The absence of a certain Umbra Witch in Nintendo’s 2019 E3 plans may have cast a somber spell on a few optimistic action fans, but hopefully the disappointment at not knowing what her next haircut would be was short-lived; Platinum Games delivered a different kind of magic when it showed off more in-depth gameplay for Astral Chain, and the combination of fast-paced mayhem with sci-fi snooping has quickly shot up my Switch Most Wanted list. Nintendo’s Treehouse provided two demos (one explaining the basics, one giving a more in-depth look), and so we’ve come away with a much better idea of what players can expect when they put on a badge and hit the futuristic streets.
Within the police force of The Ark — a city that’s possibly the last bastion of humankind — is a special task force called Neuron, whose members are imbued with paranormal abilities that allow them to see things that regular people cannot — such as intrusive entities from alternate dimensions. Their mental powers also allow them to wield Legions, which are sentient beings created to combat the growing threat of alien invasion. Not only do these substitute police dogs viciously attack with every sword, axe, arrow, fist, and tooth available, but the chain tethering them to your Neuron officer can be used to wrap enemies up or even slingshot them across the screen (which is especially useful if there’s a ravine nearby).
There are a plethora of Legion to find and pair up with, and players will be able to switch between different partners on the fly in order to maximize tactics during the many battles. This “Synergetic Action” looks like it combines the acrobatic combat of Bayonetta with tag-team wrestling, making these buddy cops into some real lethal weapons — of protecting and serving, of course. But the Legion aren’t only used to ruthlessly enforce the rule of law; at times, players will have to enter another dimension called the Astral Plane in order to track down suspects, and the abilities of the Legion can be used here to solve environmental puzzles. So far these challenges look more on the simpler side — like activating moving platforms — but should provide a nice break to the action.
Much of your Neuron cop’s time will likely be spent walking the beat, tracking down suspects/invaders, and
beating confessions out of them deescalating the situation with sentient robot weapons attached to chains, but a short opening sequence that tasks players with hopping on a motorcycle and clearing a neon tunnel of “aberrations” suggests that there may be some vehicular segments sprinkled throughout in order to keep things fresh. Sure, a police officer shooting weird alien things off the top of a semi truck before stylishly jumping off a ramp and skidding onto the rain-soaked pavement isn’t as crazy as say — panther-surfing through a massive pipeline while attacking a giant sea serpent, or battling angels on the top of a fighter jet as it dodges skyscrapers — but it’s a nice way to break up the usual Legion-swinging action. And who knows? Maybe we’ll even get to ticket a few speeders.
Platinum certainly knows how to do gonzo set pieces, and police forces have multiple modes of transportation, so in addition to any highway patrol segments, I would expect Astral Chain to also include helicopter assaults, armored carrier escapes, and — if we’re lucky — possibly even a bonkers, John Wick 3-style horse chase? Just throw in a pair of mirrored sunglasses, and I’ll be ready.
CSI: The Ark
One of the more interesting aspects of Astral Chain appears to be the setting itself. The Ark looks like a massive and diverse city, with tons of places to go and people to incarcerate. Much of the Treehouse demos were spent showcasing how investigation will play a major role in the game, be it furthering the main story by tracking down intruding aliens, or simply wandering about and dealing with the everyday violations committed by the vast citizen population. Crime scenes will contain clues that can be analyzed via the extra-sensory perception of your Neuron officer, including holographic playbacks of certain events (like a bridge collapsing). Evidence can be gathered by analyzing victims and scouring locations, and players can also interrogate witnesses. And if those canaries won’t sing? Wrap a few chains around them and see if their attitude changes.
Luckily, The Ark already seems like a bustling sci-fi metropolis, teeming with enough petty disputes and paltry misdemeanors to satisfy any quota. Sure, you can always get back to taking down hulking beasts from another dimension, but someone needs to stop that shoplifter too, or it’s just anarchy! What’s more, resolving these smaller issues will not only help with overall crime statistics (which is great if you have any political ambitions) but your cop and Legion’s statistics as well, including unlocking skill points that can be used to upgrade your Legion’s abilities. This detective element feels like a nice change of pace that players can dive into as much or as little as they want, giving a mini-open world flavor to the linear campaign.
We’re Gonna Clean Up This Town
I doubt that when the heroes of Astral Chain joined the police academy they also expected to be involved in waste disposal (unless we’re talking about evidence or bodies), but it seems that anyone who wants to “clean up the streets” will be expected to do it literally as well as figuratively. Apparently, citizens of The Ark are massive slobs, as empty beer cans (I assume it’s beer) litter every avenue and alley, clanking around underfoot until some public servant decides to do the eco-friendly thing and drop them into a recycling bin (I assume they’re for recycling). Doing this will, of course, raise your stats (and possibly net you a nickel per can), but almost certainly should help with department PR. Look classy, be classy.
These piles of garbage aren’t the only collectibles, however. According to Platinum, there will be several toilets hidden about town, and if players can find them all, “something good will happen.” Hmm. Kinda like collecting all the Korok seeds, right guys? I’m not sure I’m falling for that one again. However, on the more adorable side, there are apparently litters of stray cats also waiting to be discovered. No mention of a reward outside that warm feeling where your heart should be, and no comment from the Ark Fire Department on whether rescues from trees still fall under their jurisdiction. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Luckily, that wait won’t be too long. Astral Chain looks like an absolutely fantastic way for action fans to spend their time waiting for Bayonetta 3, with a wide variety of duties to perform, perpetrators to arrest, and alien monsters to destroy. The title is set to release for the Switch on August 30.