I had some reservations about reviewing this game, because the old Atari 2600 version of chess could wipe the floor with me. I know the rules of the game, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself an avid player. Growing up, I was far more interested in those new things called “video games” than anything a checker board could offer. Still, to my surprise, there’s so much wrong with Fritz 8 Deluxe that my playing ability (or lack thereof) didn’t turn out to be an issue.
Fritz 8 Deluxe is the descendant of the famous multiprocessor-playing chess game Deep Fritz, which was the successor to Deep Blue, a program that played chess against the best players in the world. Deep Fritz operated with its developers right next to it, watching and recording every move into databases so the program could later replay, analyze and learn from the games it had lost. The problem with porting that program to home PC, then, is that it was never designed for the general public, and the interface around it feels much more like a tool than a game.
When you start your first game you will notice a notation window at the right side of the screen. In theory this serves an instructional purpose, because it gives you an inside look into what’s going on in Fritz’s head. In addition, next to the window is a button labeled “Go,” which you can press to force Fritz to make its move if he’s taking too long (he starts slowing down after the third move). However, I think of this setup more as a developer’s debugging window displaying all the moves the computer’s considering.
During the game, Fritz often goes on the fritz, making the window an indicator of whether or not Fritz has frozen, or gotten “lost in thought.” Occasionally the list of scrolling moves mysteriously stops, and nothing happens on the board. That’s when you hit the “Go” button, which should actually be labeled the “Please unfreeze yourself” button, because it doesn’t always work. Forty percent of the games I played had this happen, and in 20 percent of the games it just crashed back to the desktop with no error messages or indication of what went wrong. I’m sure an avid player deep into a match would be furious if these kinds of things were to happen. Good thing the Atari 2600 could beat me; I took it all in stride.
3D graphics are included with the game, but they are not on by default. You may ask “why not?” but the reason is probably that entering the “Extreme 3D” view brings you to a flickering full-screen view of the board. As you move the mouse, random pieces and large portions of the scenery flicker inexplicably. I searched for options to try and fix the problem (confident that I would see a vertical synchronization check box somewhere) and found none.
Music is also included in the game, but it’s practically non-existent and turned off by default. Should you come across the option and turn it on, you will find some of the worse midi music you’ve ever heard and scramble to turn it off before your ears start to bleed. Apparently the game’s default setup is not only the real, debugged version of the game, but also the most enjoyable.
As a game reviewer, I consider these issues unforgivable, but there are several things the game does very well, one of which happens to be playing chess. Fritz 8 Deluxe may be a bit on the slow and buggy side, but its roots in the famous Deep Fritz program are obvious. When it’s functioning properly, the game does an excellent job of analyzing your moves and showing you the mistakes you are about to make before you make them. Instruction and challenge, not presentation and pizzazz, are this game’s top priorities.
To make it a more human experience, an additional CD is included packed full of audio clips of your opponent’s reactions to how the game is going. These really do a good job making you feel like you’re playing against an egotistical but friendly human opponent rather than a machine. Humorous and helpful, the comments never become annoying. Training videos featuring Garry Kasparov, the current top-ranked chess player in the world, are also included on the second CD.
If you’re really a serious chess player, this is the game for you. The database system and intelligence are included from Deep Fritz, and hardcore chess players will find that to be enough. The 3D graphics and audio are obviously tacked on in an attempt to make it more attractive, but they are likely the culprit when it comes to the crashing and freezing. If you can ignore the graphics and sound, you will be happy with the challenge. If you’re that serious about chess, you probably aren’t going to notice those things anyway.
- Gameplay: 9
- The game is chess, and at chess Fritz is good. It’s most everything else that I wasn’t happy about.
- Graphics: 3
- The glitches are unacceptable.
- Sound: 5
- The Midi music that’s included is horrible, the voice acting is good.
- Replay: ??
- How serious are you about chess? How often will you want to play? This is really a matter of personal preference.
- Overall: 6.5
- If added features and effects are crashing your product, you should not ship that product.