Space shooters and dogfighting sims have been around for a long, long time. Even though they’ve never really broken through into the mainstream and become a genre that reaches wide audiences, their popularity within their core fanbase has never waned, and more than a few games over the years have come along and taken it to new heights. With space combat shooter Chorus, developer Fishlabs has attempted to deliver one of the more ambitious games in the genre in recent memory, promising a blend of fast-paced action and focused storytelling- and thankfully, this is a game that makes good on most of its promises.
In Chorus, you play as Nara and her sentient ship Forsaken. Together, the two of them once used to fight for the tyrannical galaxy-ruling cult known as the Circle, who, under the leadership of their despotic master, have brought the entire galaxy to heel with their dark and mysterious powers and military might. Though once dedicated to this cause, a fateful event several years ago left Nara reeling with incredible guilt, and disenchanted with the ruthless actions of her master, she fled. Now, in a bid to atone for her past sins and help liberate the galaxy, Nara must face her tragic past, and with Forsaken’s help, destroy the Circle and bring peace to the galaxy.
Unlike most space shooters you’ll play, Chorus puts quite a bit of emphasis on story and storytelling, to the extent that, more often than not, that feels very much like the primary purpose of the experience- or at least one of the primary purposes. And it does a better job of doing so than you’d expect going in. There are multiple major factors that contribute to the game’s narrative strengths- the first of these is world-building and lore. Chorus’ world feels lived-in and dense with history and its own unique identity. The immediate narrative is told through well-directed cutscenes and radio conversations during gameplay, and they do a solid job of weaving Chorus’ story. But for players who want to dive deeper beyond the surface, there’s plenty else going on, most of which is surprisingly captivating.
"The immediate narrative is told through well-directed cutscenes and radio conversations during gameplay, and they do a solid job of weaving Chorus’ story. But for players who want to dive deeper beyond the surface, there’s plenty else going on, most of which is surprisingly captivating."
Just as important is the general atmosphere of the game. From the very first second, Chorus very effectively builds up an air of mystery that pervades the entire experience. Unique narrative elements – like the Circle’s occult powers, Nara’s past, or her relationship with Forsaken – are gradually built upon and fleshed out as you progress through the game, and very rarely does it feel like the game is jumping the gun or overexplaining things. The Circle, too, is built up as an ominous and all-powerful force, and Chorus compels you to want to learn more about it and its history. Excellent voice acting – especially for Nara and her inner monologues – also contributes to the game’s storytelling strengths significantly.
All told, Chorus’ story is a surprisingly engaging and effective one- I certainly wasn’t expecting to be as invested in its world and its lore as much as I ended up being. But of course, actually playing Chorus, thankfully, is just as engaging. For the most part, Chorus plays a lot like you’d expect it to, with movement and combat having plenty in common with the likes of Star Wars: Squadrons or Everspace. Controls are tight and easy to grasp, and if ever movement or maneuverability were a problem for me in my time with the game, more often than not, that was down to my own errors rather than the game getting in its own way. Movement feels slick and fast, and with combined with boosts and drifts, the game always feels great to control on a very fundamental level.
Combat, too, is an exciting and fast-paced affair. Forsaken is equipped with everything from lasers to a gatling gun to missiles, with each weapon being more effective against different types of enemies, who each have their own unique strengths and attributes as well. The really hectic combat encounters where you have to make smart use of your full arsenal of weapons and abilities against groups of foes while also navigating your ship with skill are where Chorus’ truly shines, and thankfully, there’s no shortage of those sequences in the game.
"The really hectic combat encounters where you have to make smart use of your full arsenal of weapons and abilities against groups of foes while also navigating your ship with skill are where Chorus’ truly shines, and thankfully, there’s no shortage of those sequences in the game."
Meanwhile, on top of the weapons of your ship, you also have access to various Rites, which are abilities that draw on the occult powers of the Circle that Nara, as a former soldier of the cult, an tap into. From sending out a pulse to sense objects and points of interest in the environment to being able to teleport and instantly warp to distant enemies, you pick up a number of different Rites throughout the length of the game, and using these in everything from traversal to combat is a crucial part of the experience. While combat and movement in Chorus are content to just stick to established genre conventions, this is where the game leverages its world and narrative premise to throw a unique wrinkle into the gameplay experiences- and it works very, very well, improving all aspects of the gameplay experience in meaningful ways.
Chorus also has a solid and multilayered progression system. Though not as deep or robust as a full-fledged RPG, Chorus’ progression mechanics allow you to spend credits to purchase upgrades or mods for your ship that can buff up everything from how much damage you deal to how much health and shields you have. Meanwhile, there’s also a Mastery system in play, which automatically unlocks further upgrades as you hit certain milestones across various categories as you play through the game. Put together, there’s a meaningful and satisfying progression system at work here that did a great job of pulling me into the experience more than I had expected.
Something else that I really appreciate about Chorus is how expansive it is. Rather than putting players into a singular, linear path, this is a game that instead adopts a semi-open world structure. You’ll visit various maps throughout the game, each with their own distinct look and feel, and each offering plenty of room for exploration and tackling side content. Side quests, optional dungeon-type areas housing navigation challenges and puzzles, random encounters against enemies, opportunities to hunt down more credits and upgrades- Chorus’ large maps do more than enough to motivate the player to stop and dive into the optional offerings rather than sticking only to the critical path. If nothing else, simply taking in the beautiful and varied environments is rewarding in and of itself. Some side quests are a little underwhelming, if I’m being honest, and some of them force arbitrary restrictions on you that can make for a frustrating experience, but I found it quite easy to get over those issues. When it comes to side quests, I know that they can’t all be winners.
"Chorus’ large maps do more than enough to motivate the player to stop and dive into the optional offerings rather than sticking only to the critical path. If nothing else, simply taking in the beautiful and varied environments is rewarding in and of itself."
In the audio-visual department, Chorus is similarly solid. The soundtrack here is an excellent one, acting as a perfect foil to the general brooding tone and atmosphere of the story and the world. Meanwhile, visually, Chorus combines evocative art design with crisp visual quality. Though there are a few minor issues such as texture pop in, by and large, this is a crisp, sharp looking game with stable performance and quick load times.
Honestly, Chorus has surprised me. I went into this game not knowing what to expect, not least because of the fact that Fishlabs and developer Deep Silver have been awfully quite about it in the month leading up to launch. Perhaps that’s worked out for the best though, because they’ve let the game do the talking for itself. This is a constantly thrilling and enjoyable space shooter with tight combat and movement and progression mechanics that are just deep enough to feel like a meaningful part of the experience. On top of that, you have a surprisingly captivating story that is propped up by excellent world-building and rich, dense lore. Coming at the tail end of 2021, Chorus is a great way to say goodbye to the current year, and ring in the new one.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
A solid, well-told story; Captivating lore and world-building; Great voice acting, especially for Nara; Tight, fast movement, thanks to excellent and responsive controls; Combat is consistently thrilling and enjoyable; Rewarding and meaningful progression mechanics; Makes great use of a semi-open world structure; Looks and runs great; Solid soundtrack.
Some side quests can be frustrating; Some technical issues, like texture pop-in.