Windows - 2000
Description of Chessmaster 8000 Windows
Unless you have easy access to a supercomputer or a friend named Gary Kasparov, you're probably not going to find a more challenging game of chess than what you'll find in the new Chessmaster 8000, the latest upgrade to this venerable series. That's right, this is the first release in over a decade to feature a grandmaster-level engine, powerful enough to give most seasoned veterans a run for their money.
It's an impressive achievement for a series that started out with fairly rudimentary gameplay way back in 1990. Originally, the chess engine (called The King) was the only real focal point. None of the tutorials or voice-annotated games were included (afterall, it was a DOS game), nor was the natural language tutor, which provides "live" game tips as you play. However, it was just a matter of time before Chessmaster reached its full potential and is now a true computerized grandmaster.
Of course, if you're anywhere near ready to take on the highest difficulty setting, then you probably won't care too much about any other feature in the game. The truth is, most of what makes Chessmaster so great has little to do with the actual gameplay. There's a cornucopia of tutorials, end game scenarios, annotated historical matches, and many other features sure to please diehard fans and newbies alike. However, it's those pesky casual chess players that might find the game lacking in a number of ways.
First, for the diehard fans, Chessmaster continues its slow process of adding more and more tutorials to the game. In 1998, International Master (or "IM") Josh Waitzkin, who was the subject of the "Searching for Bobby Fischer" movie, added his somewhat cheeky commentary to a slew of his own annotated matches in Chessmaster 6000. This was one of the coolest new additions, because his insider knowledge was quite captivating and often delved deep into the psychological and mathematical nature of chess. Josh added more annotations last year, and this year he provides "play-by-play" audio notes on a a series of endgames. Once again, he excels at explaining all the various insider moves, although at times his comments can sound a bit egotistical. In one scenario, he consistently expounded on his audacious moves and criticized his opponent's weaknesses. Still, it's easily the most interesting part of the Chessmaster series.
Most of the other tutorials are richly detailed, providing excellent commentary on everything from opening pawn positions, to queen movement, to complex endgames that are practically guaranteed to improve your chess expertise. In fact, even the game manual is devoted to helping you understand how to use the tutorials. New chess boards and pieces, a wider assortment of opponents, and a new navigation model with resizable windows are all welcome additions for the longtime fan.
New chess players will appreciate all the attention to detail as well. Forget buying chess books - everything you need is included here. The audio instruction for beginners is well-designed, creating a perfect balance between challenging you and yet not being pedantic. A random chess drill generator helps make the tutorials more repeatable. Really, in just a matter of hours, you can learn just the right strategy to start winning chess way more often. Also, the new Kids Room has been significantly enhanced. You can select from a variety of new personalities with specific character traits like "overvaluing queen" that can help younger players get into the game better. The graphics are justifiably cartoon-like, although lacking any kid-oriented sound effects.
For those who have purchased previous Chessmater games or who are just casual players, Chessmaster 8000 might seem very similar to previous releases. The graphics engine has been tweaked for shadows and textures, but there still isn't a true 3D mode that accurately depicts a virtual chess game. In Chessmaster, "3D" means the chessboards are displayed on a three-dimensional plane, but you'll never mistake the graphics for being life-like. The series might consider taking it's cues from the Virtual Pool series, which features realistic locations as a backdrop for gameplay. Imagine playing chess at a remote vacation island setting with waves and seagulls in the background, or hunkering down with comrades in a dimly lit Siberian outpost. Better yet, actual game locations like the site of either the FIDE or PCA championships would help improve the vicariousness of the game.
On that note, a career mode would also make an excellent addition. Players could start out in a classroom setting for beginners, then advance through the ranks until they competed at a national or even international level. The side effect of adding this mode would be to help players focus more on the actual game rather than all the teaching modes.
Another area that would help improve the value for casual players is video training. In some ways, the audio tips from Josh Waitzkin make a good compliment to the static graphics, but videos (again, something that was added to Virtual Pool 3) could have easily livened up the game.
While these all might make excellent additions for future releases, Chessmaster 8000 actually takes a step backwards with the multiplayer component. Catering to an increasingly net-savvy crowd, this version off-loads Internet play to Mplayer and other services, and provides a way to connect with other players directly through a direct internet or modem connection. Essentially, it means Chessmaster does not have its own game server on the Internet with chatrooms, ranked play and easy connectivity. This is not a huge surprise given the stronger focus on teaching this year. [Note: As of this writing, Mplayer was not offering Chessmaster 8000multiplier support yet.]
In the end, both hardcore players and beginners will appreciate the various additions to the game and consider Chessmaster 8000 a worthwhile investment. For those who just want a quick pick-up game of chess and are not inclined to spend countless hours figuring out complex opening moves in hopes of squashing your helpless friends and acquaintances, Chessmaster 8000 is not entirely different from the last two versions and offers no compelling reason to upgrade. Let's hope to see some of the more notable advancements mentioned in this review in the next release.
Review By GamesDomain
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