The last week of August has been rather busy for invading inter-dimensional entities. First we had the body snatching Hiss in Control, and now we have Astral Chain’s Chimera, a spectral force that threatens all of humanity. You think they’d at least call before invading!
Astral Chain is the latest game from Platinum Games – known for their excellent action titles like Bayonetta and Metal Gear Solid Revengeance to name a few, in collaboration with Nier Automata’s lead designer Takahisa Taura. It’s a third person action game set against a cyberpunk future, featuring dual character team action alongside a whole dollop of anime inspiration to power it through.
Astral Chain opens with an explosive bike chase scene straight out of the arcades, calling to mind the unpredictable way Nier Automata changed game genres mid level. It’s the year 2078 and humanity has to hold its own against an astral foe that’s threatening the last bastion of home – a supercity called the Ark. While responding to a threat, you and your twin are hopelessly pinned by the unseen enemy. After being rescued, you’re recruited by the Neuron Police Task Force to use a weapon known as the astral chain to catch and brainwash Chimera to fight for you. Think of it as Pokemon, with a cyberpunk twist.
The game is structured like an anime, complete with an intro sizzle reel and a J-Pop song to get you into the mood. From the over the top action, to the exaggerated cut-scenes, to its colourful cast of characters, Astral Chains embraces its inspirations. While the story tries to hit the same notes as that of Nier Automata, it fails to go deep. That being said, the world and all its characters all come together in an excellent culmination of style and substance. The story is not just a support structure for its flashy action, but a scaffolding for which the world-building can rest on.
Astral Chain is as unusual as they come, with a mishmash of play styles, story pacing, twists with a whole lot going on that somehow comes together perfectly in a game that never drops pace.
Platinum Games is known for creating some of the best action games in their storied history and you will find shades of Bayonetta as well as Nier Automata in Astral Chain. There’s a twist though; the action revolves around you controlling the astral chain with both your character and the enslaved Chimera, known as a Legion, on the other end. The controls are simple, but it’s all about timing your dodges and lashing out your Legion at the same time. Pulling off incredible sync attacks to anyone peering over your shoulder at your Switch screen may seem incredibly complicated with sparks and particles flying in every direction. While the dual action system may take time to get used to, it’s got a lot of depth and it does help that your Legion on the other end is controlled by the AI while you control your main character. Though, if you have a friend, you can get them to co-op as the Legion for extra fun.
The game’s not all about action and like Deus Ex, you venture out very often into The Ark – the neon clad super city, where you spend time investigating, hanging out and picking up sidequests – which by the way are pretty unique and entertaining. Of course, all of this does amount to lots of unlocks, including the very best in spectral police cyberpunk haute couture. Kudos to Platinum for fleshing out an excellent world that you will want to return to, even after the credits roll.
Just like God of War on the PS4, Astral Chain utilises every ounce of power from the Nintendo Switch to bring to life one of the most beautiful games the console has seen so far. Best played in handheld mode for max fidelity, the game just shines with its cel-shaded graphics. The game moves at a buttery smooth FPS with no drops in framerate, even though the screen is filled with debris as you take on multiple Chimera. The soundtrack too lends a neo-classical techno vibe to the game. Undoubtedly this is one of the best games on the Switch.
So is Astral Chain the game for you? As games go, Astral Chain is as unusual as they come, with a mishmash of play styles, story pacing, twists with a whole lot going on that somehow comes together perfectly in a game that never drops pace. It’s wonderful, weird and boasts of great action, and if you like Platinum’s games – especially Nier Automata, then Astral Chain is definitely for you.