A new game by PlatinumGames – creators of the brilliantly weird but sublime action-shooter Bayonetta – always elicits a wave of excitement, and Astral Chain proves no exception. As you might expect, the story is nothing short of bonkers. In a setting equal parts cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic, players control one of the Howard twins, special agents of the police-like organisation Neuron, bound to spectral warriors called Legion. With malevolent forces from the astral plane infesting the material world, you’re one of the few capable of holding the invaders at bay by tapping into the abilities of your strange, tethered allies.
Anyone expecting a sci-fi (sort of…) re-skin of Bayonetta will be surprised though. While Astral Chain more than backs up its action game credentials with a brilliantly nuanced battle system, it’s also a police investigation game. And an open world game. And an RPG. It’s even a little bit Pokémon-ish, with a growing menagerie of specialised Legions whose unique skills help you navigate the world. And most impressively, it balances all those elements and more with a panache that seems effortless.
The most exciting new franchise to grace a Nintendo console since Bayonetta.
After a frenzied intro, you’re given more focused cases to investigate, allowing you to explore the vast city-state of the Ark, humanity’s last bastion in a dismal future. The crimes are all suitably bizarre or linked to the wider astral crisis, but give you a chance to experiment with different Legion’s skills, while allowing some much-needed breathing room to speak to NPCs and get more of a feel for the world as a whole. Of all of PlatinumGames’ past triumphs, Astral Chain feels closest to NieR: Automata in sheer scope and variety – perhaps no surprise given the director here, Takahisa Taura, was a designer on the latter.
In true PlatinumGames style though, it’s the combat where Astral Chain really sings. Rapidly-delivered melee blows dance into flurries of shots from ranged attacks, while you summon your current Legion to deliver specialised attacks, sending them flying into enemies or even using the eponymous tether to entangle or trip foes. It’s almost balletic – if ballet dancers were heavily armed and wore specialised armour. Its only real downfall is that there’s sometimes too much going on at once, making encounters dizzyingly overwhelming in places. Thankfully, there’s an ‘Unchained’ mode – largely automated, but nice for anyone who wants to focus more on the game’s involving story and the sheer spectacle of the world.
While Astral Chain threatens sensory overload in places, its scope, ambition and sheer excellence in execution make it the most exciting new franchise to grace a Nintendo console since – fittingly enough – Bayonetta. A must-play.