• I will admit it, I am absolutely and utterly hopeless at chess.

    From way back in the day when my ZX Spectrum would humiliate me with hissy verbal abuse in Speech Chess, right up to the present day and being forced into unfair stalemates on the chess variant in “42 All Time Classics”, try as I might, I am to Chess what Jordan is to penning a racy page turner that’s not destined to end up in the “£3 for 2 quid” bargain bin at your local book store.

    Surprisingly though, Chessmaster Live from Ubisoft (yes, the folks that even manage to bring you v-synch tearing in a chess game) does cater for even the most sub-anthropoid hamfisted players so get your little wooden pieces on the board and let’s dive in.

    Chessmaster LIVE

    Shall we play a game?

    That’s precisely what you get for your 800 points. A nice game of chess. No pieces animatedly bashing each other’s brains out, no weird transitional animations as your pieces move – just chess, but a nice game of chess nonetheless.

    Straight off, you can choose between a 2D or 3D layout for your board. I found the 3D board quite acceptable, and movement of pieces was easy even with the left analogue stick.

    Single players are probably the most well catered for in Chessmaster with several modes and puzzles to test your mettle. Classic Chess does exactly what it says on the tin (agh I hate that old cliché, Ronseal really need some new ads). A straight game of chess between you and a randomly chosen opponent.

    Single Game mode allows you to tailor your chess experience with a little more granularity, letting the player select whether they’re practicing or going for a Live ranking. Speaking of which, it’s quite a neat touch that, but I think I’m ranked 298, 467 in the world which would be spectacular if the game had sold more than 300,000 copies so far.

    In Single Game you can also fine tune your timer settings. Go for a classic timed game (anything from 10 to 60 minutes), or go for time-per-move play. You can choose the classic Fischer clock, or use a more traditional clock or hourglass, it’s up to you.

    Finally you can select your play level, anything from a happy-go-lucky Bonobo player with a ranking of 1, the lowest score attainable – right up to a super sharp almost robotic champion who will mate you in 4 moves.

    Make rude gestures at your live cam. It worked for Boris Spassky!

    Moving swiftly on, and scraping your mind from the gutter, Chessmaster Live also allows you several online and multiplayer options which range from a live ranked and timed confrontation with a random online player (the chess equivalent of Russian Roulette) to a friendly LIVE cam enabled match against a friend. Hooking up with a random online, I swiftly found that playing against chimps was one thing, playing against the living was quite something else – and if you’ve got two very good and evenly matched players, Chessmaster could turn into a classic battle of wits (let’s just hope it never ends up like that scene in Bladerunner where Eldon Tyrell ends up with his eyeballs being used for finger food).

    Better still, for those with time constraints, Chessmaster Live also allows you to draw a long game out over the space of several days, weeks or months one move at a time in “Message Chess” mode. In my opinion this is a superb addition if you fancy just dipping into the game now and then, and can’t face the onslaught of an opponent trying to stare you out with their LIVE cam.

    Rounding things off nicely, there is the option to solve a series of pre-constructed chess puzzles and problems. Puzzle Mode tests your ability to solve a fork, take a pin or just get your king out of checkmate.

    On the minus side, make sure to kill the in game music as soon as you can because it sounds like it was stolen from Jean Michel Jarre’s recycling bin, or worse still, a cheesy American Pool game. Then try to work out exactly how Ubisoft intended for you to end a game, because it seems (rather clunkily) that even when you’re beaten, you have to manually pause and exit the game and go through a couple of save screens before it’ll let you crawl away in defeat, your tail between your legs.

    Oh and watch out for those stalemates. In common with “42 All Time Classics” on the Nintendo DS, the AI will always try and force you to one, so make sure you just totally annihilate them instead. It’s the only way to be sure.

    Score: 7/10

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