Chorus - Magical Dogfighting
PC, Xbox Series/One, PS4/5
I have often wondered why the humble space shooter disappeared from our lives for so long. A genre that includes illustrious titles like Rogue Squadrons, Freelancer and Wing Commander. These games are held in high regard, yet the genre seemingly dried up. That has begun to change though, with great indie efforts like Everspace and Rebel Galaxy proving there is still an appetite for dogfighting in space, it just can’t be the same as it always was. Well, Chorus took that lesson to heart because it has melded magic and tech in a way the genre has never really seen and in the process become one of the biggest surprises of 2021.
For those not in the know, Chorus is a space shooter set in a galaxy ruled by an almighty cult. This cult converts or destroys as it rampages across space. The cult, seemingly through a connection to the afterlife, has access to a range of psychic abilities and special powers that are used to subjugate and annihilate the opposition. Enter the main character, Nara, once the “chosen one” of this religion, now running from the atrocities she committed in their name. But as the Circle (the name of the religion) approaches her sanctuary she has no choice but to once again join forces with her sentient ship Forsa and fight, this time against her old comrades in arms.
As cliched as that story sounds, I can assure you it all works wonderfully in context with the game. So much so that spoiling it would be a crime that I won’t commit. I will say however that there are touches of Warhammer 40K and Lovecraft along with traditional space fare like Star Wars in the story that plays out wonderfully. There are a number of welcome, unexpected turns and some truly fist-pumping moments throughout and in all it is a joy to experience. The interplay between Nara and Forsa and their relationship is wonderful, along with the broader strokes that involve the Circle and how its grand notion of “Chorus” started life as a quest for harmony and was corrupted into a need to convert the universe at gunpoint makes for a great backdrop. I feel like there are more stories to tell in this universe, it feels very much like a place for further grand adventures should the developers choose to go down that path.
As for gameplay, this is where things get exciting. Space combat is a blast, primarily due to the weapon and magic systems. The weapon system sees the player equipped with Lasers, Gatling guns and Missiles at all times. Each is effective against different things. The normal gatling guns are great against standard fighters, the lasers take down shields and the missiles are perfect for large targets and stationary turrets. This may seem like a simple rock-paper-scissors arrangement but it adds just enough strategy that it enhances the challenge to combat without getting overbearing.
The real star of the show however is the magic. This is a literal game-changer. As things start out, Nara has no powers, having forsaken them when she left the Circle, but she soon begins to get those powers back and that’s when the game really hits its stride. Each of the powers offers something new and exciting to mix up combat. The first power comes with the arrival of Forsa and that is the ability to drift, which in reality translates to being able to face and fire in a direction that is the opposite of your momentum. The second is perhaps my favourite and it is a teleport that places behind the enemy you are targeting with their engines firmly in your sight. The next is an electro pulse that shuts down shields and stops ships momentarily. Following that is a power that turns your ship into a spear that slices through any enemies in your path, destroying them in the process and finally you get a telekinesis-like power that allows you to grab small ships, mines and missiles and hurl them back at other combatants. It all mixes in with the flow of combat so wonderfully that you can easily buy into the fantasy that you are the most skilled and powerful pilot in the galaxy.
There are quite a few different mission types in-game, especially for this genre. Everything from stealth missions that are actually enjoyable, to escort missions that are actually enjoyable and everything in between. I especially liked the missions that saw me take on capital class warships. These massive ships were all multistaged battles that saw me attacking weak points, gradually working my way inside them before I got to the power core, blasted it and shot out of the explosion just in time. It was a joy and had me cheering like Lando after he escaped the exploding Death Star above Endor.
There are a few problems that present themselves as the game wears on, however. The first is the occasional difficulty spike. For the most part, Chorus feels like the difficulty is spot on, but every now and then you get into situations that feels like luck is more important than skill. The game also has a problem with instruction, with objectives and goals being unclear. This is especially noticeable early on as you are learning the ropes and could potentially put players off before the game really gets going. Finally, it is often hard to differentiate between the enemy types with a lot of the smaller craft looking similar. I also suffered a few glitches like cutscenes not triggering and occasionally getting stuck in the wall but thanks to a well thought out checkpointing system this never got beyond a slight annoyance. All of these problems feel like the result of budget constraints and are easily forgivable considering how much the game gets right.
The graphic and sound design is solid without being spectacular. There are a lot of quite stunning locations to fly around but things tend to look not so crash hot close up. The same goes with the ship and enemy design, they look great zipping around, but upon closer inspection, things start to look a little rougher. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an ugly game by any stretch, it just won’t be winning graphics of the year awards. The sound department feels like it is in a similar spot. Nara and Forsa’s voice actors give a wonderful performance that makes up for some of the more wooden performances from the supporting characters. The score and sound effects both fit the bill nicely without ever shining. Once again I feel all this is budget-related and nothing that should stop anyone from investing in the game.
Chorus has frankly come out of nowhere to become perhaps my surprise of the year. Sure there are some problems, most likely related to budget, but the positives easily negate any negative feeling these issues may generate. The story is wonderful sci/fi pulp that draws you in, the character relationships are fun to explore and the combat is the best I have ever experienced in the genre. Add to this the game retails for only $60 and it becomes a very easy game to recommend. Chorus is a joy from start to finish and I strongly implore that anyone who has ever enjoyed shooting things in a spaceship gives it a good hard look. It may surprise you as much as it surprised me.
Chorus was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by Koch Media Australia