Reviewed: July 29, 2003
Released: June 3, 2003
I know what youíre probably saying Ė ďWho wants to play chess on a next-gen console?Ē Chess has been around as long as computers. The very nature of the tactical board game goes hand-in-hand with your typical programming geek (I use the word affectionately). My computer chess experience can be traced back to the early days of Sargon, BattleChess, and of course nearly a dozen installments in the Chessmaster series. Considering the core game of chess hasnít changed for thousands of years itís always interesting to see what the game designers can come up with to entice you to keep buying new versions.
Chessmaster for the PS2 drops the numbered suffix, although it is probably the equivalent of the PCís Chessmaster 9000, and carves out a nice little niche on the console by offering a great chess experience with plenty of features, training, and even online play.
Bruce Pandolfini is only one of several famous chess personalities that will come to your aid in teaching you the finer points of tactical warfare on an 8x8 battlefield. First-timers can learn the basics for each piece and the rules of the game while experienced players can move ahead to sophisticated defensive and offensive strategies. These tutorials are all excellent quality, no surprise considering the legacy of the franchise, and you are guaranteed to learn at least one new trick if not a hundred.
For those who enjoy ďwatchingĒ a good chess game rather than playing one, there are more than 800 famous games that have been recorded, and you can watch these play out before you with fantastic commentary. Add some single-move brainteasers, a few training drills and even some challenging final exams and youíll be ready to compete in no time.
Once you have mastered the game (if that is even possible) you can begin to explore the wonderful gameplay modes included in Chessmaster. Head to the virtual park and engage in challenging matches to rise up the ladder or load up a game of 3D chess with animated medieval chess pieces that will have thirty-something gamers reliving the classic era of BattleChess.
Of course the big draw is support for the PS2 modem and online play. As much fun as it might be to beat a friend or family member in your own living room, nothing beats the satisfaction of beating an anonymous stranger over the Internet.
Graphics are surprisingly good considering the nature of the game itself. There are only so many variations of a chessboard and the pieces that populate it. Even so, Ubisoft has done an amazing job of delivering as many as they could fit on the PS2 disc. You can choose from a variety of creative board themes that are pleasing to the eye.
The game really takes off when you play with the animated pieces that all have unique attack and defend animations based on the pieces involved. Itís all been done before in the BattleChess series but itís nice to see the concept brought back even though it hasnít really been improved upon.
The menus and the rest of the presentation are very good. You get the feeling of playing in a dynamic world with frequent newspaper clippings highlighting your progress and other nice touches to round out an otherwise traditional game.
There is a soothing soundtrack that is more suited to curing insomnia than playing chess. The real gem in this category is the voice work, both quality and quantity. You get full commentary during all of the training, tutorials, and exhibition games, and during normal gameplay all of your moves are announced, or not if you turn the option off. Again, itís nothing to showcase your PS2 but itís more than adequate for a chess game.
Itís chess and itís endless. Even if you never played a single game you could get your moneyís worth just using this as an education tool. It could take you months to work your way through all the tutorials and watch the exhibition games, and once you start playing the game, either solo or online, you will be captivated by the ease of gameplay.
Chessmaster is a fine port of an established and excellent PC franchise. The fact that it is the only PS2 chess game available, has online support, and is only $20 makes this a no-brainer for anyone with the slightest interest in chess and doesnít already have another recent chess game lying around. Youíll learn, youíll play, youíll have fun, and thatís what gaming is all about.