Review: Chorus

6 Dec 2021

A few months ago, we had the opportunity to go hands-on with an early build of Chorus, a space combat game that was promising an engrossing story alongside its intergalactic dogfighting gameplay. This initial demo left a positive impression on me, despite me being…well, quite bad at the game itself.

Now, with the full version of the game having recently released, I jumped back in to see if the ambitions the developers at FISHLABS had for the game had come to fruition. On the other side, they seem to have mostly succeeded…but with a bit of a rocky start.

Developed by FISHLABS and published by Deep Silver, Chorus was released on December 3rd, 2021, for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. The PlayStation 5 version was played for this review.

Rise Up and Sing

Chorus follows Nara, a former member of a vicious cult known as the Circle. This cult’s goal is to unite humanity in “chorus,” through force and brainwashing, and Nara was one of their elite pilots…until a particularly brutal mission opened her eyes to what she was doing. Abandoning the Circle and her ship, “Forsaken,” Nara has spent the last seven years as a scavenger for a group of resistance fighters.

Unfortunately, the Circle has only grown in this time, and they eventually lead an attack on this resistance group. Barely fending them off, Nara decides to track down Forsaken and reawaken the powers the Circle had given her…but this time, to destroy the cult and its leader, only known as the Great Prophet.

Chorus attempts to tell an incredibly serious space epic, but mostly stumbles through its first hour or two. After an opening covering Nara’s past with the Circle (dripping in jargon, but that’s pretty typical for a sci-fi tale), things slow to a near crawl.

We’re introduced to Sav, the only other main character through the opening of the game and the leader of the resistance group. He’s also quite boring, woodenly acted, and (as we find out through story progression) a raging idiot. The only real story point in this first sequence is the Circle’s emergence. Until that moment, though, you’re running random tasks for Sav as the game struggles to characterize and develop both him and Nara.

It isn’t until the game moves past its opening areas that the story actually starts becoming interesting. Most of the more positive points revolve around Forsaken, Nara’s sentient ship. It was a few hours in, when the game sends you on a mission to where Forsaken was created, when the story finally began to click for me.

Finally beginning development of Nara through her growing rekindled relationship with Forsaken, as well as introducing characters much more interesting than Sav, Chorus suddenly starting weaving a much more intriguing tale. Having to push through a bumbling first couple of hours, though, somewhat soured me on the story experience overall.

Bolero of Bullets

We gave a basic rundown of Chorus‘ core gameplay back in our preview; generally, this game is a very fluid and fast-paced space dogfighting game. There’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors influence to the weapon loadouts you’re given, meaning you have to think and swap on the fly if you want to be efficient with your space murder. There’s also mystical “Rites” Nara has access to, letting her do everything from instantly warping behind an enemy ship to shooting out lightning to destroy shields.

The highlight of the entire system is Forsaken’s “Drift Trance,” letting you perform some sick drifts and hairpin turns while chasing enemies down. Unfortunately, though, Nara doesn’t have access to this move until an hour or two into the game (around the same time the story begins to open up). The issue here is that your enemies flit and flee around the battlefield under the assumption you’ll be drifting to chase them. Which means during these opening hours, much of the time is just struggling to get them in your sights with your regular wide turns to shoot them down.

Much like the story, things begin to even out a couple hours in when you get your Drift Trance and first couple Rites. Once these are in hand, the dogfighting becomes fun to the point I would seek out extra missions off the story path just to shoot down a few more enemy squadrons. Pulling hairpin turns, teleporting behind enemy shields, timing weapon switches to occur during said teleports to decrease downtime, it’s all just incredibly fun…once all of your tools are unlocked.

The absolute highlight, though, is taking down massive enemy ships. While you’ll be chasing down cannon fodder and mid-size ships regularly, occasionally the Circle will send a massive battleship after you. These setpiece fights see you zooming around and alongside the ships, dodging turrets and taking out power sources to open access to more vulnerable areas, often leading you to fly inside the massive ship to take it down. Dodging, weaving, shooting, and pulling away to see your destructive handiwork explode behind you…it’s just satisfying.

