I love the game of chess more than nearly any video game ever released. It's strategic, timeless, and fun, and while chess owns a renowned status as a thinking man’s game, video game iterations have often had a hard time being as epic as the real thing. As someone who grew up fiendishly playing chess (and still does), I readily admit that no digital version will ever be as good as sitting at a table, weighted pieces placed and timer set. But some attempts are more successful than others.
When it comes to Pure Chess, you’ll find something that hits the mark in some ways and misses it completely in others. Its single-player offerings challenge gamers with a variety of options that will please chess nuts, especially for its relatively low price. However, Pure Chess has completely unacceptable online functionality that doesn't allow people to play against each other in real time. Thus, in your pursuit of purchasing Pure Chess, you have to think about one thing and one thing only: do you want to play by yourself or online?
If you answered the former, you’re in luck, because Pure Chess totes a robust set of modes and options that prove their worth far beyond its entry fee. For starters, you can play against the computer in standard exhibition matches, sorting through various difficulty settings to find the artificial intelligence that best suits your skill level. The AI makes smart moves for the most part, though some questionable tactics are deployed from time to time, especially on the weaker settings, where the computer seems intent on defeating itself. Plenty of stat-keeping makes things interesting the more you play, and there are Trophies to earn, too.
Tournament play versus the AI also proves to be a lot of fun. Three tournaments of four games each are presented at increasing difficulty levels, and only by winning all four games in a row do you progress through the tournament successfully. When combined with fleshed-out tutorials to teach chess newbies the fundamentals and awesome “Mate in 1-5” puzzles that chess nerds will adore, there’s plenty to keep players busy. You can even play with a friend locally, customizing board setup and timing to your heart’s content.
Unfortunately, for all of the great single-player features Pure Chess offers, unacceptable online play brings the whole package down. Pure Chess has no online gameplay per se, unless you count its “play by mail” correspondence-style chess. Pure Chess forces you to play against others like prisoners play with each other in supermax facilities, by swapping annotated notes that are then loaded onto a board. Chess is a game made to be played in real time, not over days. Correspondence chess is fine (though not at all ideal), but it shouldn't be your only option on an internet-connected device in 2014.
Interestingly, while this was the same issue I had with Pure Chess on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, its interface has been cleaned up, and there are more matchmaking options. You no longer have to jump through hoops to challenge people not on your friends list or use PSN's archaic messaging system to send notation back and forth. Still, playing chess in real time against a human opponent simply isn't an option, and that's unacceptable. You can't play a standard timed game against a friend or stranger across the country or across the world, nonetheless a quick game of Blitz or Bullet. All I can ask is, why not?
I love chess and chess theory and you can easily find a lot of pleasure in playing and studying the game by yourself. But my greatest memories of playing chess happen to be with other people at cafes, clubs and in New York City’s Washington Square Park, not by myself in front of a computer or hunched over a book at my kitchen table. Developer VooFoo Studios seems to have lost sight of what makes chess special – playing with other people seamlessly – and this sad fact detracts from Pure Chess significantly.
The game is available on 16th April priced at £4.99/€ 5.99 but you can also get your hands on the best value Complete Bundle for £9.99/€11.99 which includes all the DLC. PlayStation Plus users can look forward to some cheeky discounts at launch too.
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