XCOM: Chimera Squad was a surprise announcement from 2K and Firaxis last week. Not a sequel but a “standalone title”, XCOM: Chimera Squad is set five years after the events of XCOM 2. It stars the titular Chimera Squad, an elite SWAT-like group tasked with putting down three separate terror cells within City 31.
From the get go, XCOM: Chimera Squad is a very different beast. It retains the tactical turn-based combat of other titles in the series, but does away with a lot of what makes XCOM…XCOM.
There’s a lot to like and playing Chimera Squad is certainly going to scratch the strategy itch, but whether or not it lives up to the standards set by its predecessors is up for debate.
XCOM: Chimera Squad Review
The biggest change to Chimera Squad is the removal of any of the normal planning, stealth and preparation phases. Instead, because you’re basically a SWAT team, each ‘Encounter’ has you Breaching an entry point and starting combat. You don’t explore levels or engage in combat if you’re spotted or when you decide.
Now, combat occurs right away. It’s an interesting change and certainly a new direction for the franchise. I like it, but I’m not sure those players who enjoy the slow creep towards the enemy and planning the perfect ambush will get the same satisfaction from Breaching.
Breaching is the new mechanic which drives the action in XCOM Chimera Squad. Levels play out across one or more Encounters, which are essentially kill chambers. Before you Breach you choose which squad members will enter the room from which entrance. Different entry points have different stats, buffs and enemy numbers.
As you breach, your squad members are able to take a shot at an enemy. Some enemies will be surprised, some aggressive etc. Aggressive enemies will take a shot at you once you’ve completed your breach, so you’ll want to get rid of them first. Once the breach is over, your squad moves into cover, the enemy does the same and combat begins.
Combat in XCOM: Chimera Squad is pretty much what you’d expect from the series. You use a variety of characters of different classes with different skills and abilities. What makes it extra fun is the ability to use aliens, hybrids and humans.
My favourite squad includes a human with a healing drone, a snake lady, a shotgun wielding human and a psi powered alien. Together, this group is almost unstoppable. And you need to be. Where previous XCOM games would allow squad members to die as part of the overall meta game, in Chimera Squad your team are all unique characters.
If they’re downed, you have three turns to stabilise them or you fail. Nobody is expendable in Chimera Squad so you need to keep everyone alive, all the time. While it may sound like it increases the overall difficulty, it does the opposite. Because it seems as though Firaxis knows keeping everyone alive would be a challenge, so they lowered the overall difficulty.
I’m not the best tactical turn-based player, but I rarely struggled with any mission in Chimera Squad; even those which warned me they were ‘Very Difficult.’
As is standard in XCOM, there’s a metagame on top of the turn-based combat missions. Tracking down these rogue factions means risking anarchy in the city so, you’ll need to manage the level of unrest in each district as you play. If the level gets to high, the anarchy level of City 31 rises.
To reduce these levels, you can complete missions, complete Special Operations or use your embedded squads. Each district can host one squad which will generate cash and other resources over time. Essentially, the metagame is all about balancing the problems while gaining enoguh resources to level up your crew, gear and skills.
It’s a fun distraction from the missions, though it never really felt deep enough to worry about or pressing enough that it made much of a difference overall.
When it comes to presentation, Chimera Squad is a mixed bag. The visuals are cartoony and slick but seem pretty low-end. Nothing seems to have a real level of polish and the visuals don’t seem to be anything more than adequate. That’s not to say they aren’t decent, they are. It’s just, you couldn’t call them anything more than ok.
On the performance side of things, Chimera Squad holds up fairly well. I never experienced any crashes. However, the camera often bugged out, got stuck and didn’t focus on the action. There’s definitely a few bugs in the system for Firaxis to work out going forward.
Overall, XCOM: Chimera Squad is a strange, stripped back version of XCOM that does away with the suspenseful and thrilling moments of missions to focus on action, for better or worse. It’s incredibly playable and will keep strategy players satisfied, though they may feel as though something is missing.
XCOM: Chimera Squad was reviewed on PC using a digital copy provided by the publisher.
Game Title: XCOM: Chimera Squad