There’s not a lot you can say about chess that hasn’t been said before. It’s a game of skill, deep thought and forward planning. It’s a coming together of minds, a mental battle to see who can outwit the other, pounce on any mistakes and push the tiniest advantage home to a satisfying win. So what happens when you transfer that onto one of the most powerful gaming machines currently available? You get some very polished chess pieces, that’s what.
Created by the same developers which brought us Hustle Kings, the pool game with the shiniest balls you’ll ever see in a game, Pure Chess is a loyal representation of one of the world’s oldest turn based strategy games. It has a short training mode which teaches you the basics of movement and a few tactical bits which might come in handy, it has a series of challenges to see if you can make checkmate in a certain number of moves, and it has a set of ever increasingly tricky tournaments against an AI opponent to see just how good you are.
But chess was always intended as a game between two humans, and so it’s handy to see a couple of options when it comes to playing against others, even if there are some crucial shortfalls. The most instantly accessible option is playing against someone else locally, passing the controller between you as the game pans out. After each move the board spins round, allowing the player about to move the correct view from their side of the table while showing off the incredibly detailed 3D board and environments. It works well and allows games to progress fairly quickly, but with most people more likely to look towards online playing it’s good to see an online option on the main menu.
Dip into the online mode though and you’ll soon realise that you’re limited to a very traditional way of playing. There’s no real time option, and no easy way to organise a game with a friend and play against each other in one long, fluid match. Instead you’ll be making your move before being sent back to your list of games, which is great if you’re not online at the same time as your opponent but if you just wanted a few games against someone it takes the shine off the experience to a disappointing level. With this not being the first version of Pure Chess and gamers having complained about this before it’s a surprise to see it still not implemented. Not only that, but these are the guys who did an excellent job of taking Hustle Kings online, so it’s a shame that a game which is clearly meant for two players limits the online play to the traditional play-by-mail method. You could, thanks to the PS4’s party chat, have something not far from a proper real time game, but it still pulls you out of the action after each move.
This by itself could be something that most players would cope with, after all there are loads of popular ways to play asynchronous chess online using web sites or mobile apps, but doing so in that way (and even playing by post) has one important feature: you get notified when it’s your turn. Whether it’s an email, push notification or whatever it’s difficult to miss the fact the ball is in your court, but with Pure Chess you need to load the game and head to the online mode before knowing if its your turn or not. There’s no other notifications to be seen so playing a game with someone, be it a friend of random player, can take ages if one player doesn’t fire the game up for a while. This is emphasised by the online leaderboards which, at the time of writing, shows the top player as having played just 15 games.
It’s a very nice chess game on the whole, don’t get me wrong. Everything looks incredible thanks to the 1080p visuals running at 60fps, there are loads of interesting extra sets of pieces already available as DLC and there’s a good amount of single player content if you’re happy playing against your PS4 instead of another human player. The option of 10 different difficulties means there’s always a challenge to be had, and despite the moaning I’ve done about the asynchronous online play it does mean you can play against people who can’t afford half an hour at a time, or even those in an entirely different time zone. Essentially, it’s chess. You probably know by now if you like the pastime or not and if you’re the kind of person who, like me, enjoys putting some brain power into your games. If you do and you’re willing to keep an eye on your online matches on a regular basis then you’ll do well to pick this up, and the same goes for anyone willing to play alone or who’s got people at home to play against.
It’s not quite a perfect game, but it’s the shiniest game of chess you’ll ever have, and the only one you’ll find on your sleek new PS4. At a price which sits at under a fiver (or a touch under £10 if you want the version with all the DLC too) it’s probably cheaper than heading to the shops for a normal chess set too. A very worthwhile addition to your next gen collection.
Reviewed on PS4