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Preview: Chorus

23 Sep 2021

The space combat genre: probably one of the most overlooked and forgotten gaming genres in the modern era. It seems most developers have forgotten about the pure fun of zipping around space in a fancy ship, shooting down ships or creatures or what-have-you, and upgrading that ship so you can zip around faster and shoot down more things. It’s a pretty straight-forward genre, but a fun one…and, from a cursory glance, one that gets maybe one game a year if you’re lucky.

It looks like this year’s entry into the genre will be coming courtesy of developer FISHLABS and publisher Deep Silver. Their title, Chorus, is promising to be a balanced blend of high-speed space combat with a storyline involving evil space cults. The game is set for release later this year on all modern systems, but we had the opportunity to go hands-on with an early demo build.

While Chorus is planned to be a semi-open world experience (a world made up of interconnected explorable segments), our experience took place in one small location. We began in medias res, presumably somewhere early in the full game’s storyline. Taking control of protagonist Nara, a woman who was escaped the aforementioned evil space cult, the Circle, she is now working to fight back against it, assisting other anti-Circle groups.

In the initial mission, tasking Nara to defend some ships against Circle attackers, we are introduced to the basic gameplay loop. Chorus is, of course, a space shooter at its core, and I quickly found myself dogfighting against various enemy ships while learning a few of the game’s little twists.

The first was the weapon system. Nara has access to three kinds of weapons: Gatling guns, rockets/heavy weapons, and laser weapons. Each style of weapon is particularly effecting against certain styles of enemy ship, although it took me a bit of time before realizing how to differentiate each ship style (being able to do so via the color of an enemy’s health bar). Weapons can be switched instantly at the press of a D-pad direction.

While you’re not required to use the most efficient weapons against every enemy, I’d highly recommend getting used to switching on the fly and doing so, as even from the get-go Chorus did not let up on me. Enemy ships quickly filled the area, attacking from all directions in 3D space, demanding me to be as efficient and maneuverable as possible. And…I will admit, I was neither of those things during most of my playtime, finding myself looking at a Game Over screen quite often.

The other little twists Chorus offers, though, are tools to help in maneuverability and situational awareness. For one, the game introduces the idea of SPACE DRIFTING! That’s right, with the press of a button, you’ll be hugging corners and taking turns like a Milky Way NASCAR sensation.

I jest a bit, as the idea of drifting in space seems odd, but it’s a vital mechanic to survive encounters here. Once you have your throttle up (no need to hold a button or analog stick to move forward, once you set your forward speed you continue moving), you can put complete focus into drifting around space debris and maneuvering your way out of enemy targeting to line up your shots.

Once you’re ready to fight back, we get Chorus‘ main mechanic: the “Rites.” Using the powers of her sentient ship, known as Forsaken, Nara is able to perform various Rites to give her advantage in battle. Two were present in this demo: “Rite of the Senses,” which highlights enemies and various targets around Nara, and “Rite of the Hunt,” which instantly teleports Nara behind an enemy.

When it comes to the latter Rite specifically, I was unsteady about what seemed like an “instant win” button built into the combat. The game does balance this by requiring an enemy to be visible on screen in order to use…and with how fast enemies are moving in 3D space, just getting them into your sights is already a challenge. Also, the fact that using Rite of the Hunt completely repositions your camera to being directly behind your target means you may lose track of other enemy ships…so maybe you should just aim and shoot on your own in some situations.

While Chorus does want to emphasize its space combat gameplay, storytelling is being set up as a big part of the package as well. If this early demo is anything to go by, though, it doesn’t seem like the storytelling will be particularly intrusive. Most of the dialogue here happened during gameplay, mostly while travelling between missions, and without wresting control from the player. While I’m sure we can expect to see our fair share of story cutscenes, it doesn’t appear that story-averse gamers will have to worry too much here.

The time I got to spend with Chorus was short (maybe an hour or so), but there was enough here to endear me to the game. I’ve never actually played any space combat games, and was decidedly not good at the game here, but was still able to get play through to completion, if that’s anything of worth to say. As a story-focused gamer, the world being built here seems interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of how the storytelling is integrated with the world and gameplay itself.

Chorus is planned for release on December 3rd, 2021, for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Stadia, and PC.

Preview build provided by FISHLABS for PC. All screenshots courtesy of FISHLABS.