Published by: Deep Silver
Developed by: Fishlabs
Space, the ongoing final frontier.
Seriously, though; is there a more oft-visited landscape (not sure that’s applicable, but go on) in video games than “space”? Aside from the obvious Star Wars games, there are countless games set on different planets or in the general vastness of space.
It’s, ironically, a really overcrowded place to be in.
So, what can a developer do to help stand out in a galaxy far, far away?
Well, some psychic mumbo-jumbo mixed with pretty ruddy decent dogfight controls would be a good start. I have still not yet played Star Wars: Squadrons much to my own dismay. However, there is another space-set dogfight simulator with space-magic and fantastically named locales I’ve been playing; CHORUS…or…CHORVS. Or, CHORVS but the first leg of the “R” has been chopped off and now it’s hobbling along.
Note, that this review was conducted on a copy of the game purchased from Google Stadia. Additionally, this is a review of the game as it appears on Stadia, rather than a critique of Stadia itself.
CHORUS sets you up as Nora, a gifted pilot in a far off reach of the cosmos. I say she’s gifted but she literally has some sort of psychic/magic ability inherent in her that she utilises in combat/general flying.
You start off in an underwhelming spacecraft – it isn’t particularly fast, strong, or capable – but it is yours. Together you go along helping various rebel colonies and other niches corners of the galaxy. Help a raider-infested mining community here, do a couple of odd jobs for not-so-nasty pirates there.
These take place inside certain, select areas of various spaces surrounding various planets. You’ll have a number of jobs/missions/side quests/enter your preferred term here in each area. Once complete, you’ll be able to traverse to a new area. Or, you’ll need an upgrade from this area to complete some tasks in that area.
So far, so middling game.
The set-up is that, whilst you’re a mercenary going around giving your skills to the nearest person in distress, you’re also a former high-class psychic-magic assassin…thing.
A rambunctious cult obsessed with [redacted] is going along wiping out anyone who stands in its way. And you used to be the cult’s best killer. Using those aforementioned powers (don’t worry, I’ll discuss them more in a bit), you shot down all manner of “enemies” the cult wanted “taking care of”.
And, for a while, you were happy to do so.
The Universe is Under No Obligation to Make Sense to You
This is all exposition for why Nora is…well, weird. Yeah, that’s probably the best way to describe her.
Nora will talk in a stunted way, often without any real connection to the person/persons, she is conversing with. She’ll also speak to herself in a whisper – probably best explained by her inner psychic thoughts. Though, this whisper is, in most instances, a darker or more cynical voice than Nora’s external one.
She comes across as being a bit emo, actually. Which, when you look at her backstory and the pain her gifts bring her, okay, you can forgive it.
Perhaps the worst depiction of Nora as being a “well-adjusted” member of this space society is when she reclaims her old ship. I won’t detail too much about how you reclaim the ship – sweetly nicknamed “Forsa”, though, for depressing reasons – as it’s a key point in the narrative.
What I will say is that when you and Forsa are reunited, the combat picks up considerable, as do your abilities. Whilst your starter ship is capable, Forsa is able to do things that really give you an edge in combat.
Space is an Inspirational Concept that Allows You to Dream Big
And combat is where CHORUS really shines. The combat scenarios aren’t necessarily constant, but they are equal parts in-depth, frantic, tactical, and intense. You’ll often find yourself outnumbered, especially when facing off against the cult. Oh, spoiler alert, since you left the cult, they have no qualms against trying to bring you down. Because like Don Henley once sang, “you can check out anytime you want but you can never leave”.
The combat will see you take full control of the guns – and CHORUS has plenty of them to keep you going – and Nora’s abilities, plus, your ship’s general manoeuvrability. You’ll be able to fire a laser/rockets/Gatling gun at enemies, do a sweet handbrake turn to drift behind your enemies and blast ’em with a
Force-lightning magic-lightning blast.
It all builds up really well. At the start, you’ll have access to a scanning ability. Nothing too fancy, but the game does utilise this in favour of a radar system. Nora can “sense” her immediate vicinity, useful for tracking down hidden caches of goodies, enemies, or friendlies. Nora can also “sense” ship trails when pursuing someone – they’ll appear as whispy lines darting through asteroid belts.
Space is to Place as Eternity is to Time
All of Nora’s abilities and Forsa’s weaponry have a limited supply that you can use them for, as you can imagine. Use the Gatling gun too long, for example, and it’ll heat up, forcing you to either wait for the cooldown or use a different weapon. And, at the start when the only weapon you have is the Gatling gun, well, you better hope you know how to yeet yourself outta there in a hurry!
