Chorus is an innovative new IP that breathes life into the space-combat shooter genre
- Publisher: Deep Silver
- Release date: 3rd December 2021
- Genre: 3rd person space-combat shooter
- Platforms: PS4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S, Windows PC (Steam and Epic), Stadia, Luna
- Reviewed on: Xbox Series X|S
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Chorus drew heads and garnered much praise when it was showcased last year, but since then there hasn’t been much fanfare surrounding its launch. There really should have been – We here at Total Gaming Addicts are big fans of Deep Silver’s games, and Chorus, developed by Fishlabs, has impressed us all with its wonderfully unique and original game design alongside a gripping space redemption adventure story.
The first thing to hit you when playing this game is the jaw-dropping visuals. The stunning setting and smoothness of the gameplay are remarkable. Each part of the galaxy you explore is creatively designed and richly detailed, full of asteroid fields, debris, space stations and huge installations, framed by beautiful deep-space backdrops with breathtakingly expansive starfields and gargantuan planets to behold. This is made all the more impressive by the outstanding lighting, which gives everything a feeling of solidity as well as looking pretty damn good to boot.
As you are in space, you have full 360° freedom to manoeuvre, however, the level design is generally set across a level plane, albeit with significant amounts of verticality. Unlike other space shooters, there is no rotational control. The left stick controls thrust and lets you roll to avoid incoming fire, whilst the right stick controls your viewpoint and aim, and depressing the right thumbstick resets your viewpoint. It felt unusual at first, as space technically doesn’t have an up or down per se, but it makes navigating and exploring the levels much easier when you have a clearly defined ‘up’, even if it is an artificial constraint. Exploration can be done with good old fashioned random flying around, but you can also use a pulse mechanic to highlight items to find and points of interest.
The levels themselves are moderately sized, but it doesn’t feel like you spend an unnecessary amount of time aimlessly travelling between locations. To help speed up navigation, you have a Sub-Light drive that functions like auto-run and can generally get you across an entire map in a minute or two. Additionally, there are speed-boosting shipping lanes across many of the worlds that can get you places in a hurry, and the jump gates that allow you to transition between maps also serve as convenient fast travel points.
When you’re not distracted by the world around you and get to the objective to progress the story, you’ll mostly see avatars of the characters speaking, asking for help over the radio from their ships, with the occasional cutscene during the more momentous parts of the story. These missions can range from hunting down and killing enemy ships, providing protection to a transport ship, locating missing items or memories associated with your character, Nara’s past, or indeed a combination of all of the above.
One of my favourite missions was to collect allies from the outer regions of space, provide cover for them through hyperspace, and then destroy an enemy power station whilst being attacked. I then had to defeat a huge armoured ship that required me to fly through it, hit internal targets, and escape out the other side while it was disintegrating in explosions all around me.
These moments are exhilarating as not only is it a visual feast of activity, with lasers, pulse engines and explosions raining down around you, but your audio senses are also assaulted with the in-game audio effects of weapons firing and ships exploding alongside pulsating background music. The end result is one of pure adrenaline, and it’s easy to draw parallels with big-budget action movies.
Early in the game, Nara is reacquainted with her old ship, Forsa (short for “Forsaken”), who is a sentient AI. Forsa is just as much the star of the show as Nara, and their relationship is a key part of what makes the story so involving, with their conversations imparting background and exposition in a way that feels natural rather than contrived.
Forsa’s voice comes across almost like Master Chief from Halo – gruff, blunt and to the point, whereas Nara is much softer spoken. The dialogue and bickering between them, along with whispered internal monologues from Nara (reminiscent of Senua in Hell Blade), propels the history and backstory of these characters along.
A huge part of what makes Chorus so unique and enjoyable to play is the Rites and special abilities Nara and Forsa have at their disposal. The first of these you’ll learn is the drift trance mechanic – Drift, when activated, lets your ship maintain the same velocity and direction whilst giving you the freedom to rapidly turn and target enemies around you. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’ve mastered it you are afforded a staggering level of manoeuvrability that enables you to avoid enemy fire whilst still targeting them, or to turn on a dime and effortlessly position yourself behind your target.
This is just the beginning, though. As you progress through the story, you’ll gradually unlock the rest of Rites, allowing you to teleport directly behind enemies, hit them with a telekinetic blast that knocks out their shields and momentarily disables them, and even throw enemies into one another. Combining these powers and abilities is what makes Chorus so special, and it advances the gameplay, elevating it beyond a simple space shooter.
Each of these moves has a bit of a learning curve before you’ll work out how best to use them, but the developers have done a brilliant job of matching the progression with the introduction of new enemies that are vulnerable to the new powers you have learned, and previously challenging enemies will become easier to defeat. It’s a remarkably well-balanced system that always keeps the difficulty just on the right side of challenging.
Chorus – Upgrades
When Nara arrives with Forsa at the Enclave or stations, you can upgrade the ship in various ways. There is a choice of three main weapons systems, each with strengths and weaknesses against different enemy types: Heavy-hitting lasers can rapidly take out an enemy’s shield, whilst your Gatling gun can rapidly destroy their hulls, and your missiles deal increased damage to armour.
The upgrading systems really are well thought out, as upgrades are doled out at a steady pace, constantly increasing the effectiveness of your weapons. You can unlock variations of each weapon, with different rates of fire and reload speeds, and the more powerful variants even have game-changing perks that boost their effectiveness. Switching between these to suit the encounter is critical to your success, which encouraged experimentation and variation in combat gameplay.
