For their latest space odyssey, Fishlabs tells us the emotional story of a tragic heroine. Unfortunately, the developers are serving up too much.
Chorus is a colourful sci-fi action game with spaceship dogfights at its core. The game's biggest strength is its technical presentation, since developer Fishlabs created some high-quality backdrops. The presentation of the universe is limited to semi-open star systems and the various environments of the game - especially on the strongest, current systems - are state of the art. Flying through deep space at high speed is presented handsomely and although explosions lack some reverb, the special effects are overall worthy of note.
A big gameplay focus of Chorus is the targeting process, as we need to accurately engage other pilots, flight units or stationary targets while avoiding continuous enemy fire. To facilitate this, Fishlabs has introduced a so-called "drift" state, which allows us to look around and aim freely, while maintaining the current direction and speed of our spaceship. If we exit this sliding state, we jet off in the direction we are currently facing. This control method takes a little getting used to at first, but it picks up on the agility of our pilot very well and feels exceedingly powerful.
The linear progression system sees us moving back and forth between star systems, acquiring new weapons, or skills, to use in clearly defined situations. Lasers and lightning rip through enemy shields, rocket blasts hurt armoured troops, and at some point we gain teleport and ramming abilities, for which there are also specially designed fields of application. When these elements come together in a cool set-piece or specific challenge, Chorus plays away well, but a lot of time can pass between these moments with nothing really happening. The developers make an effort to add some activities to their world, of course, but the majority of the missions are meagre filler material.
Typically, you have to shoot something or scan areas until you have collected enough scattered cargo. Rewards range from money to insignificant modifications that you can use to upgrade your vehicle. I stopped by the hangar fairly frequently in the beginning to tweak my ship's systems, but you don't really have to. Installing fresh mods increases percentages ever so slightly, and when you do unlock something that brings a noticeable benefit, it becomes irrelevant as soon as the next chapter starts. After you unlock the corresponding rites (abilities), the ship customisation loses even more relevance, as you can use them to destroy shields, freeze enemies in stasis or teleport through dangers at the touch of a button.
Because of the gameplay's general monotony all the more weight is placed on Chorus' plot, which, unfortunately, feels like a total failure. At the heart of the story is a religious cult that used to pursue justifiable goals until at some point it lost its way. We were the most ardent follower, but could no longer stand by and watch the injustice of our leader, so we ran away. For a few years we kept our heads above water somewhere on the edge of the galaxy, until one day the past caught up with us and forces us to settle accounts once and for all. As with pretty much all variations of this single story, our tragic heroine has to overcome her own weaknesses in order to achieve what all those who came before her failed at. Nara's character, however, has not been fleshed out enough to be able to bear all these facets. Our tragic heroine is and remains an empty vessel that is never more than an alibi for the authors.
The protagonist is a mental wreck who killed countless people. The game spends a lot of time at the beginning of the adventure to make clear how extremely this person suffers from her deeds - and that she has been unable to free herself from her emotional torment from being her own for a long time. In most of the dialogue this pilot is too tough and also too focused to reveal herself to strangers. When guilt, deep-seated emotional pain or other aspects of the past do come up, Nara is usually a tearful, hopeless and extremely pessimistic personality who would like nothing more than to atone for her sins. As Nara lets us in on her intimate thoughts, the sharp little knives that constantly gnaw at her own self-esteem become all the more apparent.
At her side is a state-of-the-art spaceship called Forsaken (or "Forsa" for short), which takes on an ambivalent, primarily toxic role. Forsa is Nara's "only ally", but it is at the same time closely interwoven with her trauma. The authors make effort to portray this intelligent weapon as an independently thinking, sentient being, but at the same time they neuter the ship's AI to such an extent that there is no memory left for anything other than hatred and the desire for revenge. In the end, they place all their hopes on a duo consisting of an emotionally unstable person who urgently needs psychiatric care and a weapon that permanently incites its bearer to mass murder. Since Fishlabs almost exclusively uses worn-out phrases and meaningful allusions to hint (but never tell) anything, it is altogether extremely challenging to follow longer conversations and discussions attentively in Chorus.
Fishlabs' writing team dabbles in some complex subjects, all of which are only superficially addressed. If it is necessary for the story to progress, then our oh-so-broken title character functions flawlessly; even if that means the game seems to forget that her world lies in shambles. Moments of character development aren't able to illustrate the unimaginable gravity of such developments and therefore, the illusion that Nara in her state is piloting a spaceship with deadly precision - or inciting a rebellion against an empire - is unbelievable.
The fact that Fishlabs' clumsily told story doesn't find a breeding ground in this one-dimensional good-vs.-evil universe may not be a big problem for everyone. If you want to ignore the whining mass murderer, you can still comfortably shoot down spaceships in Chorus and feast your eyes on large rocks against glowing backgrounds. The action is solid, the controls are grippy and there's plenty to do while you turn loads of enemies into space debris. If you don't want to be distracted by the narrative, however, you're likely to get bored pretty quickly, as the superficial gameplay systems don't carry the game for its entire duration. What frustrates me so much about this is that all the necessary elements for a good game are there basically - the authors were just unable to bring their ideas together in chorus.
6 / 10
Satisfactory performance on current-gen systems, visually stimulating star systems, shallow fun for in-between, controls are not too overloaded.
Story construct falls apart after a short time due to the implausible protagonist and her character development, mission design is largely uneventful, many minor technical problems.