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XCOM: Chimera Squad

Platform(s): PC
Genre: RPG/Strategy
Release Date: April 24, 2020


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PC Review - 'XCOM: Chimera Squad'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 23, 2020 @ 6:00 a.m. PDT

XCOM: Chimera Squad is an all-new stand-alone title in the turn-based XCOM tactical series.

XCOM: Chimera Squad is set after the events of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The evil alien overlords have been driven from the planet, and the rebuilding of Earth has begun. The planet is now home to a unified group of humans, human-alien hybrids, and formerly controlled aliens who were left behind. City 31, former home of ADVENT, is now an experimental metropolis where everyone can live together. However, three groups of terrorists are seeking to destroy that hard-won peace. After the mayor is captured by terrorists, the Chimera Squad, an elite group of XCOM agents, sweep in to City 31, and they end up embroiled in the politics and dangers of the unified-but-unstable city.

The tone of Chimera Squad is probably going to be its most controversial aspect. Despite being set in the XCOM universe, it feels more like a Marvel movie or a Bioware game. You have a squad of quirky, quipping, rambunctious personalities who spend most of their time making jokes or being sarcastic. Rather than the heavy tensions between humans and aliens and hybrids, you get a place where alien Alex Jones rants on the radio while Sectoids sell fake hot dogs. If you're OK with the wild shift in tone, you'll probably have a fun time, but you need to be prepared for it.

The easiest way to describe Chimera Squad's gameplay is that it is a bite-sized XCOM 2 campaign. The core gameplay is basically identical to XCOM 2 but with an emphasis on quick encounters and relatively short campaigns. ("Relatively short" means you'll get 10-15 hours from your first playthrough.) In every element of the game, there are fewer options and less downtime. The result is a fun, bite-sized take on the classic gameplay due to a few decisions that drastically speed up the gameplay.

There's a change from player-created characters to pre-genned characters with their own abilities, attributes and personalities. You can't see every character in one playthrough, but you'll end up with a pretty diverse selection, including playable aliens. Chimera Squad tends to default on the side of power for every character. For example, Torque (a snake alien) can poison enemies and use her Bind ability to remove an enemy from combat. This is useful early on, but in the late game, she can effectively remove a powerful foe from the game without trouble. Blueblood the pistol-focused sniper goes from being able to shoot at a disadvantage to firing a room-clearing laser.

This gives the game a different feel that is more about pure power. This can be a positive or a negative, but it lends itself to engaging short-term gameplay. You'll probably finish most encounters in as little as one turn if you use your powers wisely. Use them poorly, and you'll see the same rapid death that rookie XCOM agents can expect. You're not allowed to let the characters perma-die, but they can be taken down, given permanent wounds, and otherwise suffer for your mistakes. On the other hand, when you set up things just right, it feels extremely good. (For example, Blueblood destroys an entire room full of weak aliens while Patchwork hacks a MEC trooper to clean up the rest of the foes.)

A big part of the rapid combat is due to the new breach gameplay. Rather than one long segment, every mission is split up into 1-3 (or occasionally 4-5) "encounters." You begin each combat session by breaching the room. There are usually multiple entry points that you can send agents into, and each breach point has different requirements and different positives and negatives. For example, a security door might take you into the room more safely but is only accessible with a hacker or a keycard item. Vents are extremely useful but require you to split up your characters. Some breaching points give you free critical shots or bonuses, while others can weaken your characters.

Once you begin the breach, you get one turn during which each of your characters can act once: shoot, dash to cover, or use a special move. Blueblood can use his lancer pistol to take one shot that ignores enemy cover, while Verge can use his psychic power to lift enemies, disabling them and making it easier to shoot them during the breach phase. Once you've taken your actions, characters scramble to the closest safe spots. However, if any enemies who have the Aggressive status are up and unfettered when the breach ends, they'll get a chance to shoot your agents.

This makes breaching a fun little minigame where you have to decide the exact risk and reward, especially because many breach-specific items and powers can only be used once in a mission. Is it worth blowing your ability in the first room, or should you save it for the third? Is it worthwhile to focus your fire on a high-priority target even if it means other baddies get the chance to counterattack? It depends on the encounter, and a good breach is the difference between life and death.

Chimera Squad has the same basic "simulation" gameplay, but it's been simplified. You're in charge of nine districts of City 31. Every day, you're tasked with completing a mission to keep City 31 under control. If you don't take a mission in a district, it starts to destabilize. Allow a district to destabilize too much, and it adds a point to the city's anarchy meter, and if that fills up, the game's over.

Fortunately, you have a few ways to manipulate anarchy. Completing one of the big story missions will lower it by three points. You can also use special abilities to lessen unrest, complete two missions instead of one, or lower anarchy. You power up the abilities by adding field offices to a district to improve your ability to manipulate the simulation and give you a steady income of resources to power up your agents.

The simulations as a whole aren't too complex. They're very much a simplified version of what you saw in XCOM 2, but it's been designed to make you spend as little time as necessary in the menus. You're generally picking one or two missions, assigning a new technology to study, and maybe sticking a character in training to improve their stats or learn a new move. It works fairly well because there's just enough to focus on and it doesn't feel pointless, but it doesn't detract from the overall gameplay.

Our preview build of Chimera Squad crashed on me several times. If you can move past that, it's basically the same as XCOM 2 in look and feel. The voice acting is pretty solid. My one complaint is that none of the aliens really sound … alien. It is a plus in that you don't have to listen to a pseudo-alien accent the entire time, but it's a minus because it makes them seem like humans in funny masks.

Overall, XCOM: Chimera Squad is a solid attempt at a stand-alone, quick-play XCOM 2 campaign. The trimmed-down mechanics make it a lot easier to go through the campaign relatively quickly instead of having to dedicate yourself to it. It's undeniably simpler than the game it's based on, and the massive shift in tone might be too much for some XCOM fans. For those who don't mind or newcomers looking to get a taste of XCOM, Chimera Squad is difficult to pass up.

Score: 8.5/10

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