Chess Ultra VR Review

Chess Ultra VR Review

While there have been countless attempts at making the venerable game of chess relevant to adrenaline-addicted videogamers -- from pugalistic Battle Chess to a version where capturing a piece triggers an animated sex act (yup, this is a thing) -- the truth is that all a computer chess game really needs is decent AI, clean presentation, and a way to play against others. Nail those elements, and all is basically good.

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There isn't a lot to say about Chess Ultra VR beyond the fact that it definitely covers the basics. There is a double handful of environments for the chess board, from English manor drawing rooms to Gemorrah itself, and a smallish variety of chess sets and materials (wood, plastic, stone, burnished metal). The room environments are matched by soundtracks ranging from soothing classical to annoying techno (which can, of course, be muted). At least in 4K, it looks and sounds top-notch, and playing in VR -- the three top VR systems are all supported -- adds a bit of practical immersion, giving the player with Touch controls the ability to lift and place pieces and walk around the board for a better view, though implementation of that feature seemed a bit hit or miss. Of course, playing the game in VR means a sacrifice in fidelity and a loss of sharpness compared to the non VR-graphics. I also thought the interface and controller support (not in VR) was less polished than it could have been, and this even extends to moving the pieces around the board. 

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Chess Ultra generally nails the presentation aspect, and the AI seems equally adept, allowing a 10 level scale of difficulty from novice to Grandmaster and everything in between. At the easiest setting, the computer makes some pretty brain dead moves but is appropriately cagey at the mid and upper difficulty tiers. There are lots of game options, too, from playing through specific puzzle challenges and history-making matches to adjusting game speed. None of these features are terribly unique, but they are as well implemented as the visuals. Where the game falls apart a bit is in its utility as a chess tutor. There are better computer chess products for really learning the game. Chess Ultra VR seems aimed a demographic that a) has moderate to excellent skills already and b) a VR headset. 

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Being able to challenge other humans is an important component of any chess simulation, and Chess Ultra VR provides a good suite of options, from asynchronous one-on-one match-ups to Twitch integration to leaderboards and official tournaments sponsored by the publisher. There are a lot of ways for two humans to meet up on the checkered battlefield, even across different platforms.

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Maybe it doesn't have gore-drenched animated encounters between knights or copulating pawns, but Chess Ultra VR manages to check off just about every fundamental requirement, at least to some degree. Overall, though, it seems a bit bare-bones, with VR being its niche feature. It isn't necessarily a great tool for learning the subtleties of chess, but in most ways, Chess Ultra VR rises above baseline competence to something much better. And owners of virtual reality headsets can dust them off and enjoy a game that never loses its challenge.