Chess Club Images:
I had grown up with deep love of chess but hadn't played in over a decade! Chess Club got me excited to rekindle and rediscover that spark!
Upon testing this game for review I had asked our CCO tony to jump in with me for a match. Chess was new to him and probably wouldn't have been a game he played had I not asked him to.
After one game, he was hooked and throughout the remainder of the week, he often challenged me to matches (even when we had many other games on our plate to still test and review) haha!
Now let's get into it...
This is fundamental chess at its finest!
You're presented with an impressively wide range of customization when it comes to the AI you'll be playing against.
You'll find the standard AI options ranging from easiest to hardest ( Intermediate, Advanced, Master, and Grand Master!!) From there you also have "AI Try Out" and "AI Custom" which lets you dial in the level you're at.
So If you're new to chess start at level zero and work your way up until you start winning!
Once you've selected your preferred AI level you are then faced with a series of play options
Game type: Friendly or Rated
When playing rated games, all of your stats will be calculated and publicly stored in the global leaderboard! This will have any real-life chess grandmasters salivating at the thought of reaching #1
For the rest of us, it'll be an easy way to match up in online multiplayer with players around our same skill level!!
Friendly is a great option for when you do not want your stats to go on your record... For example, quick pre-multiplayer warms ups or just playing around trying to learn!
You're given the options of playing:
Blitz (5 Min)
Rapid (15 min)
Classic (30 min)
Tournament (60 min)
This is nice to have if you need to pressure an opponent to think quickly but unless you're very skilled at quickly winning a chess game... Stick with Tournament.
The keyword there was winning because when your time is up, no matter who was more ahead or likely to win... Results will come out as a draw!
Play With: Black, White, Random
It's great you get to control this because White moves first and gives you that control.
A pro tip would be to always select random because often we become more comfortable with one color over the other. Playing on random will prepare you to feel comfortable playing anything that's thrown at you in multiplayer!
Stage: Grand Palace, Stonehenge
To start the launch of the game we're given two environments to play in out the gate.
Grand Palace: This is your classic, stuffy, most elite chess environment with the classic-looking chess pieces.
Stonehenge: This is what you came for, the main selling point of the game, and oh boy... It sure doesn't disappoint! Now, this is clearly a fantasy version of Stonehenge but I don't think I'd have it any other way!
The classic chess pieces are replaced with battle-ready warriors. We'll talk much more about these little guys throughout the review but for now, I'll just leave it at... They NAILED it!
One last cool thing they added is the ability to play multiple boards at the same time and at your own pace.
So this means even if you don't have time to sit down and play through an entire game, you can move a piece and wait until your opponent finds the time later in the day to make their move!
From the second you step into the lobby, you know you're about to play a game by a developer with love and appreciation for chess.
You enter into a lobby resembling the famous 1953 painting "Relativity" but come to life within a chess world.
The menu system is all cleverly laid out in front of you as different chess pieces and to your left and your right suggestion multiplayer, opponents and those on your friend's list also appear and pieces on a board!
While there are currently only two boards and environments to choose from they are both large and detailed! While fairly static with not much movement to distract you can think of these worlds at the same level you've come to expect with Oculuses' own native home environment options.
As for the pieces themselves, stunning!
There's not much to write home about for the standard pieces but when it comes to the animated ones... WOW!
they are incredibly detailed with believable movements that truly make them feel alive on the board!
They'll sporadically move and stretch their limbs even when not in play and when it does come time to battle... It does not disappoint!
If you're expecting blood and gore here though, you'll be severely disappointed as they obviously wanted to make this game playable for all ages.
They did a fantastic job here of using sound design to really make you feel as if you're sitting in both environments.
The sound really adds to the atmosphere while (maybe even unintentionally) adding a bit of a creepy mysterious factor to the game.
In the grand palace you'll hear the faint constant ticking of the clock up on the wall and every now and again you'll find yourself looking behind you as you hear a door subtly creak open!
Now and again you'll hear the tinkling of piano keys from the piano at the other end of the room. What makes this creepy is, you're clearly the only one in the room!
Good VR sound design should directly mimic the environment you're in and the only disconnect in this game comes with achieving a checkmate. You'll read an audience that bursts with clapping and praise yet there's not a character around you... But we'll touch on that again under the Immersion category!
The animated pieces themselves each have their own unique sounds and attack noises! I was truly blown away!
You can hear every bit of their armor as it rubs together with every step they take on the board.
