When it comes to evergreen genres, space combat games have to be near the top of the list. Thanks to the long-ago model of Star Wars’ white-knuckle, deep space dogfights, games have been venturing into space every few years. From Star Wars Squadrons to Elite Dangerous to Everspace (just to name three), interstellar combat remains alive and well. Fishlabs’ Chorus is the latest game to join the ranks. Does it deserve a place in the top tier of space sims?
Chorus has some issues, but let’s talk about the good stuff first.
Chorus has a deep and complex story. You play as Nara, an elite space fighter pilot. Nara was a powerful instrument of the Great Prophet, working to crush the resistance. Under the Prophet’s corrupt spell, she used magic to destroy a planet and billions of people. Torn by guilt, she exiles herself. When the Prophet’s forces attack her new home, she is forced to take up arms against him and his cult, called the Circle. Nara has an ally in the form of Forsaken, her sentient space ship. To some extent, the Prophet, Nara and Forsaken are all corrupted by The Faceless. The Faceless might be ancient aliens, some sort of evil force, or maybe the collective unconscious.
That’s about as clear as mud, right? Chorus is probably an allegory about the dangers of blind obedience to ideology. It’s also the story of someone coming to terms with guilt over an horrific event. There’s a lot of jargon, names and ideas bandied about in Chorus, but clearly the writers have a thought a lot about the backstory. It’s almost entirely told through talking heads and radio chatter, some dialogue between Nara and Forsaken, and Nara’s own thoughts. It’s also dry, without much wit or warmth, and often confusing.
Chorus’ gameplay consists of main story missions, single and chained side missions, and random encounters. Main missions take Nara to various star systems, asteroid fields, outposts and mysterious temples as she moves closer to defeating the Prophet. Side missions often introduce significant characters, and random encounters are shorter missions that earn credits. However, almost all missions involve combat of one type or another. This is a semi-open world game, and players sometimes can choose their own path.
Well, This is Awkward
Unlike many recent space shooters, Chorus is a third person game. This reduces some of the motion sickness that flying through 360 degrees in first person can induce. As a future weapon of war, Forsaken isn’t terribly imaginative. It has three weapon types, each of which can be upgraded. There’s a missile launcher, a laser, and a gatling gun. Nara herself has up to five magical abilities, called Rites. They allow her to scan her environment, for example, or to jump through space, or drift her craft around corners. Nara mostly finds her Rites by visiting maze-like temples. Forsaken is upgraded by completing missions and purchasing better gear with credits.
Eventually, Forsaken becomes stronger and more agile, but for the first several hours of the game, Nara’s craft is slow and weak, making early combat quite challenging.
Space combat games live or die by how well spacecraft control. Nara begins the game with a generic fighter. Several missions later she re-unites with Forsaken and the real story kicks in. By and large, Forsaken is a responsive craft. He’s pretty easy to pilot and can quickly turn, stop and hover. Oddly, while enemy craft seem to zip through space at breakneck pace, I almost never felt that Forsaken was pushing any speed limits. Enemies also seemed immune to colliding with other objects, unlike Forsaken.
For a far future spacecraft, it’s odd there there is no lock on mechanic, nor any HUD map display. While Nara can use her scanning Rite, clearly seeing objectives and enemy locations would obviously be helpful. As for the lack of a lock on, the developers said it was to make the game “more challenging.” Substitute “frustrating” and I agree. At least make it an option for easier difficulties. Though there is a target reticule, it’s of limited use given the speed of enemies, and the 360 degrees of movement.
Lost in Space
But balanced against Chorus’ pretty engaging combat and story is a serious problem with pacing. Some of the game’s missions feel padded out by dull, pixel-hunt objectives or repetitive fights that go on too long. Missions inside the temples sometimes consist of minutes-long rambles through empty corridors. The game’s checkpoint-only, no mid-mission-saves system often means that lengthy battles must be replayed. There are some bugs that definitely impact gameplay. Sometimes Nara’s Rite of the Hunt will teleport her ship into an object. Her Rite of the Senses can fail to find important objects.
There were also a few missions where I felt completely lost and unsure of what to do. On the other hand, many side missions are surprisingly deep and there is certainly no lack of content outside the campaign.
Chorus looks impressive, if not always terribly original. It has a colorful vision of star systems, planets, debris fields and space stations, filled with lighting and particle effects, but sometimes visual clutter gets in the way of spotting important objectives. There are relatively few figure models, mostly in cut scenes, and they’re pretty rough. Chorus has an excellent score by Pedro Macedo Camacho. Its sound design is often great and other-worldly and inventive.
Lock On or Fly By?
More arcade shooter than sim, Chorus fits into the long tradition of space dogfight games. Its combat can be furious and fun, but some missions suffer from repetition, some mechanical weirdness and poor pacing. Chorus takes itself and its story too seriously for its own good. In place of plain, old fashioned joy at blowing up stuff in space, we get angsty, mystical mumbo jumbo and a spacecraft with a guilt complex.
***PS5 code provided by the publisher for review***
- Impressive visuals
- Engaging combat
- Complex story
- Can be repetitious
- Uneven pacing
- Limited save options