Chess is a rather unique sub genre of gaming, especially in the console gaming sphere. When we think about playing chess against an A.I. opponent, we naturally think about playing chess on a personal computer of some kind. Historically, chess has been a staple of personal computers, almost to its earliest days. Chess on consoles, on the other hand, haven’t enjoyed quite the same amount of notoriety.
The image of console chess is usually one involving a wizened bearded man, hunched over a chessboard, gazing knowing at you, one hand reaching for a frosted glass chess piece, the board and pieces illuminated heavily with light from below, while a soft indigo glow encircles the man’s head like a hood. Newer incarnations have done away with the suggestive imagery in favor of a more modern, traditionalist design, featuring close ups of chess pieces.
The classic design is probably more than a little familiar to anyone who has spent any significant amount of time gaming on various consoles, even if they weren’t interested in chess. This comes as little surprise, as the popular Chessmaster game, originally developed for PC, has been ported to just about every console that has been released, from the original NES, to various handheld systems.
PlayStation owners have had very few options, in regards to chess, save for the very capable Pure Chess, which was featured on the PlayStation 3 and ported to the PlayStation 4 in 2014. Chess Ultra, developed by Ripstone, and recently released on PS4 has a lot of traditional options, while also encouraging ranked play.
From the main menu, you have the option of jumping into a local or online game, viewing a series of interactive tutorials, and attempting a variety of chess puzzle-esque challenges.
If your nickname isn’t “Kasparov,” the tutorials actually do a nice job of getting you into the game without feeling overly preachy or too complex. They start with the fundamentals of movement, capturing and progress to special moves, before tackling basic strategy, such as forks, pins and gambits and even go into a bit of detail on opening, mid game and endgame motivations.
Getting a match going is as simple as selecting local or online and choosing the difficulty of your computer opponent. Interestingly, local matches against the local A.I. also add or detract from your ranking, which is featured prominently and updated regularly on the match select screen.
Your A.I opponent comes in many flavors, from novice to grandmaster and each level also features a dynamically changing numerical ranking as well. This ranking rises and falls based on the community engagement with that particular level of A.I; however, a novice level computer opponent that may have a sub 1000 ranking one day and an 1108 ranking the next will play exactly the same. To get a more challenging opponent, you’ll have to tackle a higher level of A.I.
Aside from this rather intricate dance of numbers, setting up a match comes with the options you’d expect of a fully featured chess title. You can add a timer for a timed game, select from several different locales and scenery backdrops and choose from a number of different chess sets, from the classic Staunton to more exotic fare.
Your games are automatically saved as well, and you can view and review your moves from your six most recent games before you need to start deleting in order to begin and save subsequent new games.
If you’ve been looking for an option for a chess game on PlayStation 4, Chess Ultra is a pretty fully featured title. It contains just about all the options a casual (or even a more advanced) player really needs and promises hours and hours of piece capturing, queenside castling goodness.