‘Chorus’ review: a cosmic odyssey with a personal touch

In space, no one can hear you talk to your sentient murder-ship

Scale is an interesting problem for developers to solve in spacebound games. The universe as we know it is indefinably vast, so any title casting players into the void needs to somehow convey the enormity of it, while still making a contained game world that can be explored without players feeling infinitesimally small. How do you make someone feel integral to the cosmos while also showing them they’re little more than a mote of dust on the galactic winds?

In Chorus, developer Fishlabs has overcome that problem, capturing the sheer daunting scale of space by essentially crimping speed. That’s not to say the game feels slow – quite the opposite, especially when you’re in the middle of battling a swarm of enemy gunships that are zooming all around you – but rather that speed is used in service of scale. Getting around the game’s universe takes time, even at top speeds – but the journey is often the point, allowing players plenty of chances to take in the dazzling scenery, the majesty of the expanse, the scale of the universe.

Chorus also presents a deeply personal story centred on Nara, a pilot on the run from an intergalactic cult – and her own past as part of it. Plagued by guilt and haunted by visions – and a nagging internal monologue that echoes the psychosis experienced by Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice – she’s a fascinating central figure. Nara herself is never really controlled though – although you’ll see her in full during story cutscenes, or her face cropping up on comm screens, she spends the entirety of the playable parts of the game inside her spaceship, which players will pilot through full 360° spatial environments full of planetoids and space stations.

Chorus
Chorus. Credit: Fishlabs

It’s a balance that embeds players in this strange universe on a personal level, while also letting them marvel at the sea of stars – and this universe is definitely a strange one. Chorus hits that sweet spot between hard science fiction and exaggerated space fantasy, blending realistic ships, warp gates, and orbital structures that have heft and presence to them, with lore and culture that provides dashes of dark religion and quasi-mysticism.

The eponymous “chorus” is the work of a nefarious Great Prophet, a unified force of space-faring zealots devoted to uniting all life in one “song”, whether they like it or not. Think the grander scope of Dune, or Warhammer, or perhaps even the cult TV show Lexx – all dominated by sprawling galactic empires where sometimes-literal godheads manipulate material reality for their own glory. That should give some idea of the tone Chorus is going for. It’s a neat commentary on religion and blind faith, but gives way to a more cosmic horror in the form of the Faceless, something infringing on reality with dark intent.

That blurring of lines between science and—essentially—magic factors heavily into how Chorus plays, too. While Fishlabs’ previous work on the Galaxy on Fire series might lead one to expect a ‘straight’ space shooter, this instead leans into the fantastic. Not only does Nara possess a variety of psychic superpowers known as Rites – allowing her to perform tricks such as scanning the area around her or engaging in short-range teleportation around a battlefield – but she shares an almost symbiotic bond with her sentient spaceship, Forsa.

Credit: Fishlabs

It’s a relationship that impacts not only combat but even movement. While Forsa – ominously, short for “Forsaken” – can be outfitted with a variety of Gatling guns, laser beams, and missiles to tackle space-borne foes, each weapon type best suited to target certain enemy types, one of the central features of Chorus is Nara and Forsa’s ability to enter a “Drift Trance”. Much like drifting a car around a tight bend in Forza Horizon 5, it’s a way to make tighter turns and manoeuvres than moving along a conventional arc allows, but in three full dimensions, in zero gravity, and with questionable adherence to the laws of physics.

Chorus’ whole approach to movement is an interesting one. Despite being in control of a vessel, it never feels like typical video game vehicular controls. Instead, ships move more like video game people usually do, the left thumbstick guiding movement, while the right governs camera. While a squeeze of L2 gives a surge of acceleration, and L3 activates sub-light drive in wide-open sections of space (in another neat trick that drives home the enormity of the universe, even at sub-light it never feels as though anything is moving especially fast) Forsa rarely feels like a machine to control. The only aspect that serves as reminder that you’re not actually controlling a person is that there’s no reverse, no ‘walking’ backwards – pulling back on the L stick merely brings Forsa or any other ship to a halt.

The combination of interesting abilities and elegant movement makes space combat in Chorus a joy. Mixing up burst acceleration, arc trajectories, and mastering Drift Trance to make impossible turns without losing momentum, all while you loop and spin through space to chase down foes, feels incredible.

Each of the weapon types have a distinct feel to them too, with Gatling guns favouring dispatching up-close fighters or stationary turrets in a hail of spray-and-pray bullet fire, lasers requiring precise shots but dealing huge damage while burning through energy shields, and missile barrages tearing apart vessels’ heavy physical armour. Forsa will often talk about wanting to “hunt” Cult ships, and it soon feels like you’re doing just that, especially once Nara regains her Rite of the Hunt ability, which allows you to hop right behind an enemy ship to take it out. The more Rites Nara regains, the more Chorus fosters that sense of symbiosis with Forsa, creating a feeling of truly embodied flight.

Chorus
Chorus. Credit: Fishlabs

Where movement mechanics are less fun though are in indoor sections. Chorus’ universe is large enough to house vast Temples that Forsa can fly through, navigating their twisted architectures to restore Nara’s lost Rites. In these closer confines, the higher-end navigational skills become frustrating, especially drifting. It’s made worse by the presence of glorified door puzzles – “Regrowth Seals” that must be blasted in short succession, and arranged in maddening locations that require precise use of speedy Drift Trance moves to shoot within the vanishingly brief time limit. It’s rather telling that there are video tutorials embedded into the game to show players exactly how to perform the tricky stunts – that Fishlabs felt it had to implement these says a lot about how accessible and intuitive the moves actually are.

There are also some downsides to attempting to present universal scale at the level Chorus does. Rather than one sprawling expanse, the action is segmented off into clusters of space, separated by jump gates. Each one is pretty sizeable in its own right, and filled with optional side missions to pursue or upgrade materials and credits to track down, but having areas siloed off does sometimes break the sense of immersion.

However, that can largely be forgiven when the sheer cosmic beauty of Chorus is taken into account. This game is basically porn for astronomy nerds, presenting stunning starscapes wherever you look. Any angle, any plane, any direction – this is a game that will regularly have players pausing mid-firefight just to immortalise the moment with the photo mode. Hands down, Chorus is one of the best-looking games of the year.

In a weird way, the elevator pitch for Chorus might be “Star Fox meets Hellblade“, thanks to the directionality of space combat and the focus on Nara’s complex and haunted past. It’s so much more than that though – a distinct universe all its own, packed with lore and characters that will resonate and stay with players long after they’ve shot down their last enemy ship.

We reviewed Chorus on PlayStation 5. It’s also available on PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC, and Stadia. Available on all formats now.

The Verdict

It feels like Chorus has been flying under the radar ahead of its release, but in the wake of Dune’s cinematic release, it now feels like it’s arriving at the perfect time for anyone wanting another dose of space weirdness. Its mix of mechanics and magic, of sci-fi and fantasy – and even notes of horror – aren’t entirely unique, but they are arranged in a way that will feel innovative and fresh to many. Factor in thrilling space combat and its otherworldly beauty, and Chorus is a game that is sure to take players by surprise.

Pros

  • Fantastic, flowing approach to movement
  • Great mix of ‘superpowers’ from Nara’s Rites that meaningfully impact combat
  • Almost indescribably beautiful

Cons

  • Some overly fiddly manoeuvres that feel more like luck than skill
  • Siloed-off segments of universe impacts sense of scale
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