A friend of mine, who knows I am an avid gamer told me of a review he once read for a game called Chess. I was not able to find the original review, so I decided to write my own and let people know what they are getting into if they decide to purchase the latest entry in the tactical board games genre.
Chess is one of those games that started as a board game and was later implemented as a computer game. We have witnessed this before with games like Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering, and practically no one liked the computer version but publishers just want to squeeze every dollar out of the franchise by endless recycling. The case with Chess is especially bad because all the improvements in the recycled versions come only in the form of graphics and AI. Developers never change anything in the actual gameplay and as you will see Chess desperately needs innovation and improvement.
I have always insisted that a good game review starts with the story. This review however cannot start with the story, because there is no story. When I tell you there is no story, I mean this literally. It is not the bad story we have come to expect from games these days, it is that there is not even the hint of a story. All we know is that White are in war with Black, and this is it. I hate pretentious cheap storytelling (I am looking at you Hard Reset) as much as the next guy, but at least give us a reason to fight.
The gameplay is only slightly better. The game is a turn based tactics game. You start with a set of 16 units; eight Pawns, two Rooks, two Knights, two Bishops, a Queen and a King. Your opponent starts with the very same units. There are two races in the game - Black and White, but they only differ in the color of their units. If you expect that you will at least get different skins for the two races, like in WarCraft, you are out of luck. What is even worse, is that the units are the most boring you have seen in any game. There are no action points, no skills, no leveling or stats, not even hit points! The only thing that a unit can do is move to a location on the map. If the location is occupied by another unit, then the other unit is killed instantly. This must be the most stupid game mechanic I have ever seen. It does not matter what the unit is and there are no counters. Every unit one-hits every other unit. You may be wondering what is the difference between various units... well not much. It is all about how they move. A Rook moves horizontally and vertically, a Bishop moves diagonally, a Knight jumps to a tile using a strange angle shape and the Queen is basically a mix between a Rook and a Bishop. The King can move to any adjacent field, and the Pawn is the most absurd unit ever. It can move one tile in only one direction, except on it's first move, then it can move two tiles. To make it even more confusing for new players, the Pawn can only attack diagonally, but cannot move diagonally. Oh and if it reaches the end of the map it becomes a Queen for no obvious reason. The Pawn was truly the work of the twisted mind of an evil game designer.
Lets talk about the campaign; it does not exist. The only available option is skirmish mode against the AI, and the AI is ridiculously hard to beat. It seems like the only advancement in this game over the years, and multiple implementations, is the AI. I am told that the current top AIs can easily beat the best players in the world, which makes investing resources in this particular part of the game even more meaningless, especially if we take into account how bad everything else is.
The multiplayer is where you are expected to spend most of your time, but it is not much better than everything else. There is only one (mirror) matchup. You want to team up with a friend? You are out of luck. There is only one mode - 1 vs. 1. The worst thing is the map. No, this
is not a spelling mistake. There is only one map, and it is totally stupid. It is divided in 64 square tiles. I thought games like Heroes of Might and Magic already proved that a hex grid is much superior to a square grid, but with all other flaws of the game, this cannot even make it on to the top 100 list of the most annoying issues. The map is textured in the same boring way as the units - black tiles and white tiles. There is no grass, no critters, no doodadds. If you read this far, you probably know that you cannot expect anything like destructible terrain, but the reality is even worse - there is no terrain. No higher ground, no fields of vision, no impassable obstacles - nothing. The map is even more boring than other aspects of the game, which is not easy to achieve.
I was surprised to find that despite its flaws, the game has an active competitive community. There are many professional players and competitions with large prize pools. While online competition suffers from cheating issues (remember the AI can beat the world champion!) the offline scene is well developed. I have a hard time understanding this, but on a planet where League of Legends is a more popular competitive game than StarCraft, it should not be surprising that Chess is more popular than both of them.
The obvious conclusion is that I cannot recommend anyone to waste his time, let alone money, on this game. If you really want to check it out, try the free implementations before spending money on this sad example of a poorly recycled game design. Games like Chess are what keep the video game industry from moving forward.