Posted: April 1
Early Access Review
Regretfully, I do have to say, I'm very disappointed about the turnout of this newest version of Battle Chess. My opinion is besides the multiple bugs rapant during Early Access which render the game frustrating to use. (On this side note, the game has only very recently been released, and so bugs are understandable; assuming that they'll be fixed in due time.)
Let me start with thegood. The graphics are great! The silly-at-heart battle sequences, as Battle Chess has been known for, are creative and hilarious, and there were a whole lot more of them than in the previous versions which played the same single ones over and over again. The design for the skin meshes is very fancy. (My personal favorite's the Bishop.)
And now, "onward" to my stark critique.
I feel as if the proud traditions of Battle Chess has been spat on and replaced with a mocking version which claims to know BC's history but doesn't show it well in its performance. This is speaking especially in regards to the programs ability to play chess, its "artificial intelligence" ("AI"), if you will. (They're in quotes 'cause artificial intelligence has been inaccurately used to describe computer chess evaluation function; the same way it's silly to describe a calculator as AI.) The ability for BC to calculate moves has been severely dumbed down in GoK. Anyone who has played BC from its beginning (I myself grew up with the 1992-3 version, which I hold very dear to) will know just how damn hard the thing is to beat, even at its NOVICE level: Battle Chess's AI saw EVERY possible move and, more so, every possible opportunity to gain and save material points 5, 6, 7 and more moves down the line; it knew how to schemingly find skewers, pins, double-checks and silent evasive maneuvers that no average good player could humanly find within a few seconds (or even minutes) of thinking. BC has beaten several other excellent chess computer programs, including ChessMaster. It was freakin' frustrating as hell! Such frustrating superior "AI" has given BC its reputation. Obviously, such a hard e-opponent is designed to teach you to become a more prominent chess player, even if the defeats are diabolical.
On the other hand, it was sandbox-easy to beat the Game of King: the powerful tactics as described above simply weren't there. Rather, GoK's tactics, juxtaposed to BC's, were hind-sighted, unholistic and predictable, if not simply lunkheaded. For instance, in a game played at “Nobleman” level, the Black queen captured my pawn on g2, which is undefended by the Bishop on f1 since I moved him out to check the King, and my right-side knight on g1 hasn't previously been moved; an extremely dimwitted blunder on my part; in fact, Battle Chess 1993 was the one to harshly teach such a lesson to me over and over again. I can't even believe that, after years of experience in chess, I would make such a foolish mistake. My restricted undefended Rook on H1 was DOOMED for capture without any immediate opportunity for me to capture back!! Or, was he? The next move Game of Kings played was pawn on f7 to f5 to threaten my other knight on e4. This equally foolish move played by the computr opened up a diagonal line for my own queen on C3 to capture ITS Rook on H8!!! It's almost as if GoK deliberately DID this because it didn't WANT me to lose material points easily. Battle Chess would have never allowed itself to make such a move: unless there was an opportunity to cleverly steal more pieces from me, it would have immediately and mercilessly captured my poor Rook on H1, while leaving none of its own pieces up for danger without re-capture. I thought for a second that perhaps it was some sneaky way to expose my own queen for capture. Hey, after all, Battle Chess is known for its surprise attacks, right? Unfortunately for me, surprise attack against my queen was rarely the case. After I did indeed move her up to H8 to capture its Rook, Game of Kings didn't even seem to bother to try to capture my queen back after 4 or 5 moves. Worst of all, and this is the best part, ladies and gentleman: the black queen never took my easy defenseless Rook on H1! All of this was the "Nobleman" level, which was supposed to be Game of King's 4th level of difficulty. I simply closed GoK in dire frustration, knowing that I wasn't playing against Battle Chess; I really wasn't.
I haven't played GoK's hardest level, but I can only imagine that it's barely as good as the original BC Novice level, let alone their level 1, and BC had 10 levels excluding the novice one! I understand that there have been negative reviews in regards to BC's extreme difficulty, pointing to the fact that it's been TOO frustrating that players could never beat it. People obviously want something playable so that they’ll actually buy it. Understood. On the other hand, I don't think that should be any reason to take out all those difficult levels altogether. Those original difficult levels 1-10 should still be there, in addition to the incorporation of easier playable levels. Again, I can't emphasized this enough: they were what defined the Battle Chess series!!
I've covered the main part of my review, but the "AI" is far from the only thing needed be mentioned.
The tutorial is a rather cheesy duplication of the one made in the 1992-3 version. It offered nothing new in explaining chess, and then the mediocre voicing of the characters were pretentious, trite, unenthusiastic and simply uninteresting. The "sumo-"sized rook, for example, spoke in a rather superficial European accent (Italian?), and one would not feel the threat of his almost-monotonic dialogue, "If you don't understand, I'll smash you." (In the original 1992-3 tutorial, the rook had a rasp, crass and intimidating voice that varied in pitches as he emphasized the different words of that same dialogue, which excellently portrayed the sense of threat that he means to.)
Speaking of which, isn't the Rook supposed to be a tower that transforms into a wretched stone beast, not a tactless obese "Sumo" guard?? Again, another proud tradition of Battle Chess which has been broken, since in all of its previous versions the rook indeed was a stone beast.
Finally, another BC tradition broken, minor though not insignificant, is the color coding: it appears that OldeSkuul has switched the colorsaround so that red is assigned the BLACK pieces and blue the WHITE pieces. I contactedtheir FB page, and BurgerBecky responded that she will create an update with the option to switch the colors around. So far, no such update was made. (I'm guessing it's on queue to be worked on after the bugs.)
In conclusion, while it's pleasantly enjoyable for a pastime, Game of Kings is as good as any decent chess program and is nowhere near as good as the Battle Chess it’s supposed to be an upgrade from. To save my pride for the chess program that has taught me so much about chess since I was7, I can't call this Game of Kings version "Battle Chess". The 1987, 1988 and 1992-3 versions are the ones I feel rightful to call Battle Chess. However, take heart, my word is only the unofficial opinion of one user in the minority, and it's not to discourage folks from buying it. As far as anyone's concerned, it does after all do the job nicely. Furthermore, most of the younger generation will probably not be able to relate to anything I'm saying, since this is probably their first exposure to the BC series. Finally, I'm aware OldeSkuul is putting much effort in making updates to the game. There's always a chance to turn an unofficial negative opinion around. ;)
p. s. I want to extend a note of gratitude to Olde Skuul and express how much I appreciate them having taken on the project to finish Game of Kings when it couldn’t be finished by Subdued Software. I was aware what financial trouble they had to go through to finally gained enough to open the option for online play. Thank you greatly for the time, effort and devotion!!