It's difficult to present a new spin on something that's been so tried and true for so many years. The basic rules of chess have not changed in more than 100 years, and as such, there's really nothing terribly innovative contained in Chessmaster II. However, Chessmaster II does boast everything a player would want in a console chess game.
The concept is simple enough - it's chess. You move by selecting which piece you'd like to move and then choosing any of the highlighted blue areas that are open to that piece. If you wish to cancel your move, simply select another piece. Once you've completed a move, a God-like voice will let you know exactly what happened. There are numerous options for you to toy with, as well. You can select your opponent from a host of more than a hundred characters. Chessmaster may be the closest you'll ever get to matching wits with Karpov, with its ability to mimic the play styles of 31 actual famed chess personalities, such as Fischer, Capablanca, and Reshevsky. Despite what I thought, playing any of these guys is a humbling experience. For a lesser challenge, you can play against 64 imaginary players, all with their own imaginary play styles, imaginary biographies, imaginary ratings, and imaginary mug shots. Any single-player chess game is only as good as its AI, and fortunately, Chessmaster II's is solid. While I thought I was an exceptional chess player, this game showed me that I wasn't nearly as good as I had once believed.
Chessmaster focuses on making you a better chess player. It comes with more than ten FMVs that explain strategy - from each piece and its significance, to complex moves such as castling or en passant. In addition to this, there's on-the-fly strategy, giving you advice on how to respond to scenarios. The game is filled with actual attacking and defending strategies, so you can know exactly how to operate a Queen's Gambit or run a King's Indian Attack.
The graphics are nice enough. If you don't like the way things look you can change the graphical details, from board color to set type. The game has more than fifteen different chess sets, most of which are 3D. Unfortunately, some of them are difficult to make out, and overall the graphics have a really grainy look to them. You can also change the angle of the board if things get confusing. The soundtrack reminded me of listening to the new-age channel on cable radio, as it's filled with nonintrusive instrumentals that could be described as uplifting. If you're not partial to your track, you can change it. And while the God-like voice calls the move, I wished it would also tell you when a known strategy was being played, instead of just listing it in text.
Chess is a game best played against a live opponent. It's doubtful that a computer will ever be able to simulate all the nuances of playing against a living, breathing being. However, if you can't find anyone to play or you wish to practice, Chessmaster is definitely a viable substitute. With tons of customization options and a system that focuses on learning, Chessmaster is the clear choice for people who wish to experience chess on their PlayStation.