Astral Chain blends together high-stakes cyberpunk action with the plodding mundanity of day-to-day police work, creating an incredibly enjoyable and unique game experience. Developed by PlatinumGames, the maker of the Bayonetta series of games, Astral Chain is based in a world where humanity was driven to the brink of destruction by chimeras, strange creatures from another realm that enter ours through dimensional gates. With most of Earth corrupted and uninhabitable, the remnants of humanity live on an artificial island known as the Ark.
Players step into the role of a rookie member of Neuron, an elite police force that can control a Legion, a chimera bound into servitude through the use of an Astral Chain. Different types of Legion have different abilities, ranging from a long-rage Bow Legion to a Beast Legion that can track scents and be ridden by its owner. The Legion serves as a player's primary weapon, but it acts semi-autonomously. Players can activate a Legion's abilities or even move it around, but the Legion mostly acts on its own, allowing you to either attack together or fight separate targets. Players and their Legions can even use special combo attacks that deal extra damage or incapacitate enemies.
Astral Chain is a beautiful game, with top-notch graphics and designs that rarely disappoint. The Ark is all flashy neon lights and hi-tech vehicles, while the Astral Plane is appropriately creepy. The character designs are all great too -- everyone in Neuron has surprisingly deep personalities and character quirks, and you'll quickly get roped into wanting to know more about these lovable weirdos and how they ended up as the elite of the elite. The best compliment that I can give the graphics and character designs is that it at times feels like you're playing inside an anime, complete with a slick opening musical sequence and brightly colored hairstyles.
While the main storyline of Astral Chain is a captivating tale of sinister conspiracies and weird science, the game really shines when players get to enjoy the side missions. Most missions feature a part where you collect clues and talk to witnesses and are eventually tasked with putting everything together. The solutions themselves aren't too hard to figure out, but I like that a game with a police officer protagonist actually features police work. You'll also have the chance to complete other delightfully mundane tasks, ranging from collecting balloons for children to rescuing stray cats. You'll even assist in solving more simple crimes, like chasing down a purse thief or stopping a graffiti tagger, which makes the Ark feel like an actual place instead of a two-dimensional setting. There's a ton to do in Astral Chain, and you'll find yourself putting off going on real missions in order to cure random onlookers of dimensional corruption or give a sick kid a stuffed dog for as long as you can.
The actual fighting in Astral Chain is pretty slick, with a focus on dual control of both the human cop and his Legion. The Legion acts semi-autonomously -- it attacks on its own, although you can direct it to a specific enemy or utilize its special attacks. You can also upgrade your Legions over time, giving them new abilities, stat boosts, and even new color schemes. Meanwhile, players will use an X-Baton, a device that can be used either at close range or long range depending on your play style. It takes some time getting use to the game's interesting take on combat, but it only requires a mission or two to master the basics and the game's default Standard mode is quite forgiving when it comes to healing after combat.
The controls of Astral Chain can be frustrating at times, especially when it comes to controlling your player or the Legion. I've fallen off of Astral Plain ledges more times than I can count and struggled with a stealth mission (as the game has no built-in stealth mechanics), and the game seems to work best when you're not trying to be precise. The controls focus mostly on combat options, which makes trying to thread the needle when dodging moving blocks or sneaking past corrupt cops a bit... awkward. Still, these are almost always minor frustrations that induce the occasional eyeroll instead of something that will make you want to rage quit.
Astral Chain is an ambitious game that gives players almost too many options. Whether you decide to stick to the captivating storyline or want to fill up your photo album with pictures of your Neuron co-workers or decide to clean up the streets of all that pesky Red Shift (that only you can see), you'll easily lose yourself in the beautiful world of the game. Astral Chain pushes the boundaries of what an action game can be, but it doesn't get so experimental that it loses sight of its goal -- which is to present an intriguing and layered story while giving players lots of horrifying monsters to kill.
Rating: 4 out of 5