It also bother me that there is no full-screen mode for this game. When you boot it, you get a splash-screen that takes up the whole screen, but after that it takes you to a login screen that is really small. After you log in, you will be taken to the actual game that can be set to take up the whole screen, but I only wanted to have the chess-board visible and not all the menus on the side.
Overall the interface looks very unprofessional for a series that has been running for this long. It mostly reminds me of an educational tool that a primary school would use, one of those lazy math programs that look like the designers were just as bored as the users would be. The whole interface has this ugly and out-of-place wooden background to it and the icons that take you to the actual functions really stick out due to brighter colors. They also animate when you hover your mouse over it.
The only real flaw I could find in the actual gameplay was that opponents have the tendency to delay their moves. I suppose this was put in for realism, like you are playing against a real Human that needs to think about their moves, but when you play against a machine that should be able to make a decision in less than a split-second, it just feels unnecessary. The worst part of any strategy game is having to wait for somebody else to make a decision, this was also the case in Civilization 5 where the next turn would only start after every player had made their choices.
The Bottom LineAside from the horribly unprofessional interface and the slow opponents, this game is exactly what you would expect from a Chess game. You have the game of chess, you have a lot of opponents to play against and it all functions very well. The fact that you can choose which board and pieces to use is a nice extra, as is the Classroom that teaches you both the basics of the game as well as the advanced tactics.
All you need is a love or interest for the game of chess and this title is undoubtedly worth a purchase. If you feel indifferent towards the classic game, then there is no real point in trying, though maybe you could give it as a present to a friend. Parents who want to force a hobby on their child may also be interested in Chessmaster, it sure worked for my parents.