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Game Over Online ~ Chessmaster 9000

GameOver Game Reviews - Chessmaster 9000 (c) Ubi Soft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Chessmaster 9000 (c) Ubi Soft
System Requirements Windows, Pentium II 450MHz, 64MB RAM, 300MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 80%
Date Published Monday, September 23rd, 2002 at 11:31 AM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

It becomes clear that a system, a habit or a routine is in place when critiques of the perennial Chessmaster always begin with a few diatribes. How do we justify the purchase of a fully priced Chessmaster this year compared to the previous edition? Then the reviewers turn towards the product feature sheet. What's added? Is the artificial intelligence improved? Is it noticeable? I think the artificial intelligence has progressed so much that a good majority of Chessmaster players can't tell the difference. The final question always boils down to: Whether it warrants purchasing. I don't think any other game has caused critics to ask this question so much that game reviewers themselves are turning into cynical Wall Street analysts. Where are the profits? What's your guidance? Do you have positive cash flow? How can you justify your share value?

Humor aside, Chessmaster has actually gotten friendlier with the years to come. Nowadays, you can find a simple game of chess, even multiplayer chess on casual gaming sites. Yahoo and MSN, for example, feature parlor activities for new players. I know at least a few non-gaming peers who take part in these and think it's a way to cool off from a day's work. So why in the world would these people buy Chessmaster? So they can be beaten in a few more million ways? Yes, but Chessmaster 9000 also features a bundle of high points to turn any casual player of chess into a pro.

Still, it can be intimidating. Chessmaster has a refined kids-look now to cater to the young ones. You get to play with players of your own age (if you were 8 or 10 years old) and the layout becomes a lot simpler. For example, you won't be bogged down with the A3 to A2 type of speak. There are also tutorials and quizzes to guide you through the game. These are lengthy in nature. I believe one of the tutorials to explain and test you on forming forks and defenses ran at least 170 dialogue pages (not actual pages but still) which are fully narrated. The tutorials usually explain what the objective of the particular lesson is and then follows it up by guiding you through a few set matches. After that, they'll give you traps and puzzles from which you are to make the correct move. It's good for a refresher but most tutorials, even for simple things like capturing pawns en passant, run at least twenty dialogue pages. So if you are prepared to go by the book, you're going to commit some time to it.

The most productive way of learning, I found out, was just playing the game itself. You can select from a variety of players and as you play more games, you'll find out your true rating compared to the professionals. Chessmaster will also pitch similarly classed players against you but I found at every level, they were pretty smart; not prone to make any overtly stupid moves. The piece de resistance of this part is the fact that you can take back your moves anytime you want. Chessmaster won't punish you for it. And, the game has aids to show a lot of things to help you develop your game. You can have pieces that are threatened turn slightly transparent. A blunder monitor lets you know if you're about to expose your defense. It doesn't work constantly, per se. I've had it not warn me about some very bad moves but it keeps you on your toes. There's also a coach that'll constantly give predictions and analyze a defined number of moves ahead (by default it's ten) for you, so you can benefit from the artificial intelligence. But these aids are all in chess notation, so if you're not comfortable reading letters and numbers, you might want to try the analysis function which takes a few seconds timeout to churn out an end-game strategy for you. I'm not about to judge whether these strategies beat real computers like Deep Blue (in fact, they rarely work out the way the computer thinks it will) but I imagine it's doing something good if it chews up about 50% of my CPU time while I idle.

Chessmaster includes a comprehensive glossary of opening moves and defenses you can pull, organized by name. Savvy players can even search its libraries by moves. The best resource by far for learning is the classical library of chess matches included. It also happens to be the strength of this game, in my humble opinion. A number of brilliant matches from the 19th century up until last year are recorded here. Each game begins with a little blurb on how the match was setup and what its significance was to the world of chess. Chessmaster 9000 not only replays these classics but also offers analysis at crucial junctions. What if Kasparov did this instead of that against Deep Blue? How did Kramnik beat Kasparov to dethrone one of greatest chess players of our time? You can see it all play out and I only wished the chess mentor could offer such advice at critical junctures in my own games but that may be asking for too much.

Finally, Chessmaster 9000 plays its multiplayer over ubi.com, which supervises all the ranked and tournament games. You can also play directly over TCP/IP or LAN. Chessmaster's engine lets you save your moves at any time, even dump your game to ASCII boards, so it's great for people who need material to try to improve their game. But for novices, you might be better sticking with the parlor players unless you really want to improve your chess game.

I played Chessmaster when it was at 2000 on the Commodore 64. Back then, companies and products were named 2000 to give a near futuristic feel. Nowadays, 2000 sounds a little corny and out of date. Chessmaster pegs itself at 9000 but it's not so far out in the future that it revolutionizes the game of chess altogether. Chessmaster 9000 may use 3D but it hardly has any effect on the actual game itself, save to add a few glossy reflections on the chess board. The thrill of setting up your defense, matching your opponents and then launching the first salvos towards bloodshed and attrition continues to be a thrilling prospect. In its execution, Chessmaster 9000 has a dependable design on a dependable engine. You can switch between the game types with ease like webpages and the game runs fine in windowed mode, promoting casual play. I like the fact that every time the game starts up, it has a new puzzle for you to solve; like how to escape from imminent checkmate. Incentive is given to existing owners through a $10 US rebate to knock the game's price tag to a fair $29.99 US and you have a very generous April 2003 time limit to apply for it. Though it may seem unspectacular, especially to wallet-conscious fans who own Chessmaster 8000, it's a purchase that is not unlike buying top of the line German cars; a BMW 750iL or a Mercedes-Benz S600. Yes, you may be paying a little too much compared to an Audi or Volvo but you will never go wrong with your purchase.

 

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Rating
80%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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