ASTRAL CHAIN / DEVELOPER: PLATINUMGAMES / PUBLISHER: NINTENDO / PLATFORM: SWITCH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
In the not too distant future, invaders known as chimera have almost succeeded in wiping out the entire human race. Earth has been corrupted by “red matter”, leaving it mostly uninhabitable, and survivors now live on the Ark, a huge fortified island where society has been rebuilt over a number of years. But the Ark is still under threat, and it's your job to help Neuron, a special police task force, fight back against the chimera before all of humanity is dragged through portals to another dimension.
Chimera are invisible to humans, but Neuron has a secret weapon – Legions. These are captures chimera that have been reprogrammed to work with humans, stored on your wrist and permanently linked to you by a chain. You get your first Legion during the very first mission and acquire several others throughout the game, each with their own unique abilities that can all be upgraded independently of each other.
Fighting alongside your Legion is quite the spectacle. After releasing it from storage, it needs to be directed towards an enemy where it will attack automatically while you add extra damage with your own weapons. There are tons of possibilities during combat, especially when you're able to switch between a set of beefed-up Legions, and even the chain itself has some unexpected uses. We've never seen anything quite like Astral Chain's combat before – it might take some time to master, but it's well worth the effort. Simplified controls are available if things get too overwhelming, but we definitely recommend the more intricate experience.
There's plenty to do outside of combat, too. Even though you're trying to save the world, you're still a police officer and you still need to do police officer things. Fully exploring each of the game's eleven self-contained missions will reveal a host of side quests – investigations – that reward you with experience points and useful items. You can clean up the city, track down missing cats, arrest drug dealers, help out a toilet fairy... It gets rather silly at times, but always in the best possible ways. Taking part in these often-quirky investigations is a welcome change of pace from the over the top combat, and helps to flesh out the game's world. There's even plenty to do after you finish the campaign, as your new Legions will allow access to previously locked-off parts of each mission, rewarding repeat playthroughs with new investigations and other treats.
PlatinumGames has absolutely nailed the weird and quirky sci-fi / fantasy corner of the market, with Bayonetta and Nier: Automata arguably being two of the greatest games of all time. Sharing the incredible production values, stellar art direction and awe-inspiring gameplay of those two titles, but adding some totally unique mechanics that really work incredibly well, Astral Chain quite possibly tops even the very best of Platinum's previous efforts. This is definitely a 9.7 or 8, but we don't do decimals so we'll have to round it up and award Astral Chain the full ten stars. Without doubt, it's a total must-buy.