Review : Chorus : Superior Starfighter Combat

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Chorus is an amazing game. In a genre that has been largely underrepresented on console, Chorus is a return to form for what made open world space shooters so compelling. In the vein of what makes space shooters like Colony Wars, Star Lancer, and the Rogue Squadron sequels so compelling, Chorus takes the genre further, with unique abilities and a level of polish that truly stands out as one of the surprise releases of the year.

Immediately evident upon taking control of your ship is the pride that Fish Labs has taken in crafting every element of the world, starting with the controls. The entirety of the campaign is spent in space, flying one variation of a ship or another. As such, many games get lost in the complexity of controls while flying about in 3D space. It’s not so with Chorus, however, as your ship moves about intuitively and can quickly realign itself with a steady horizon at the touch of a button. Movement feels responsive, and dogfighting is introduced quickly but is so immediately accessible that the player never feels overwhelmed with the bevy of abilities presented as the campaign unfolds.

Players take control of Nara, a remorse-ridden pilot with a tragic backstory. Nara was a member of an elite group of pilots whose special abilities gave them the edge on the battlefield. These abilities begin with sensing the environment and grow to some incredible heights that include precognitive dodging and the ability to grab hold of ships with your mind. Certainly, there are comparisons to be made with Chorus’s “Elders” and the Jedi. I found myself more than once noting that this is the Star Wars game I had hoped Squadrons would have been. There’s even the comparison that Nara is responsible for the destruction of an entire world and is combating that guilt as she searches for redemption.

Alongside Nara, for the majority of her journey, is the sentient ship known as Forsa, short for Forsaken. Forsa’s hostile thirst for death is at constant odds with Nara’s slow march towards forgiveness, but the two play off of one another well, to the point where they’re finishing each other’s sentences by the end. The dialogue between them is heartfelt, if a bit over the top at times. The two discover plenty about themselves and their relationships with the greater world as the story unfolds. That story is expansive and can be found in the 10-12 hour main campaign and expounded upon with a wide array of side missions, which may see you racing local kids in their ships, solving puzzles to restore air to a space station, or crippling a pirate operation while recruiting more troops to your cause.

Equally impressive are the cutscenes and voice acting. While the writing in both the main campaign and on the many side missions is compelling, there are moments of cheesiness that might cause you to laugh out loud if not for how intensely the voice actors committed to their roles. A great deal is demanded of them both as Nara will speak with Forsa and other characters constantly, as well as having a whispered inner dialogue that is testy at best and obnoxious at worst. The journey to upgrade is almost always accompanied by character memories that play out in flashback dialogue as well.

Exploration is constantly rewarded with new spectacles, side missions, and resources to upgrade your ship. Hull and shield fragments, credits, and ability power ups are spread generously throughout all areas of the game. Using these at different outposts can see augments to your ship and combat style. The aforementioned abilities, called Rites, can be leveled up routinely through the course of the campaign, but expect to put serious time into maxing those out.

A constant struggle for space shooters has always been the balance of speed versus effective flying. Similar titles in the genre have encouraged dogfighting, but movement is so twitch-based or quick that you never really feel you’re involved in elite dog fighting movements. Not so with Chorus, as your character gradually unlocks a wide array of abilities that offer an advantage versus each enemy type. Under attack? Drift in 3D space to fire backwards or as an enemy flies by. That’s not your style? Try teleporting yourself behind an enemy and spinning your gatling gun up at a high rate of fire. Shields an issue? Switch to lasers and barrel roll around them. Problems are consistently introduced, as are ways to solve them. It all culminates in an incredible spectacle that makes some of the main story missions an enthralling sight to behold.

Enemy variety is deep and expansive. As you advance through the story, you’ll encounter a plethora of different types of ships to engage in, each demanding its own approach in dogfighting. Some have shields on certain areas of the ship, requiring you to drift in zero-G to strike at their unprotected side, while others are more vulnerable to armor piercing missiles or a teleport dodge to get you close. There is a specific weapon for each combat scenario, and provided you’ve outfitted your fighter accordingly, you’ll make quick work of the opposition. If you’re not properly equipped, the job can still be done, but it will take far more effort than otherwise. The Rites that Nara makes use of are equally helpful, particularly in the latter half of the game. Her ability to fire electric shocks to dismantle shields or use telekinesis to hurl ships at one another is great fun. It makes for a brilliant combat loop that ensures the player never gets bored but also has a few ways to solve each problem.

Visually speaking, Chorus is brilliance in motion. There is a photo mode that allows for skilled users to put together some incredible stills, but I found that Chorus is at its best when speed lines and weapon trails are dancing over the screen as your high-tech, death-dealing ship strafes through a swath of enemies. The lighting is impressive as great structures cast long shadows across space, and weapons light up the screen in darkness. The impressive design of the ship, Forsaken, is especially cool when it makes use of Nara’s Rites and drift abilities. Energy connects parts of the ship while it makes use of its combat advantages, and the visuals do a great deal in making the player feel powerful.

The sound design, though, is something of a mixed bag. The ships and weapons all sound wonderful, and, as stated above, the voice actors are committed. Still, there is an odd element to the sounds of explosions and weapons that seems to want to sound incredible but is dulled by the quiet of space. It’s a strange line. Oftentimes, I found myself enamored with the vistas and ship designs only to be a bit removed by an odd line of dialogue between Forsa and Nara.

At various points in the campaign, the player will take control of a capital ship. Slower, less agile, and armed to the teeth, these ships are an enjoyable change of pace, offering a brief glimpse into the role reversal of ship to ship combat. I found these to be wonderfully enjoyable as you feel incredibly powerful. I’ll admit to feeling intense glee as I dismantled ships in a quick barrage of fire that would normally take a significant amount of dogfighting. More than once I found myself wishing these segments were longer and more fleshed out because they proved great fun.

Chorus is fantastic and expansive. While the critical path of the game charts in at just over 10 hours, I’ve found myself at roughly 17 hours with plenty more to upgrade and discover. Some writing oddities aside, Chorus is a wonderful return to form for the genre. It’s a must play game for fans, and it is a title not to be missed despite the crowded December window. Chorus is available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S and X, PlayStation 4 and 5, PC, and Stadia.

 

Final Verdict: 8

Fun Factor: 9
Technical Prowess: 9
Time Investment: 15-20 Hours
Replayability: 8

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By Luke Lohr

Luke Lohr is the creator and host of the Xbox Expansion Pass. XEP is a weekly podcast that discusses the goings on of the gaming industry and features developers, journalists, actors, and equality advocates from all over the gamingverse. You can find Luke on Twitter @InsipidGhost.

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