‘Pure Chess’ makes some bad moves

Reviewer’s Rating: ★

Do you love chess, but have an irrational fear of parks, nice old men and stereotypically bespectacled poindexters? If so, “Pure Chess,” a graphically-impressive chess game for the Playstation 3, would theoretically be right up your alley. Unfortunately, the poorly-executed multiplayer mode will leave you scratching your head and wishing you’d just googled “play chess online” instead of wasting money on this game.

“Pure Chess” delivers on its title. There are no chess variations like three-dimensional or Cheshire cat chess, no extra pieces and definitely no rhombuses. This is just the classic game with a few options for time limits and chess piece appearance. The difficulty level can be lowered for newcomers who can’t tell the difference between a bishop and a checkers piece, or raised to grandmaster status for more experienced players.

Other than the basic exhibition and tournament modes, the meat of the game’s single player experience comes in the form of a collection of one hundred chess-based puzzles. Things start simple with objectives, but quickly become fiendishly difficult. It’s easy to get lost in some of the clever conundrums, and I found myself pouring over a few of them for longer than I’d care to admit.

Chess is a notoriously complex game. Fortunately, a tutorial is available to teach new players what each piece can do and what the basic flow of the game is. Unfortunately, the intermediate and advanced tactics are breezed over, leaving the player to fend for themselves. For instance, the game shows an example of an early-game tactic called an Italian Game, but doesn’t explain why it’s effective or how to counter it. The game introduces the player to situation-specific piece movements like en passant and castling, but doesn’t elaborate on when to use them. In short, if you really want to learn how to play chess, you’re better off using the plain old internet.

While the lack of robust tutorial is disappointing, it’s the pitiful online multiplayer that puts “Pure Chess” in checkmate. The only way to play is by making your move, sending it off to a friend and waiting for them to respond. There is no option for a “live” game. To make matters worse, you can only play with people who are already on your friends list on the Playstation network. If you don’t have any friends foolish enough to spend nine bucks on something they could play for free on nearly every computer on the planet, then you’re out of luck. It’s hard to believe that you can play a game of live chess with friends on a phone the size of a graham cracker, but not on a PS3.

The presentation straddles the line between sophisticated and bland. While the chess pieces and environments feature stunning realism, there is little variety unless you’re willing to plunk down some extra dough for a set featuring animals instead of the traditional pieces. The menus look like something from a Nintendo Wii fitness game, and the music is a predictably drowsy mix of passive classical tunes and soft jazz that can fortunately be switched off in favor of whatever music you have stored on your PS3.

Other than the puzzles, there’s literally nothing else to “Pure Chess,” but chess. At nine dollars, it isn’t the most expensive game on the Playstation Network, but the ludicrous limitations of the online multiplayer and the lack of a fleshed-out tutorial make it impossible to favor it over the countless free chess games you can play on the internet.

Chess may be the game of kings, but “Pure Chess” is pure disappointment.