Despite being a somewhat pared-down XCOM 2, Chimera Squad proves its own legitimacy and then some
XCOM is a series famed for its military turn-based gameplay. This is what makes the latest XCOM game such a surprise, it’s a police-style breach and clear game about keeping down tensions in a city. That, and that it released 10 days after its announcement.
The setting of the new XCOM is a new direction for the series, after the successful takedown of the occupying aliens in XCOM 2 humans and aliens have forged an uneasy peace. You play as the titular Chimera Squad, essentially a SWAT team made up of aliens, humans, and hybrids. Chimera Squad’s goal is to take down the various factions in City 31 intending to destroy the alliance humans had built. Most important to point out is that this game is a spin-off, it isn’t ‘XCOM 3’ and was priced considerably cheaper than other mainline games and was even half price at £8.50 until 1st May. Several features present in previous games have been changed, characters have preset faces, voices, and classes. The game mainly concerns itself with smaller interiors, and most importantly, unlike previous games, turns are interleaved (their word not mine). This basically means the turn order isn’t you moving all of your soldiers then the enemy moving all of theirs.
Diehard XCOM fans who love the military feel, forming bonds with characters you’ve made, and long missions may not be happy about these changes. But, for the rest of us XCOM: Chimera Squad makes some changes that fundamentally change the feel of XCOM in interesting ways. The set classes and abilities are exciting, Cherub uses a shield that can form cover for allies, and Axiom is a playable muton with rage abilities. You do also have some control over their abilities as they level up. The smaller levels make the game almost feel like a puzzler, and the more present story is welcome to those of us who like a little more guidance throughout a game. Some questionable banter between your squadmates about leaving food in the fridge and who each locker belongs to does sour this story somewhat. The interleaved turns make the game feel much more fast-paced. There are also special ‘epic’ weapons which seemingly grant your soldier a unique ability. Unfortunately as of now, the game is also quite glitchy. Glitches have ranged from my own soldier levitating off the ground to the game hard crashing. Glitches certainly aren’t unknown in the XCOM franchise but Chimera Squad suffers more than most. Most of the other disappointments feel more personal than serious, attachments don’t appear on weapons, upgraded weapons look identical, and there are only 4 main weapons as far as I’ve experienced. Those being pistols, SMGs, shotguns and assault rifles, no sniper rifles!
Throughout the course of the game, your focus on different enemy factions brings forward a fairly large variety of enemy troops. With different designs across all 3 factions. Your attempts to control the city are very similar to the global panic mechanic from other XCOM games, just visually smaller focusing on a city. All missions take an in-game day to complete and push along your various developments and training. Most interesting is the breach system, where you can choose various entrances to any given rooftop, room, etc. To breach at the start of each level. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The game also introduces abilities and items for specific use in this breach mode, levitating a bad guy to make him a human clay pigeon is a personal favourite. Such discussion will naturally bring up the argument that Firaxis have dumbed down XCOM. While it isn’t quite a grand tactics game Chimera Squad is still a difficult game, and while characters can’t die for story reasons, it arguably makes the game more difficult in the short term. It’s tonally much lighter and has a healthy amount of jank, but once you miss a 90% chance to hit, you’ll quickly get back into that XCOM groove.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is available now on Steam.