I also notice that the background music will dynamically change as you play. When the game senses you're close to a checkmate, it becomes more dramatic... Giving you a clue something's about to happen (even if you cant see it yet lol)
When that "check" finally does happen it's signaled by a large chyme of the clock in the Grand Palace or a mysterious evil laugh in Stonehenge!
This is the biggest missed opportunity in the entire game. Chess is a battleground between two opponents and this game does nothing with that.
It's felt most in the Stonehenge environment where they could have easily explained a little back story of why these two armies are fighting and the significance of the beautiful fantasized version of Stonehenge you're sitting in the middle of.
As for the Grand Palace, they could have had a campaign or story of your character battling their way to the top of the chess world... Metting different opponents and personalities along the way.
If anything the recent success of The Queens Gambit on Netflix has taught us... Chess championships can make for a thrilling, addictive story!
Chess is truly timeless and is the type of game you can learn to play in a matter of minutes but can take a lifetime to even come close to mastering.
If you find yourself playing the classic board style most, you'll be coming back to this title for years!
If it's the Stonehenge and animates pieces that attract you to playing you'll be happy to hear that they've added such variety in all the characters it never gets repetitive or even predictable!
There are some rare animations that blow you away and give you moments of "wow... that JUST happened outa nowhere!!"
What takes you by surprise most is just how sucked into a game you can become. a huge chunk of this is the concentration and brain power chess can take when you're trying to predict your opponent's next move all while planning your next THREE movies at the same time.
For the most part, this games use of sound design, chess piece animations and environments really is flawless... Yet there are a few things I'd wish would be done differently...
The fact they went to the trouble of adding native hand tracking is really cool! And upon first impression, you're really impressed by how natural picking up and moving pieces with your fingers can be.
You quickly can watch your chess game and immersion deteriorate as the quest has a hard time registering your fingers so close together. Out of the blue, your piece will drop down on an unintended spot and there's nothing that can be done about it.
This can be infuriating watching your queen be taken by a pawn and is quickly turned off in favor of controllers never to be used again.
However, there is a simple fix that I hope the developers hear and implement...
Simply let us move the piece and press a button to lock in the move!
The only other immersion killer is a mistake we see often with game studios seeing as VR is still in its "early days"
The sounds should always reflect the actual environment you're seeing. For example in our Stones of Harlath review, we mentioned how you could hear waves breaking yet the water was not moving at all.
A similar thing happens in this game when you achieve Check Mate. Visually you're in an empty room but when you make the winning move you hear clapping and excitement as if the room is filled with onlookers.
Not a deal-breaker but definitely something that needs to be etched in stone one day when we have the 7 deadly sins of VR game design etched in stone!
Motion Options: 6.5
If you have no issues playing chess in real life, the same can be expected while playing this game.
The board feels as if it's placed at the most perfect height and not once did my neck ever feel strained.
The only lacking feature most won't really care about yet some will, it the ability to play chess Queen Gambit style on their ceiling while laying down.
Something that could possibly come with an update if the userbase demands it loudly enough.
Learning Curve: 7.5
If you know chess, you're good to instantly start playing! zero learning curve!
If you don't?
You're on your own (for now)
There is no learning mode in the game but honestly, because this is such a timeless old game, everything you need to know can be taught in under 10 minutes on Youtube to get you started!
I feel as this is a missed opportunity for the game and a potential userbase who might shy away from getting this game because they don't know how to play or they feel as if learning chess is intimidating.
Yet, this is probably the ultimate way to learn! You can set AI to a level 0 and when you pick up a piece, it will indicate in orange on the board all the positions you can move it.
I have heard rumors that a learning mode WILL be coming but developers had not confirmed it at the time of writing this review.
Value for Money: 10
They really priced this game right and I'd honestly go as far as to say this game should be a staple in your oculus catalog.
They really did set the bar very high for every future chess game to follow in their path and if they keep expansions and updates rolling... It'll be extremely hard for another game to compete at this price point.
Chess is a game you never stop loving and takes you by surprise just how much you love it if you're playing for the first time. It's a life skill every child should be taught in my opinion and I'm thrilled I can now experience it in its full glory through VR
Summary: Select a stunning environment, and challenge your friends, our AI, or one of the millions of Chess fans around the world.
Game Modes: Single User, Multiplayer
Platforms: Oculus Quest
Release Date: July 1, 2021
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0