Ever since Chorus first broke out of hyperspace during Microsoft's Xbox Series X showcase last year, Fishlabs' enigmatic space shooter has been a tricky thing to pin down. The first trailer gave us a taste of its high speed combat and third-person battles, but its deep, ominous narration, hints of a mysterious cosmic power, and that final image of a planet being sucked into a black hole almost looked like it was verging into horror territory rather than plain sci-fi. Having now played around an hour of Chorus, I can safely say it's very much a pure breed of space combat shooter, following in the same, adrenalin-fuelled vein as EVE: Valkyrie and Star Wars Squadrons.
Forsaken, the sentient ship you control in Chorus that's piloted by the rebel cultist Nara, is probably a similarly slippery thing to nail down in the eyes of your enemies, too. Thanks to one of Nara's special Rite powers, bestowed on her by that aforementioned cosmic power you'll be hunting down over the course of the game, Forsaken is able to shift and teleport right behind enemy ships for brutal, bullet-ridden takedowns. It's immensely satisfying, and can also make for daring, last-minute escapes from incoming crosshairs. But you'll need much more than Nara's crafty Rite powers to survive Chorus' unforgiving dogfights. Forsaken went up in flames more times than I care to admit in my hour of hands on time, but I'm very much looking forward to going back for more when it finally launches on Steam and the Epic Games Store on December 3rd later this year.
The Rite Of The Hunt, as it's known in-game, isn't just for pulling the old switcheroo on your enemies. It also allows Forsaken to pass through blue barrier fields, giving Nara the chance to slip inside an enemy cultist ship's hull during my hands on to blast away some crippling psychic totems that are preventing her allies from making their escape. Forsaken's laser might be a dab hand at taking down shields cloaking the individual ships flying around outside, but these barriers won't bow to anything, whether it's a barrage of Forsaken's gunship-sinking missiles or a rain of gatling bullets. Instead, you'll need to deploy Nara's time-bending Rite powers to win the day here, giving us an early glimpse of some of Chorus' more puzzle-themed objectives that will come much later in the main campaign.
While they weren't present in my hands on demo, Nara will need to win these special Rite powers by navigating the tight, twisting corridors of ancient temples. Think Rey flying the Millennium Falcon through the ruins of that Star Destroyer in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and you're halfway there. Only these temples aren't full of crumbling wreckage about to fall on your head. An extended developer presentation revealed that these cold, maze-like ruins are hewn from angular, clean-cut rocks, and their liberal use of sharp 90 degree bends look like they'll really test your prowess as a pilot.
Despite flying in such close quarters, Nara's Rite Of The Hunt power can be used as a vital puzzle tool here, allowing her to instantly double back to hit hidden switches, and there were also hints of crumbling walls you could boost through to reveal alternate pathways. Fishlabs said that you'll be able to revisit these temples and unlock new areas with future powers you acquire, although quite what lies at the end of these Metroidvania-tinged offshoots remains to be seen.
They might be 'memories', whispered messages from the past that reveal small stories about the world of Chorus and its history. Fishlabs said these messages will be hidden all over the slice of galaxy you'll be exploring in Chorus, and you'll be able to hunt them down by following a trail of voices you'll hear on Forsaken's communications channel. Alternatively, they might be hidden caches, holding new weapons and modifications for your ship that you'll be able to equip and customise once you get back to a hangar.
The former fall into one of three categories. When you start Nara's journey, your only line of offense is your trusty gatling gun, but you'll eventually add the aforementioned laser blaster and missile launcher to Forsaken's toolset, which are mapped to the D-pad on your controller (which is the recommended way to play). Modifications, meanwhile, are much more plentiful, consisting of things like ignition boosters, heat sinks, laser amplifiers, gyro stabilisers, crystal dischargers, thermal conductors, tracking algorithms and much, much more to help boost Forsaken's stats even further.
While it doesn't look like you'll be able to go as far as turning Forsaken into completely different kinds of ship with these extensive modifications, careful planning and sensible equipment choices will likely still play a key role in its moment-to-moment dogfights. Chorus is tough, and its enemy AI are no joke. They will hunt and seek you down with relentless determination, and you'll need to use all of Nara and Forsaken's tricks to succeed, whether it's tapping your left analogue stick to perform a simple evasive manoeuvre, boosting out of harm's way with the left trigger, drifting with the left shoulder button to carve through impossible corners, or indeed pulling the old Rite Of The Hunt bait and switch with a tap of the B button.
At times it can feel like your left hand almost has too much to do, as you'll also need to switch weapons frequently on the D-pad to take down your enemies effectively, in addition to steering (and dodging) with the left thumbstick. In a particularly heated fight that saw Nara and a group of rebels invade a star city to claim back a travel gate, the main objective involved taking down six glowing energy stations to prevent a defence node from activating and wiping out the rest of my party, and the finger gymnastics involved sometimes got a little bit hairy in places.
The energy stations were easy enough to destroy with Forsaken's gatling gun, as were the swarms of small, agile Crow ships buzzing around in packs behind me. However, these Crows were also accompanied by a handful of powerful Ravens, fighter ships with thicker hulls and more powerful shields. Persistent gatling is still enough to take these metal birds down in small numbers, but a well-placed laser shot will crack open and disable those shields much faster. Vultures, meanwhile, are even bigger threats. These armoured gunships laugh at your piddly gatling gun, but their slower speed makes for great missile practice once you've popped open their shields.
Much like Doom, Chorus is a game that thrives on constant movement. Slow down or stay in one place for too long trying to line up a shot and you'll be ripped to shreds in no time. Yes, you may need to take multiple runs at a turret or enemy weapons cache as a result as you try and get your bearings, but you'll come out the other end with a lot more health in tact than if you'd spent a few extra seconds strafing just a few inches to the right to get it on the first go.
Indeed, aside from the star city invasion, one of my favourite missions in the demo was taking out a hidden base nestled around a field of asteroids, as it taught me the importance of playing fast and loose pretty quickly. As well as shooting down individual ships, I also had to destroy some more glowing energy stations to disable the base's launch pads (so they wouldn't be able to launch even more ships), all while under heavy turret fire and manoeuvering through tight gaps in the rock. Sure, the whole 'shoot glowing power boxes' may have been used twice in fairly quick succession during my hour-long demo, but attaching them to launch pads here still helped to maintain a sense of variety in what I was doing. Whether Fishlabs will be able to keep this up over the course of Chorus' 10-13 hour campaign, however, we'll have to wait and see.
Still, I enjoyed my time with Chorus, despite getting smashed to pieces on multiple occasions. Forsaken is a sleek and tricksy little machine that feels great under the thumbs, and the way you can latch onto enemy tails with Nara's Rite Of The Hunt power can really help pull you out of some sticky situations. Fights are won through sweat and gritted teeth in Chorus, which is something I haven't felt from a space combat shooter in some time. It's exhilarating stuff, but I'm also intrigued by Chorus' overarching story. While Nara's shift from cultist enforcer to rebel freedom fighter after a botched military operation seems to be pulled straight out of Final Fantasy IV's playbook, I'm keen to see how her powers evolve over the course of the game and how they'll sit alongside the arsenal provided by Forsaken. Fishlabs teased that Nara might not even need to use any guns once she reaches the height of her Rite powers, and I'm excited to see how this affects the rhythm of its battles. Luckily, we've only got to wait a few months to find out, as Chorus is set to launch on December 3rd 2021.