The ship itself has many types of upgrades aside from weapons, including shield and hull strength upgrades and three mod slots. These mods grant buffs, such as improving the cool-down or recharge of your weapon systems, increasing your health and shields or allowing you to use your Rites more frequently.
Gary said, “I really liked how you also get set bonuses, too. Towards the end of the game, I had unlocked a full Renegade set, which not only bumped up the DPS of my Gatling gun, it also had a set bonus that doubled the rate of fire and gave each round an armour damaging buff, which melted enemies in seconds. Another set focused on the Rites, allowing me to use them more frequently and with much higher damage output. This is significant because these builds suit very different playstyles, and become very useful when tackling some of the more difficult missions.
Another feature I liked was the mastery system, where you are rewarded with significant buffs to your weapons and powers for achieving in-game tasks, such as killing enemies using your Rites or destroying enemy armour and shields. When you’ve fully levelled up all of your equipment and abilities it makes a huge difference to your strength and gives Chorus a great sense of progression that I didn’t expect within this genre.”
To get these mod and weapon system upgrades, which are ranked in a tier system, you can purchase them from the Enclave or other unlocked outposts, but the very best ones are earned from completing side quests. This is where exploration really pays off, and it’s worth putting the time in looking for them. Although some pop up organically as you explore, charging your Rite of the Senses (scanner) allows you to survey a significant distance around you, so as long as you periodically give it a good blast, it’s easy to uncover most of the side content.
Some of these side missions are very involving, with multi-faceted mini-stories tying into the main narrative involving multiple chains of missions, whilst others introduce new characters or build upon the lore of Chorus. There are a few basic and unscripted encounters, too, such as taking down a group of pirates or Circle forces or uploading route guidance to a civilian ship. These bite-sized encounters generally reward you with a few credits for your troubles, too, making everything you do feel like it adds to your progress.
Battle beyond the stars
Combat could have been very challenging, but Chorus has some very useful gameplay assists to make it more manageable. A customisable aim assist is present, which helps you keep your crosshairs on enemies as you twist and tumble through 360 degrees, and there is an adjustable Auto-Hit feature that will keep your shots on target if you’re a little off the mark. These kinds of assists can feel a little cheap in standard FPS games, but they are very well-balanced here and borderline essential during some of the more frenetic encounters.
Although the game is graphically impressive, this can sometimes be problematic, as some enemy targets aren’t actually that large and only leave a faint red trail in their wake. Trying to spot the enemy whilst tumbling around the screen, often with a cluttered backdrop of space ships, space stations, stars and rocks, did prove tricky at times. There are indicators showing where the enemies are, though, and a quick blast of Rite of the Senses helps highlight and locate them more effectively.
My least favourite aspect of combat was the timed missions, which have a very short window of opportunity to succeed on your first go. For example, you may have sixty seconds to hit an array of targets located around and inside a slow-moving spaceship. Each of these missions felt more like trial and error, as I needed a few goes just to locate the places I needed to hit.
Even when I knew where the targets were, it was still tricky doing them in such a short space of time. Doing the same whilst under fire and not having the time to engage the enemy and fire back became frustrating, so I just had to ignore them whilst being shot. I struggled to withstand the punishment, hence I ended up putting the difficulty of the game down to get through these sections.
Gary says, “During these sections, using your Rite of the Senses often reveals the areas you need to target, but you’re basically looking for brightly glowing reactors or similar around the ship, which once you’ve done once or twice becomes intuitive. You can negate the enemy fire by constantly boosting and using drift trance, which prevents the enemy from landing hits and positions you out of harm’s way while lining up your shots. Most of the combat is the same – if you try to slow it down and carefully make your shots you’ll die, very quickly. The key is to keep up your speed and always be moving. Combat is incredibly fast-paced and intense – I bloody love it!”
Playing the game on the Xbox Series S, I encountered a couple of minor technical issues. When restarting the game using quick-resume, the cutscenes were silent. There are a lot of games that encounter problems with quick-resume, which is a shame, as it’s one of the new consoles’ worst best features.
The only other time the game faltered was within a citadel, as the game suffered a bit of slowdown for a few seconds. It certainly isn’t game-breaking and never lasted long, but was noticeable (On the Series X, there weren’t any of these problems, with the game running flawlessly from start to finish – Gary).
We were playing pre-release code, with a day one patch set to bring a few minor tweaks and improvements. Even so, without the patch, the performance is still astonishingly good, and if they can improve on this even more it will be sublime.
There are two graphics settings for the Series X|S versions: performance mode and quality mode. In quality mode, it’s locked to 30fps but neither I nor my colleague noticed enough in the way of a visual improvement to warrant the lower frame rates. Performance mode is far superior, with the fast-paced gameplay far better suited by the smoothness of 60 fps.
Additional improvements for the new-gen machines include advanced ship destruction (they blow up into awesome looking chunks), enhanced particle effects and incredible volumetric lighting. It genuinely feels like it makes the investment in the improved hardware worthwhile.
Chorus not only is one of the most accomplished games of the year, but it’s also one of the most engaging space games I’ve ever played. There are many reasons to enjoy it, be it the excellent story, exciting combat missions, or indeed the joy of exploring the vast worlds in glorious detail. For a new game IP, the end result is astonishingly good, so much so that Chorus should be considered for many categories at the end of year game awards. Best New IP. Best Art Direction, and dare I suggest Game of the Year? Chorus is an epic adventure that will keep you satisfied for many hours, the likes of which I’ve never seen before, so why not?