Tuesday 1 April 2008

April 1st

The deadline for April Fool's Day pranks has past, and now I feel it is safe to post. While I didn't play any online pranks myself (although the last line in yesterdays post did unintentionally catch the unwary) I feel it is fitting to post one of the great April Fool's Chess related gags.
The following review first appeared in Gamespot Computer Game Magazine and I reproduce it here (rather than link to it) as I cannot find the original on the net.

By Greg Kasavin

The latest offering in the rapidly overflowing
strategy genre is hard evidence that strategy games
need a real overhaul, and fast. Chess, a
small-scale tactical turn-based strategy game,
attempts to adopt the age-old "easy to learn,
difficult to master" parameter made popular by
Tetris. But the game's cumbersome play mechanics
and superficial depth and detail all add up to a
game that won't keep you busy for long.

Chess casts you as king of a small country at war
with a rival country of equivalent military power.
There is little background story to speak of, and by
and large the units in the game are utterly lacking
any character whatsoever. The faceless,
nondescript units are dubbed arbitrarily such labels
as "Knight" and "Bishop" while their appearance
reveals nothing to suggest these roles. To make
matters worse, the units on both playable sides are
entirely identical aside from a simple color palette
swap. The setting of the conflict is equally
uninspiring and consists merely of a two-color grid so
as to represent the two warring factions. Adding insult
to injury, there is only one available map- and it's
pathetically small, an 8x8 matrix (Red Alert
maps are up to 128x128 in size). The lack of more
expansive battlefields makes Chess feel like little more
than an over-glorified Minesweeper.

In a definite nod to Tetris, Chess eschews any kind of
personality and styling in order to emphasize its supposedly
addictive gameplay. Unfortunately, that gameplay is severely
lacking. For one thing, there are only six units in the game.
Of those six, two are practically worthless while one is an
overpowered "god" unit, the Queen. She's your typical Lara
Croft-esque 1990s "me, too" attempt to attract the fabled gaming
girl audience from out of the woodwork to help solidify a customer
base for a game that simply cannot sell itself on its own merits.
The Queen can attack in any direction and she is balanced solely
by the fact that both sides are equally equipped with only one.
Otherwise, the functions of the six Chess units feel entirely
arbitrary. For instance, Rooks can only move in horizontal lines,
unable to attack enemies at diagonal angles; yet Bishops can
move diagonally, but not horizontally. The result is a frustratingly
unrealistic effort at creating balance and strategy where there
is, in fact, very little of either element to be found.

Inexplicable pathing problems also plague Chess - the irritating
Pawns can only move straight ahead, but for some reason or other
they attack diagonally. Worst of all, your units are always deployed
in exactly the same fashion. While there might have been some
strategic element involved in cleverly deploying one's troops around
the undeniably constricted map, the designers saw fit to enforce a
"rule" about how the game should be set up. In the end, Chess matches
may often go on for a great length of time because your Pawns always
begin in front of your more useful forces, thereby blocking them off.

Only two players can compete simultaneously, thus severely limiting
any play life to be found. There is only one gameplay mode- no
capture the flag or team play - and that involves the two players
taking turns moving their units one by one. The moment a player's
King is threatened, that player is placed in a state of "check."
At this point, the player must defend his King with whatever means
are available. If he cannot defend his King, he is defeated. Yawn.
All units are killed by a single hit, so even a lowly Pawn can be
instrumental in defeating an opponent if you plan accordingly.
While the artificial balance of forcing equivalent deployment for
both sides turns Chess into something of a battle of wits, the
turn-based play is poorly paced and never really picks up speed
until halfway through a game, if then. And half the time, because
of the limited troops available (and no resources with which to
purchase more), matches end in disappointing stalemates.

This game attempts to accredit itself by virtue of its tactical
play mechanics. Yet those mechanics are tedious and difficult to grasp
and exacerbate Chess's other numerous failings. In fact, should you
actually memorize all the infuriating little rules governing how
the game is played, you'll find yourself growing weary of it all
in short order. There's just no payoff to a properly executed game,
because the restrictions on the units mean there's a "right" way to
play. Thus no real variety can exist between competent players.
The sluggish turn-based nature of Chess bogs the package still
further and renders this strategy game an irreverent exercise in
wasted time for all but the most die-hard turn-based strategy

It's more than likely that Chess, due to its self-conscious though
not entirely elegant simplicity, will garner a small handful of fans.
But in light of this game's boundless oversights and limitations,
there is no chance it could ever enjoy the sort of success that makes
games like Westwood's C&C: Red Alert and Blizzard's Warcraft II the
classics they are to this day.


Anonymous said...

Oh just bugger off barb. Usual transparent scam.

TrueFiendish said...

Oh Barb, how should I communicate my bank details to you? I too want to type some stuff and make good moolah.