Different people drift towards the world of video gaming for varying reasons. Some see it as an escape from the dreary nature of 'real life' and adore the opportunity to be someone or something else for a few hours. Others delight in uttering some 'smack talk' to anyone daft enough to be wearing a headset with the volume up a few notches. A few, it seems, do it because they want to play chess.
With online gaming time at an all-time high, and with the vast majority of gamers happy to spend a huge proportion of their gaming time connected to the internet, Pure Chess does seem to strike at precisely the right moment. As great fun as a good old game of chess can be, your total game time is going to be heavily restricted unless you happen to live close to a couple of fellow chess fanatics. When you think about it, it's surprising that it's been so long since the last moderately high profile chess gaming release.
For newcomers to chess, Pure Chess packs in a whole heap of opportunities to learn all the rules and nuances of the game. Tutorials are plentiful, and happily take you all the way from the basic rules of movement (the horsey and castle don't move the same way, obviously) through to some simple examples of various tactics used by chess players over the years. If you've ever wanted to learn the rules of chess, this is the perfect opportunity to give the whole thing a good old try.
Once you have the rules down, it's time to get out there on the field (board, surely?) of battle. There are various skill settings to choose from that adapt your opponents to give you just the right amount of challenge. The AI is almost perfectly consistent, with moments of insanity incredibly rare, making for constantly tight, competitive and dare we say exciting games of chess. There are ten levels of opponent in total, from relative newbie all the way through to Grand Master. It's obvious that some real care and attention has been made to ensure that the AI acts as a real life chess lover would.
If you get momentarily bored of the basic game of chess, the game also provides a variety of quick mini-games, requiring you to dump your opponent in check. There's 100 of these tricky 'puzzles' alone to help encourage you to develop new tactical thinking, and to be consistently looking numerous moves ahead in order to attain ultimate victory. It's safe to say that any chess fan will get a whole heap of use just out of the single-player modes Pure Chess has to offer.
Unfortunately things come tumbling down when you explore the multiplayer options provided in Pure Chess.
First of all, there's no opportunity to randomly select an opponent from other Pure Chess gamers worldwide. In fact, you can't search for fellow users at all. Your options are restricted solely to any gamer already on your friend list that might happen to have picked up a copy of the game. For such an incredibly niche title to make it so astoundingly difficult to simply find an online opponent is a big disappointment. Expect to do some online forum-based legwork in order to boost your friends list by a few fellow owners before you can try out the online options at all.
Once you've finally tracked down another potential opponent, and challenged them to a game, then the real problems begin. Remember those Play By Mail sports management games almost every male 80s child wasted their pocket money on? This is the modern equivalent. Take your first move, and you then need to send a message to your opponent via the PSN to let them know it's their turn. Considering PSN can be slow even at the best of times, even if you're both online, you can be plodding along at a speed of optimistically a dozen moves per hour.
For some titles this method might have worked. Play a move in one game, load up the next match, play your next move, and then hopefully you've had a PSN message from your opponent in the first. But unless you're a chess prodigy (or write things down, maybe) the delay between moves could undo all your plans. On the Monday evening you may have a plan of action firmly entrenched in your mind. But if your opponent doesn’t play their move until the following weekend, all those future moves have drifted out of your head and you're back to square one. Trying to do this while playing multiple matches at once makes things nigh on impossible to keep a track of.
Obviously there must be reasons that Pure Chess doesn't include standard real-time online play – budget concerns surely must have played a major part. The underlying structure of an online video game isn’t something you can knock up on the cheap, but it's an omission that completely ruins the online multiplayer portion of the game. So much so that we'd be hard pressed to recommended this to anyone who happens to be particularly eager for some chess action with fellow console-owning friends.
It's also worth pointing out Pure Chess on PS3 doesn't interact with Pure Chess on PS Vita in any way; you can't play multiplayer across formats, and and they're both separate purchases.
While the single-player options are plentiful and almost worth the meagre purchase price on their own, the only part formed online multiplayer truly drags things down. Chess lovers will undoubtedly get their fill, but unless there's a major update coming in the very near future, it's with a heavy heart we fail to recommend Pure Chess to anyone but the real obsessives.