I can't remember the last time I played a human at chess. It's been decades, that's for sure, but I always have a chess game on my iPhone. Whenever I'm at an airport or just hanging around and don't feel like playing a video game - like you sometimes do - that's when I invariably find myself staring at a digital chessboard.
Every time I play, I remember how much I enjoy doing so, which of course happened almost the moment I fired up Pure Chess. I actually hadn't heard of the game before, despite it being available on almost every current platform you can think of – apart from the ones starting with an X. But I'm glad I waited until it hit PS4 before trying it, because quite clearly, it's the best-looking version yet.
Games are played using one of a selection of chess sets. Each is available in a number of exquisitely-rendered materials, such as metal, crystal and wood. You can also choose one of three locations as a setting for your game: a museum, penthouse, and library. Everything is photorealistic, and the game looks stunning from whichever angle you view it.
Some of Pure Chess' sets are absolutely terrific, especially my favorite, the historically significant Lewis set. To use all of them, you have to stump up $14.99 for the Pure Chess “complete bundle.” Otherwise you can download a cut-price version of the game with three basic sets for $7.99 and add six more: two basic ones for a buck a pop, and four that include a matching thematic background for $2.49 apiece.
I’m very much out of practice when it comes to competitive chess, and while I still remember a few basic opening gambits from my school chess club days, I don’t consider myself anything other than a slightly below average player today. With that in mind, it’s clear that Pure Chess caters to a very broad spectrum of skills, For absolute beginners, it has an excellent tutorial mode, and a lowest-level setting that seems intent only on maneuvering its pieces in front of yours so you can take them as quickly as possible. It ups the ante for novices over a couple of levels with AI that still sometimes makes mistakes, but will also punish yours. Average Joes like me seem to be catered to by the fourth and fifth levels, and anything above that is increasingly challenging – though exponentially how much so I cannot say. For curiosity's sake, I played the top two levels, and I couldn't tell the difference between the them: I was elegantly, and utterly destroyed by both.
While Pure Chess delivers a high quality single-player experience, its human-to-human mode is quite the opposite. There is no decent online matchmaking, and playing an online game is a clumsy, seemingly asynchronous affair, despite the fact that you might be playing with someone simultaneously. I’m sure that it’s not easy to develop realtime online gameplay and a comprehensive ranking and matchmaking system, but at the same time, it’s not like other people haven’t done something like this many times before.
If Pure Chess featured exciting and competitive online gameplay, more comprehensive ranking leaderboards, and perhaps even facilitated tournaments, I know I’d be playing regularly - especially since the single-player side of the game has reminded me just how much I enjoy playing chess. Unfortunately, it's an opportunity missed. As it stands, Pure Chess is the loveliest-looking game of its type and a reasonable buy for a chess player looking to practice, but it offers little beyond that.
Sumptuous, photorealistic pieces and backdrops make this the finest-looking chess game yet.
Surprisingly, Pure Chess does feature music. It's very wallpapery, ranging from soft jazz to unobtrusive orchestral.
An excellent tutorial mode and basic game options lie behind some fairly ugly, functional presentation screens.
A decent prospect for those wanting to practice their chess skills, but Pure Chess' lack of a competitive online mode curtails its appeal considerably.
Pure Chess looks gorgeous, and offers an excellent single-player experience. But while playing the AI opponent is fun, the game's woefully underdeveloped online mode makes playing against humans decidedly not.