One issue I can levy at these moments, though, carries across the entire game: finding small targets in massive 3D space. Aside from taking down battleships, many quests task you with locating small targets or objects in the vastness of space. The only thing you really have to guide you here is your Rite of the Senses, which sends out a radar blast to highlight points of interest. If you’re not close enough to see the object highlight (or it’s super tiny and hard to miss), all you get is a small triangle on the screen pointing you where to go.

…unfortunately, since the Rite highlights everything around you, you often get ten of targeting triangle popping up. One for your destination, another five or six for random pickups or non-mission-critical points of interest, and a triangle for every enemy chasing you. Good luck figuring out which is which. In these moments, I’d often find myself drifting aimlessly around an area, activating the Rite every few seconds ’til I lucked across what I needed to find.

Speaking of drifting aimlessly, when you’re not dogfighting, you’ll be spending long moments doing absolutely nothing while flying to your next destination. While Chorus doesn’t offer a massive open world, each of its individual areas are rather large, and can take multiple real time minutes to fly from one end to the other. And making that flight is what you’ll often be doing, as quest markers are often in far-flung corners of each map.

You do usually have a hyperspeed option while porting between missions, but even with this on, I’d often put my controller down and go pour something to drink while flying to the next beacon. There’s so much nothing going on that these moments often reminded me of Final Fantasy XV and waiting for that game’s car to drive from point A to point B before I could get back to, you know, playing the game.

If you do pay attention while flying, you’ll stumble across some side missions here and there. Some are simple dogfights, while others can unlock quest series that present a bit of lore and often some new equipment for your ship. It can be hard to tell which ones are what until you start them, but some of the quest series are definitely worth the time investment if you can find them. Especially since the ship parts they offer often vastly outstrip anything you can buy from the shop at the time you find them.

Stay in the Ship, Please

95% percent of the time, Chorus looks absolutely stunning on screen. Beautiful planetary vistas, asteroid fields hiding space stations, crazy sci-fi effects visible from kilometers away, there’s usually always at least one beautiful thing on screen in between your dogfights. Ships can be relatively small on screen, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping track of them. Enemy ships often have subtle red halos and contrails, too, which is a small touch that makes them much easier to follow in the fast-paced battles.

The other 5% of the time, though, is when you’re in cutscenes with human characters. It seems FISHLABS poured all the fidelity into the space ships (understandably) and left none of it behind when designing Nara, who looks ripped out of a previous-gen game. The cutscenes out of your ship just aren’t all that interesting in general.

Voice acting is….well, it’s a mixed bag. Nara is performed well, and Forsaken is a bit stilted…but Forsaken is literally a space ship, so stilted acting is understandable. Nearly every other secondary character, though, ranges from average to rough. I could practically hear the script that Sav was reading off of during his lines half the time.

Musically, ironically, there really isn’t much here. The main menu theme is exhilarating and bombastic. It’s also most of the music you get to hear during the game. Much of the time, you’ll be flying in silence. Honestly, I can hardly remember if the soundtrack kicks in during dogfights, due to my focus on all the drifting and Rite-ing and the battle sound effects drowning out everything else in my speakers.

Not Quite in Unison

Overall, Chorus is a super solid and often enthralling space combat game. Unfortunately, the plodding pace of its opening couple hours is likely to put may players off of it. Neither the story nor the gameplay succeeded in hooking me in immediately and, honestly, I would’ve likely struggled to push through if I hadn’t played the game’s preview, which took place after this slow opening.

While the gameplay absolutely flourishes once the game opens up, though, the story never truly reaches greatness. It does become much more interesting after the initial few hours, but often felt like a distraction from the core gameplay. The cutscenes featuring Nara looking noticeably worse than the moment-to-moment gameplay don’t help on this point, either.

If you’re a fan of space combat and can push your way through the first couple hours, I’m fairly confident you’ll find a lot to like in Chorus. The core dogfighting is just plain fun, and the setpiece fights are something to see. If you’re not already a genre fan, however, I’m not entirely sure this will be the game to win you over.

~ Final Score: 7/10 ~

Review copy provided by Deep Silver for PS5. Screenshots taken by reviewer.