There have been good chess games and bad ones, but few have held to the high level that the Chessmaster series has, for over 20 years. Although I don’t recall playing the original Chessmaster game in 1986, I do know my friends and I rented a version or two over the years because we knew it was a solid series. I’m happy to report that the old Chessmaster is still alive and kicking!
While appearance seems to be near the top of most peoples’ lists, it’s refreshing to play a game where graphics are not the focus. Chessmaster Live provides you with 6 3D-style pieces and 3 2D-styles. The various styles of chess pieces are sufficient and provide a fair amount of variety. There really aren’t any animations to write of, as Chessmaster doesn’t go the Battle Chess route, which depicted animated battles between the pieces. However, chess fans won’t even notice this. The music is easy going and the sounds are minimal; again, not important aspects.
What really matters is how smart the AI is and how many modes of play there are. Well, I’m happy to report that the AI ranges from extremely random – Stanley the Chimp, at level 1 – to insane – The Chessmaster, at level 2724. In between those two extremes, you have 129 other opponents to test your skills against (yes, that’s right!). There are tutorial modes that show basics, such as how to move the pieces, to more developed tactics like castling. You have the option to play ranked and unranked games in single player, along with various chess puzzles to solve.
Xbox Live is well-integrated into this iteration of Chessmaster. You can set up matches with your friends or seek out random matches. Either way, you can play a ranked or unranked game, not to mention select from five different game types to modes such as message chess (playing over a set amount of days). Beyond that, you can choose from four different time methods, providing players many different ways to enjoy their online chess experience.
Toss in a dozen achievements and you have a really well-balanced chess game. All in all, if you enjoy chess and are looking to test your skills, offline or online, Chessmaster has just what you need! As a side note – there are two (FREE) downloads out there already; two sets of extra 3D piece types, named Calvert and Lewis.