Fights rarely last longer than a handful of rounds in the latest XCOM. In every encounter, XCOM: Chimera Squad kicks in the door, dives forward in an intense firefight and walks out through a pile of bodies a minute or two later, a little ugly, maybe a little scarring but eager to do it all over again in the next mission. XCOM’s turn-based tactical combat now comes in condensed form, rid of foreign matter, and for the most part, all the better for it. This is our XCOM: Chimera Squad Review.
XCOM: Chimera Squad Review: About
- Platform: Windows
- Developer: Firaxis Games
- Publisher: 2K Games
- Genres: Turn-based tactics
- Release Date: April 23, 2020
XCOM: Chimera Squad Review: Official Trailer Video
XCOM: Chimera Squad Review: Gameplay
Assuming human resistance triumphed in XCOM 2, the Chimera Squad of the same name is a special task force composed of human and alien soldiers that also serves as a symbol of a renewed inter-species collaboration. However, dissidents remain, and so when the Mayor of City 31 is killed in a terrorist attack, it is up to the Squad to track down those responsible. The stakes feel a lot slower than the global emergencies that previous XCOMs are addressing.
Chimera Squad does indeed feel like it is running the Geoscape and only examines one city. Nine districts make up the strategic map, with a few of them each day with new missions to complete – some bring the story forward, others provide valuable resources and equipment. Ignoring one mission in favor of another will add to the turmoil in the neglected district and contribute to a citywide anarchist benchmark that will flood the game when it ends.
Despite the lower stakes, there is still an urgency to your mission, especially as the city anarchy’s judgment day is ticking closer to midnight. And the strategic layer forces decisions about which missions and districts to prioritize, even though it’s usually a dry game of resource allocation that doesn’t elicit any emotional response to the lives sacrificed along the way.
Chimera Squad performs better when it brings the characters of the squad to life. In addition to the first gang of four, there is a full selection of eleven appointed soldiers recruited throughout the game, each of which has a unique set of skills unlocked as they gain experience. No two skills are the same. Even if the broad roles they perform are similar, the details cunningly conspire to demand separate tactical considerations.
Over a cast of 11 characters with seven abilities each, five of which can be earned in any playthrough, that’s an impressively diverse tactical setup – one that manages to etch different personality traits on each soldier due to the substantial differences in their playing styles. Adding further character definition are the smart ways in which a soldier’s equipment is both limited and flexible. Weapon use is limited to just one class, but guns can be equipped with multiple modes, and on later missions, you can discover one-time named weapons that give the owner a unique ability.
Axiom and Godmother can both handle shotguns, but my Axiom’s Run & Gun ability complements his weapon mod, which increases the chance of criticism in the area. My meter, on the other hand, can unload three grenades at once to vent an enemy through every cover, a skill I chose to pair with weapon mods that not only enlarged the clip but also gave her the first three free reloads. Like Shelter and Torque, such variations fill in the respective capacities of Godmother and Axiom, and what seems initially negligible differences get more nuanced markings in the field.
Missions are designed around short, sharp bursts of action and are often split into multiple encounters limited to a handful of rooms, in themselves much smaller than any map you’d find in the recent XCOMs. The tactical choices begin with the breakthrough, where your decisions about who enters through the front door, the side window, the skylight, the impending hole in the wall, and so on, have immediate consequences.
Here you determine the order in which your soldiers take turns in the initial stages, the buffs they can apply, and the positions they will occupy once the battle begins. All of these choices are essential. Do them right, and you give the balance in your favor; misunderstand them, and you’ve learned some lessons for next time. The sense of tactical combat has a crude character that adds to the sense that every decision matters. Other than the strange meeting with the boss, you are never languishing in an enemy’s health bar.
Shots deal damage from the blow, and you can take down many enemies in one, two, or the occasional three hits. Skills can often be more effective than standard attacks, to the extent that I have completed many missions without firing a regular shot. Recognizing when the stars are aligned for you to harness that spin-turning ability is an essential tactical asset; Being able to plan and, in no time, maneuver your squad and enemy into position to take full advantage of this ability is invaluable, not to mention endlessly satisfying when you take it off.
Less satisfying is the addition of androids to support your team. If a squad member bleeds during a multiple encounter mission, you can replace them with an Android for the next encounter. I played the Normal difficulty campaign and only called a replacement Android once, virtually wasting the resources I had invested in upgrading it. I needed their service more often in the more severe difficulties, but I couldn’t help but feel the nagging sense that everything I invested in backup troops would be better spent on my core team.
But on the occasions when one of my elite team members went down, the untrained Android sent in their place just wasn’t up to the task. There’s an awkward balance here, one that made me feel like I could only make bad decisions, and it’s the only area where the modifications to the XCOM formula aren’t successful.
By keeping XCOM battles to an absolute minimum, Chimera Squad can make almost all of your choices vital. This is not a series of small decisions that slowly build up to something interesting; it works more like a one-two punch from big decisions. You don’t spend time here patiently pushing forward, stationing your team on overwatch, and exhausting the enemy. Instead, the enemy is precisely in your face from the jump, and you must act now and act decisively. Fortunately, the Chimera Squad is here to support you. That’s it for our XCOM: Chimera Squad Review.
XCOM’s turn-based tactical combat now comes in condensed form, rid of foreign matter, and for the most part, all the better for it.