Shooting for the stars
Once a stalwart of the industry, the space-combat simulator has fallen on hard times. Long gone are the days of Wing Commander and Freespace capturing the public's imagination. Sure, Star Wars Squadrons came out recently, but if you’re looking for something based on an original property, it’s been tough sledding. It just feels strange to me, because it seems like the audience is still out there. Perhaps sensing an untapped market, developer Fishlabs has teamed with Deep Silver to deliver Chorus (stylized as Chorvs).
Chorus tells the story of Nara, a former pilot for the all-conquering Circle who has since abandoned her evil ways. The gifted pilot fled the organization after committing a particularly heinous act that will forever rest on her conscience. Since leaving the Circle, Nara has been working as a scavenger, and hanging around the Enclave, a settler station. However, when the cult catches up to her, she realizes the only true way to be free is to fight back. In order to do so, Nara will need to reunite with her old sentient ship that may or may not hold a grudge, Forsaken.
The set-up of the story is a classic tale of redemption. Nara needs to atone for the sins of her past, and what better way to do that than to bring down the cult she was a pillar of? However, it's tough to buy into her mission due to her rough characterization and the overall lackluster writing. Chorus tries to make Nara pitiable, but it's hard to feel sympathy for her after everything she previously did. The story would have been better off if it let her just be as bitter and selfish as the character should have been. I'm also not a huge fan of the relationship between Nara and Forsaken. The dialogue between the two is an endless stream of them talking about how much they need one another. I get that their partnership is key to taking down the Circle, but I don't need constant reminders hours into the campaign.
Although the narrative is constantly seeping into the gameplay, specifically due to the back-and-forth between Nara and her ship, it doesn't ruin the space-sim experience. Flying around the different star systems of the title's universe and doing battle against Circle forces is where the game really sings. Controlling Forsaken is a breeze, and you have enough finesse over the craft to handle the dogfights you get into. The ship is outfitted with three different weapons, and you can also equip three different boosters. Each weapon has its own purpose in battle. The standard gatling gun is great for destroying unarmored foes, while the laser rifle rips through enemies' energy shields. The final main weapon is your missile launcher. It has a ton of power, but is much more difficult to aim. Boosters come in a variety of options. Some will improve your speed, while others amplify your weapons strength.
What ultimately makes Nara an elite fighter, though, are her Rites. After leaving the Circle, the pilot stripped herself of most of these skills. But if she is going to succeed, she will need to reawaken them within herself. To do so, she will need to travel to ancient temples that house them. The temples themselves are enjoyable to fly through. Their enclosed locations carry a completely different mood than the open-space battlefield. Even if these segments did drag, though, the Rites are an excellent prize for making it through. Drift Trance lets you deftly maneuver around enemies and objects alike, while the Rite of the Storm gives you the power to blast foes with a bolt of lightning. Taking advantage of the Rites is the key to surviving every intense battle you engage in.
The game is quick to let players build up a repertoire. After only a few hours with the title, you'll have access to all the main weapons, as well as most of your Rites. Having all these skills on hand makes the dogfighting that much more enjoyable. There's an immense feeling of power that comes from weaving through a field of enemy crafts, and taking them one by one. It's these moments that make it worth dealing with the underwhelming storytelling.
Outside of the main campaign, there is a decent amount of side content in Chorus. There is an assortment of side missions to tackle; a few have some relation to the story, typically involving a familiar face or organization, while others are randomly generated. Completion of these missions reward you with credits that can be used to purchase upgrades, or even a new booster or weapon. Besides the missions, you can also find pocket memory rifts. Nara can tap into her innate abilities to view these moments. Some of them will relate to Nara, but most of the time they are just there to add some background to the rift you are currently inhabiting. It's a creative way to flesh out the universe of the title without forcing you to engage with it.
Fishlabs has done an excellent job of making space quite beautiful in Chorus. Each of the star systems you travel to has its own style and beauty. It could just be some great architectural designs used for the stations anchored in each realm. Or it could be the eerie lightning that makes some areas almost chilling to fly through. Regardless, I was constantly drawn in by the impressive visual design of the game. Another aspect of design that stands out is the excellent soundtrack curated for the title. The score goes a long way towards setting the mood for an intense shootout or a trip inside a temple.
Not everything is perfect with the visuals, however. The few character models you get a glimpse of are a little rough around the edges. They struggle with emoting, which is an issue when Nara is thrust into a moment of sadness or anger. The explosions during cutscenes also look a little rough. It's probably not as noticeable in-game since you are always moving, but once you see it, it's hard to ignore. And while the score is great, the voice acting fails in most regards. The side-characters lack emotion at times, and Nara's constant inner-whisper voice is annoying.
During my time with Chorus I did come across a handful of technical gaffes. The one that happened the most was the game getting stuck during in-game cutscenes. Instead of giving back control of the ship, the game would just stay locked on wherever the cutscene had taken place. Another glitch that happened during my playthrough was the dialogue completely cutting off during an important plot beat. While I didn't love the voice acting, that doesn't mean I want it to be ditched entirely. Finally, even when playing on the Series X, there were some moments of slowdown. This issue typically only popped up during boss battles but was a definite annoyance when it did arise.
Chorus most likely will not bring the space-sim back to life, but it's still a nice reminder of a genre sorely missing. The dogfighting is intense, and handling the ship is easy due to fluid, simplified controls. However, due to an unlikable protagonist and lackluster dialogue, the plot struggles to keep pace with the action. Considering it was their first original project for consoles, Fishlabs delivered a promising debut. If they can clean up the finished product, and hammer out some stronger storytelling, their next effort has potential to be even better.