As the game progresses, you’ll naturally unlock new, better weapons and abilities. By the end of it, you’ll be a certified walking armament with enough firepower to reverse a black hole. Ermm,…kind of spoiler alert? However, you have to get there first. And that means flying around the various quadrants and star systems building up the resistance to the cult.
The main way to do this is by recruiting more people to the rebel’s cause. Sometimes this is as easy as talking to the outliers and performing a simple task for them. Other times, you’ll have to engage in multi-tiered dog fights. All of them lead you to the same goal though.
Along the journey, you’ll venture through countless star systems. And all of them have one thing in abundance; asteroids. Seriously, there are so many asteroid belts in this game, that half of the time spent speeding through the cosmos is spent dodging space rocks.
And The Stars Look Very Different Today
The other half of the galaxy is, apparently, made up of asteroid-clinging space stations. More often than not, these stations are mining stations (or, at least, were mining stations), drilling into the various asteroids scattered around the place.
Yes, there are some not near any asteroids, but you can bet there will be some space rock nearby somewhere.
Now, this may seem a little like whinging on my part. I mean, obviously, there are a plethora of asteroids in space. But there are just so bloody many of them.
I think it’s used as a way to make the locations feel ever so slightly more occupied, but it’s a double-edged sword in that regard. This brings me to my actual criticism.
CHORUS is full of…nothing. Like, for ages. There are literally dozens of kilometres that you fly through, getting from one landmark to the next, that are just empty.
But, then, this is space.
Subsequently, when it comes to the audio of CHORUS, there’s just as much not going on.
Houston, We Had a Problem
The voice acting, as I touched upon earlier, seems, at times, at odds with what happens on-screen. There’s a slight disconnect between how Nora (and Forsa) speak to one another, and how Nora reacts to NPCs. This could be down to Nora’s past and, as such, just be an extension of her character/backstory.
However, there’s little connecting you to the emotion that some scenes deliver. And that’s all on the acting.
The other areas of audio – sound effects – are actually the best part of the whole game (in terms of audio, at least). The “pew-pew” and “bang bang” of weapons and the “vroom-vroom” and roaring of engines are top-notch. If I didn’t know better, I’d think Fishlabs had created a spacecraft and flown it just to capture these sounds.
Obviously, these sounds are always going to be false – we simply don’t have the weapons or technology CHORUS showcases. But, as false things go, they’re pretty realistic sounding.
Visually speaking, the best-looking aspect of the whole game, hands down, is Forsa. The attention to detail on this craft is excellent. Obviously, you spend 99% of your time looking at this spacecraft. As such, it needs to look stellar (or, should that be interstellar? Hey? Hey??).
Aside from that, everything else, from the enemy spacecraft to the mining facilities, all look similar to one another. Asset reuse was a definite time-saver here. And, at times, it works. I don’t care about “nameless faceless enemy minion #9,736” so why should the developers spend X additional time programming their ship to look different from “nameless faceless enemy minion #8,711“?
It does make everything look – and feel – just a little bit blander, though. But, again, this is space!
Ultimately, CHORUS does a great job in filling a potential hole that may have been left unfilled for a generation or two. Anyone pining for classic space (or even just regular, routine aerial) combat-based simulators should pay close attention to CHORUS. No, it isn’t the most polished game you’ll be able to pick up. Nor will it scream “big-budget” action set pieces. However, it will offer you some great aerial dog fighting.
Yes, the story is rather old-hat at best and the voice acting isn’t going to bag anyone involved an award. Neither will you be blown away by the graphics – you’ve seen one derelict spacescape, you’ve seen ’em all. And you’ll probably miss not having the chance to bring your friends along for some co-op space-capades – CHORUS does not have a multiplayer mode.
But for some unadulterated, single-player, aerial combat fun, there are few games to come close. For the sheer fact that CHORUS makes me feel like I’m playing Starfox 64 for the first time all over again, it’s getting a 7/10. The mid-tier story-telling and humdrum overworlds (err…you know what I mean) take some points off.
CHORUS is available on Google Stadia (obviously), as well as Xbox (and, as of today [7th June], Game Pass), PlayStation, PC (via Steam and Epic Games Store) and, for the lucky Americans out there, Amazon Luna.
CHORUS Google Stadia Review
- Overall - 7/107/10
CHORUS is the little space-sim that could – bringing unparalleled levels of space flight/fight simulation to the masses. The team at Fishlabs clearly know how to make authentic and tight aerial manoeuvers.
- Excellent flight mechanics
- Top-notch aerial combat
- Fun aerial-based gameplay
- Visually impressive – in parts…
- …In other areas, a lot of asset re-use is prevalent
- Voice acting is mid-tier
- Narrative, whilst featuring moments of excellence, feels second-fiddle to everything else
ABG’s Senior Editor (News), YouTube content creator/streamer.