The Chessmaster 8000 Review
By Chad Montague |
I really feel like I ought to just link to my review of last year's Chessmaster 7000. It would just save me a lot of trouble if you guys would just go read that review instead and everywhere it says Chessmaster 7000, you can just pretend it says Chessmaster 8000.
No, I'm serious.
Really, I put a link in and everything. Why are you still here?
Alright, alright, if you're not going to read the old review, then let me give you the gist of it. I think Chessmaster 7000 is a fantastic game and a great resource. I'm going to say pretty much the same thing in this review too. Because apart from a few new features, Chessmaster 8000 is almost exactly the same game.
For those of you familiar with the series (and to punish those people who didn't go read the old review like I asked) we'll skip the standard stuff and get right to the new additions to the series. The game is running on a brand new engine (AI here, not graphics) that is capable of playing at the Grandmaster level. Okay, this is nice, but the Grandmaster in the last game beat me fast enough as it is, right? It's nice that the game is smarter but the difference between last year's game and this one is the difference between getting the crap beat out of you really, really, really, really hard or really, really, really, really, really hard. At some point you're just not going to be able to tell the difference.
The interface has supposedly been upgraded but the improvements are minor and the whole thing still seems kind of window heavy. I still want all the information of course, but it's not like things are that much better laid out than they were last year. One nice interface change is the addition of Natural Language. It's really more to help kids by giving them verbal cues and instructions, but I found it really refreshing that the game vocally pointed out my faults in the office. If you try to make an illegal move for instance, the game will not only alert you with a text message but you'll also hear a voiced explanation.
Chess whiz (Mr. International Master to you) Josh Waitzkin narrates a new endgame course that wasn't available in the 7000 model. Josh sets up some of the more common endgame scenarios and walks you through the strategies behind each. And it's not necessarily about specific moves either; it's more about the concepts behind winning play. As such, it's much more applicable to your own games. Game analysis is definitely critical but it's this exploration of the theory behind the game that seems more relevant to me.
For particular game study, you can still go through the more than 500,000 games in the Chessmaster Library. These historical games (all but a few actually) represent the most influential, popular or instructive games since the late 18th century. You can go through each game move by move (with a fantastic interface) as well as read commentaries on the games or search through all of the games for a particular position. This alone is worth the price of admission if you're a chess fan. And the library's been updated to include a few new games some from a hundred years ago and some from last year (Kasparov versus the World for one).
There's another new feature that I'm still kind of divided about. The new Match the Masters drills have been designed by Bruce Pandolfini (don't worry, he's big in the chess world). The feature plunks you right down in the middle of a historic Grandmaster game and then asks you to predict one of the player's moves. Since this is multiple choice, it ought to be pretty easy. And it is, as long as you don't have more than 12 options to pick from. After a while it can get nuts, but if you have the patience to see it through (they can go on for thirty moves), it's a great exercise.
A lot had been made of the new graphics in the game, but honestly, I don't see it. I mean, there are several new boards you can pick from, but the new 16-bit graphics just haven't impressed me as being all that much better than last year's version. Maybe I need my eyes checked or a new 3D card or something, but for me the chess sets looked just about the same which is fine. The 3D perspective sets are still a little unwieldy but the ability to switch between dozens of sets and dozens of pieces makes this a small matter.
So, those of you who read the earlier review can leave at this point (I'm assuming you've already scrolled down and seen the scores). For those of you still here, I'll give you the one paragraph version. Chessmaster provides a phenomenal range of unique computer opponents and teaching tools. Apart from all the game rooms and reference sections of the game, there is also a coach function that will analyze your own games and point out possible improvements or weaknesses. There are a ton of tutorials, drills and puzzles to test out and improve your skill. I loved the last game and I love this one. But if you've already got the last game, the few additions you get in 8000 might not be worth it.
-- Stephen Butts
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