Rising Up to Shoot Down the Dark Galaxy of Chorus

Expanding out into space was never going to be easy, but it turned out to be difficult enough that when a savior promised peace, humanity ignored all previous experience and believed what it wanted to hear.  The Great Prophet promised the Circle could bring harmony and end the wars, starvation and diseases that made life in space so precarious, and it didn’t hurt that the prophet had joined with the Faceless, a near-mystical race that could bring forth dark abilities in the Circle’s followers to scour the galaxy clean of any dissent.  Life in space sucked before the Great Prophet and sucked even more after, causing all the students of history scattered throughout the stars a pained “told you so” moment as yet another self-proclaimed savior turned out to be just another dictator.  The problem with running a galactic theocracy, though, is that a galaxy is huge beyond all comprehension so something was bound to break badly somewhere, but the Prophet didn’t expect that to be his Chosen One.

Elder Naran was the Prophet’s Darth Vader, the one sent to do the hands-on dirty work, but eventually it got too much so she took her dark powers and escaped the Circle to live as quietly as possible in a remote system.  Eventually the Circle showed up to cause trouble, as evil empires do, dragging now-just-Nara and her sentient ship Forsaken back into the fight.  The Circle really would have been better off leaving things alone just this once, because while Nara may no longer be constantly honing her vicious skills, they haven’t abandoned her entirely.  She’s only a little out of practice, and that’s still enough to make her one of the deadliest space-fighters around.

The press demo of Chorus I was able to play is the standard “not representative of the final product” affair, particularly in the way it features Nara and Forsaken with a good starter set of upgrades and streamlines the plot to get straight to the action.  The demo missions take place in the starting Stega Rim, an expanse of dense asteroids acting as a ring around a distant planet, with various colonies and military encampments scattered throughout.  It’s worth a trip high up above the field during a break between one mission and the next, just to take a minute to bask in the gorgeous view.  Back in the Rim, though, there are missions requiring a pilot with superhuman skills and dark rites.

The action is pure arcade-style shooting despite the narrative-heavy elements between one mission and the next.  Forsaken is a nimble ship, maybe not as twitchy as the one in Everspace, but Nara’s rites make up the difference.  A Rite is a special skill and the demo showcased three of them, all equally important.  Normally spaceships point in the direction the thrusters tell them to, but Nara can drift, flying in one direction while able to rotate a full 360 degrees, perfect for setting up a strafing run on a base’s gun emplacements.  For zippier enemies, the Rite of the Hunt is basically a quick teleport right on the enemy’s tail, but they need to be in Nara’s sights in order to activate it.  Finally, and less combat oriented, there’s the Rite of the Senses, pointing Nara towards hidden items she can use to enhance Forsaken.  That last one is best saved for between battles, because the enemies are relentless.

While Nara and Forsaken make a strong team, they’re nothing like bullet/laser-proof.  Forsaken has a heal ability that recharges in combat, but it’s still easy to focus on one goal while a swarm of enemies pounds the ship into scrap.  Survival needs high-speed situational awareness, a near-constant use of Nara’s abilities, a little careful flying when inside structures and enemy flagships, and knowing when to switch from gatling to laser to missiles.  Little ships are gatling-fodder, armored ships want the punch of a missile, and shielded enemies lose that defensive advantage with a few good zaps from the laser.  Or, if you’ve got the timing right, the little ships are one-hit wonders with the laser and the Rite of the Hunt puts them right in the crosshairs for a brief period when teleporting into place.  Each weapon is versatile so if you’ve got a favorite there’s no reason not to figure out tactics to make it effective in most situations.

Even in the demo there were a good number of mission types that put Nara’s skills to the test: defense, base assault, general dogfighting, and a climactic rush against time knocking out the energy points on a pair of towers while under heavy fire from gun emplacements and a variety of enemy ships.  One area even had a story choice with consequences for later missions, adding a nice subplot payoff at just the right moment.  Chorus may be a space-action shooter, but it leans on the plot to drive things forward every bit as much as the high-intensity shooting.  Space may be bright but there’s a darkness hanging over the galaxy, and it’s going to take more than just a skilled fighter and her powerful companion-ship to clear it up.  The people of the galaxy need Nara despite being frightened of her past, and Nara needs the people despite the guilt of her actions.  With a bit of redemption and a whole lot of shooting in gorgeous space vistas, it just might be possible to earn a galaxy worth living in.

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