Originally published at: https://xboxera.com/2021/09/23/hands-on-preview-chorus/
If you cast your minds back to last year, you may remember a very slick looking trailer for a space combat game called Chorus, first debuted during Microsoft’s Xbox Series X showcase. It was dark, moody and it looked incredibly fast.
As a big fan of games like Elite Dangerous, when the opportunity came to get into the cockpit and test it out, I was more than happy to oblige.
In Chorus, you play as ace pilot Nara. Nara used to do all sorts of awful things for this galaxies ‘bad guys’; an empire spanning cult called The Circle, and indeed used to be the right-hand of its leader, referred to as The Great Prophet. The Circle team up with a mysterious alien race called The Faceless, who promise to mend humanity and bring harmony – a perfect Chorus.
Turns out, murdering (sorry, ‘cleansing’) civilians by the planet load got her asking the important question – “Am I the baddie?” and faced with what she had done, she abandoned The Circle and fled into Exile.
Sadly, you can’t really run from something like that, and when The Circle attacks her last refuge, she fights back against against her former Cult. She’s switched sides, now joining the last remnants of the resistance and is looking to the turn the tide.
If not for forgiveness, perhaps redemption instead.
In order to wage war for the resistance, Nara decides to reunite with an old friend. No, not a charming bounty hunter or legendary mystical mentor from her past, but instead she digs her old ship, “Forsaken”, out of storage back from her time with The Circle.
Forsaken is a key component in Chorus, not just from a gameplay perspective, but because the ship is just as important a character as Nara herself. Forsaken is sentient, and not just a gun-touting, missile-firing, laser-laden death machine – he is aware and will voice his opinion on matters as the game progresses. Nara and Forsaken must learn to trust each other again, and that is going to take some doing.
As much as I enjoy space combat and the flight model in games like Elite Dangerous, The Falconeer or classics like Crimson Skies and Colony Wars, let’s be honest with ourselves. Most of the time, combat becomes a circle of chasing your target in loops as you try to line up your reticule to get a good shot in.
I enjoy a good dogfight, but that gameplay loop can often leave people wanting, so I have to admit, I approached Chorus with some concern that for all the bells and whistles, they wouldn’t be able to avoid this particular trope of the genre.
To my surprise, the developers have been very smart here. Nara can unlock Rites, abilities to give her an edge in combat – the most transformative of these is The Hunt – once you have a target roughly in range, a press of the B button can transport you to a new angle of attack and it is incredibly satisfying.
The net result? The frustration of flying around in circles to nail a target is all but eliminated.
In conjunction with Forsaken’s drift ability assigned to Left Bumper (allowing you spin your ship on the spot, drifting past a target for a good attack run), Chorus’ combat feels wonderfully slick. These smart decisions make Chorus feel very fast paced indeed, and once I got the hang of things, I began to feel like quite the ace pilot after all.
Enemy ship types are nicely varied with the light attack craft (Crows), a threat in larger numbers with relatively little armour to the threatening Vultures, armoured gunships with a robust frontal shield. They are slow, and if felt great knocking the shield out with my lasers before using the Hunt ability to swing behind and blast them into smithereens with missles.
You can even make some light customisations to your ship in terms of loadout with upgrades featuring varying properties as you progress. You can supplement Forsaken with up to three of these mods, that give either stat bonuses or gameplay changing effects if you can obtain a set.
While in the hangar, you may be disappointed that there is nothing cosmetic or skin driven to make your ship look different. Forsaken is sentient after all, he may not enjoy being forced through numerous paint-jobs or made to wear a jaunty hat.
The Press Demo we were given access to was on PC via Steam, and was a short, structured look at some of the gameplay we will see in the full release. It’s not all about combat alone though, with Nara assisting other crews with cargo retrieval, saving refugees, races, obtaining useful intel via informants and more.
There’s a great bit of world-building going on here, and the developers at Fishlabs do a great job of painting a downtrodden and under-threat human race, fractured and divided across the stars. With some very impressive art and level design, the team have made a world I came away wanting to save, and the voice acting and soundscape sucked me in and got my blood pumping during dogfights.
The game isn’t quite ‘open world’, but there are jump gates that connect the different systems, and once you’ve unlocked a new system, you can travel around at will, though certain story moments will lock you into a path until you’ve seen it through.
While we were teased with some examples of unique ‘rifts’ into the void (think this games version of a Dungeon or Temple), home of the mysterious alien race The Faceless, from which Nara earns back her unique combat abilities.
I didn’t get to play any of these sections. They certainly look to test your piloting abilities, and as I got to grips with piloting Forsaken across asteroid fields and human-built space stations, I look forward to relishing the challenge of even tighter manoeuvring.
I wasn’t allowed to capture footage from the build directly, so have had to rely on B-roll for our video, and it’s a shame, because the game is a feast for the eyes. Performance on my PC was flawless – the game even supported my 32:9 Super Ultra Wide monitor straight out of the box.
I see no reason that performance won’t translate to console, at least on Series S|X – though I do wonder if I’ll be able to go back to 16:9 after seeing it in that format – perhaps the 4K presentation will make up for the loss of the additional peripheral vision.
Rise as One
I came away from my time with Chorus surprised and impressed at what the team have put together here. In my opinion, the biggest challenge to succeeding with a game of this genre is to nail the flight model, and Chorus more than exceeds in this regard. With that hurdle out of the way, the world building and unique focus on narrative comes to the forefront, making Chorus feel like more than the sum of its parts.
It feels like an unusual choice for a space combat game. The symbiotic relationship between Nara and her ship Forsaken feels like the beating heart of the game, and the balance between story telling and a sublime gameplay loop to fuel all sorts of sci-fi bad-assery looks to be just right – of course, we can see how it all unfolds for ourselves when the game releases on December 3rd 2021.