Date: December 3, 2021
This review contains minor spoilers for the first act of Chorus.
I’ve been trying to recapture the magic I felt playing Tie-Fighter as a kid for almost 20 years now. I played with my childhood best friend Sam in his dad’s office, and we’d take turns being the pilot (the person waiting to fly would be the “Droid”, and used the keyboard to control weapons, shields, and speed while the pilot flew the ship). I’ve tried a handful of space combat games since then, and nothing has ever come close to matching Tie-Fighter — until I booted up Chorus last week.
Most space combat games ended up boring me in large part because they never improved upon the formula that Tie-Fighter perfected. You fly around mostly empty space, hoping to get behind your foe but frequently playing a laser-cannon version of chicken. Attacking capital ships or stations usually boils down to flying really far away, turning around, making a pass, and repeating. Honestly, I’d given up on trying space-combat games after getting tired of X-Wing: Squadrons after an hour. The only reason I checked out Chorus was that — based on the trailer — it looked like something closer to StarFox 64: a linear, over-the-shoulder shoot-em-up that just happened to be in space.
Once I hopped in the cockpit as Nara, the definitely-not-third-Alien-Ripley heroine of Chorus, I was surprised to see that I was able to fly around freely as I learned the interstellar piloting ropes; StarFox this ain’t. Combat initially felt “fine”, but I was ready to dismiss Chorus as another space-combat snoozer — right up until the point I acquired my first Rite. You see, Nara is no ordinary pilot: she’s an ex-cultist with some definitely-not-the-Force magic that she can use to sense nearby objectives, teleport her ship behind enemies, and connect with the sentient AI that powers her ship.
Nara’s Rites add an interesting gameplay dynamic that’s missing from basically every other space combat game I’ve played (please comment and let me know if this has been done before, because it’s awesome). Your power works on charges, so you can’t spam them willy nilly, but careful utilization of Rites allows you to feel like a badass space warrior as you show up behind your foes like “Nothing personal, kid“. You gain additional Rites as your progress through the game’s story, at a pace I generally appreciated — though Chorus commits the now-traditional video game sin of only giving you your coolest power once 95% of the game is over.
In addition to granting her access to the Rites, Nara’s special abilities allow her to “drift”: by holding RMB/LB, you can freely aim while maintaining your current trajectory and speed. This adds a smoothness to the game’s space dogfights I had no idea I needed until I got a taste of it in Chorus; I now believe every space combat game should have a similar feature. Not only does it make it easier to track and kill other fighters, drifting makes strafing static targets simple and satisfying, and often removes the need for multiple passes.
It’s also a necessary feature, since in stark contrast to the emptiness of most space games, Chorus is full of asteroids, stations, and debris. Each system is in either an asteroid belt or a populus space-colony, and you’ll often find yourself flying around obstacles as you pursue or evade your foes. Without the ability to drift around corners, chasing and finishing what are frequently fast-flying enemies would be a nightmare; with the drift feature, you can swoop around obstacles and turn your prey into space dust.
It’s not just the environments that fully utilize the 3-dimensionality of space, either. You’ll often have to take down capital ships in Chorus, and doing so involves flying all around the ship, destroying key subsystems to expose its core (think 2nd Death Star). While I sometimes wondered why such important systems were placed on the outside of the ship, I was usually too busy gleefully blowing them up to care.
Basically, the combat’s great, and the fun-factor alone makes it worth playing if you’re into destroying things in space. But Chorus also has some excellent exploration to break up the action. When you aren’t in the middle of a mission, you can turn on your sub-light drive and cruise through the region you’re in (Chorus has an open world with a decent — but not overwhelming — amount of side content), following the traffic through boost-gates or striking out towards interesting looking asteroids. You’ll often recieve distress calls or detect strange signals and, if you choose to, go and check them out.
It’s the rare game that does side missions well; for every game like Skyrim or the Witcher, there’s ten more whose sidequests end up being “Get random nobody 10 of this thing”. So it was a pleasant surprise to find that basically all of the side missions in Chorus were worth doing. Frequently, they include backstory that fleshes out the game’s world — Nara’s abilities also let her interact with “Memories” scattered throughout the game, and many of the side-missions include these story pieces. While some side-missions only give currency as a reward, many grant significant upgrades to your powers, or new weapons; the ones that do give currency give actually a decent amount. (Plus Chorus has awesome combat, and the side-missions are usually an excuse to blow more stuff up.)
I also found myself interested in most of these side-missions because Chorus’ main story is half-way original and pretty entertaining, and I wanted to further flesh out the world. While it sticks to tried-and-true beats and ideas, the concept as a whole feels unique, and I found myself invested in Nara’s journey before too long. The other characters — with the exception of the main villain — never end up that fleshed out, and Nara is pretty clearly a hero-as-a-plot-vehicle, but I still thought the story as a whole worked.
The ending is genuinely satisfying, which is always hard to pull off and therefore a noteworthy feat. I was also impressed by the way that Nara’s personal story, and how she learns new abilities, was deftly woven into the main storyline. Often, game mechanics feel shoehorned into plot, but in Chorus, developer Deep Silver Fishlabs has managed to create an in-world explanation for your character’s fantastic abilities that actually adds to the story, rather than distracts from it.
While I’ve got plenty of praise for Chorus’ story, it’s also the source of my chief complaint about the game: the cutscenes are too long, and frequently feature serious lines delivered from a character that lies facedown in the uncanny valley. There are also many, many moments that are cutscenes I feel could have easily been done in-game, which is not only more immersive, but surely cheaper to create. It’s mind-boggling that they show a movie of your character shooting some new type of enemy, and then drop you back into the action to shoot more of them. Couldn’t I have just been doing it myself the whole time?
As far as bugs and other issues go, there are a few minor issues with the UI, the game often makes you replay a decent chunk of a mission if you save/quit at the wrong point, and sometimes missions don’t start or finish until you fly to just the right spot (this particular issue should be addressed in the Day 1 patch). Otherwise though, Chorus runs stably and smoothly, and there were no game-breaking bugs that I found in my playthrough.
I finished the game on Hard, and had to replay a few of the tougher sections a half-dozen times or more. While I didn’t test the other game modes, I thought the difficulty on Hard was well balanced, which leads me to believe that whether you’re a green pilot or a space-sim vet, you should be able to find a difficulty level that works for you. There’s a decent variety of powers and weapons to choose from; while higher difficulties force you to adapt your loadout to suit the challenges you face, lower difficulties should allow players to use whatever tools they enjoy most.
Chorus’ main story clocks in at around 12-16 hours to complete, and the side content adds another ~5 hours on top of that. At $39.99, and with the polish of a triple-A title, Chorus is totally worth grabbing. Anyone who enjoys destroying stuff in space should give it a try.