That's XCOM, Baby
What happened after XCOM won the war? That's a question we never really got an answer to in XCOM 2. One would assume that the alien threat was quelled and gone for good, with humanity running off into the sunset hand-in-hand. We get the real answer in the surprise standalone title, XCOM: Chimera Squad. Humanity succeeded in their campaign to end the ADVENT threat, but aliens assimilated with society. Things aren't going so smoothly either, and that's where Chimera Squad, a specialized team of soldiers from both sides comes into play.
City 31, the setting of XCOM: Chimera Squad, is in trouble, and only you can save it. This standalone title brings a lot of new gameplay elements to the table in a palatable package. But, the enemies of City 31 aren't the only thing you'll be fighting in XCOM: Chimera Squad - there's a surplus of technical bugs that really hinder every step you take.
XCOM: Chimera Squad's Character-based Approach
When someone thinks XCOM, a few things come to mind. First and foremost, missing a shot at 95 percent. Secondly, throwing your troops into a meat grinder and hoping the AI doesn't pull any unfair maneuvers on you. Fans of the series will be happy to know that the same infuriating - but insanely fun - gameplay still remains in XCOM: Chimera Squad. Yet, Firaxis Games has a few twists thrown in to shake things up a bit.
XCOM: Chimera Squad equips players with named, unique characters with their own personalities and abilities. In some ways, it feels like a hero shooter. Each character has their own role to play and an archetype to fulfill, like healer, tank, and crowd control. There are 11 of these characters in total, but you're only able to have eight total recruited for your adventure, so choose wisely. Even though there's a cap on the amount you can recruit in a given playthrough, each unit feels varied, and in turn, so does combat. Thankfully, units don't permanently die this time around either, but instead, receive debuffs if they get banged up too hard. The best part is that you don't just play as humans, but aliens as well.
The ability to play as former ADVENT forces is one of XCOM: Chimera Squad's standout features. For instance, you can recruit Torque, who is a member of the serpent-like Viper species. She can stick her excessively long tongue out and drag an enemy over to her position. From there, Torque can squeeze them to death or bite them with her venomous fangs. Torque is a standout character of the bunch, and Firaxis did an excellent job creating abilities appropriate to each species. Another enjoyable character is Axiom, a hulking Muton that excels in melee combat. Taking damage, in turn, increases the damage that Axiom can inflict, but also runs the risk of going berserk. He's powerful in the right hands, but a risky choice.
There are quite a few other characters, ranging from humans with drones to a Sectoid that can mind control and stun enemies with psionic capabilities. I might be in the minority here, but I prefer unique characters with specialized abilities rather than previous XCOM games' approach to classes. In previous titles, most of your troops would be equipped with one of four classes and rather boring abilities. They have small class trees to vary things up, but XCOM: Chimera Squad feels like there's a lot more to offer in combat situations because of the diversity of options.
XCOM: Chimera Squad's New Spin on Old Combat
Combat itself also sees some major changes. Taking command of a squad of specialized cops, the basis for each mission involves responding to high-stakes situations that normal police can't handle. Every combat encounter begins with a breach where your characters place an explosive charge on a building, rappel through windows, or even just bust through a door. Each entry point comes with a random set of modifiers. For example, every unit going through said entry point might receive a bonus to their aim or crit, but the first unit through the door will be marked by the enemy for the rest of the encounter. Some missions have several breaches, so each one requires tactical thinking.
After placing your troops into a specific order, the encounter begins with an excellent slow motion sequence. Your four units can target a nearby enemy and inflict damage on the poor soul before the real combat begins. Every breach is such a fun encounter, because the slow-motion effects are super cinematic and, frankly, you feel pretty awesome taking out a few bad guys right from the start. After a breach, you're thrust into combat.
Previous XCOM games let players position troops and use abilities during a single turn; afterward, the enemy has a chance to move and react. Chimera Squad shakes that up by giving each character and enemy on the battlefield a single turn order. So, once you use up the actions for the first character to breach, one - or even several - enemies have a chance to move and use their abilities. I do miss the option to set up clever overwatch traps for my enemies to run into, or just taking out a bunch of aliens before they even have a chance to fight back. Nonetheless, this new turn order system feels like a good fit for the series, since the stakes are high with every move you make.
Combat environments are on a smaller scale this time around. XCOM: Chimera Squad gives players tight CQC situations as opposed to large battlefields with multiple patrols and roaming packs of enemies. Because of this, situations are resolved faster and aren't drawn out. It's much to the benefit of the gameplay since it feels fast-paced and allows you to progress the campaign faster.
The enemies you encounter will vary throughout your campaign. Your main task is to take down three different factions possibly involved in the murder of City 31's mayor. The Sacred Coil is a faction that utilizes many androids, as well as pesky chrysalids and other alien races. Meanwhile, The Progeny is a group of psionic humans that use their mind control abilities to cause chaos. While you try to break up these factions and solve the murder mystery through various story-based missions, total pandemonium breaks out in City 31.
This is where the management portion of XCOM: Chimera Squad comes in the equation. You're not commanding a base and all of its facilities like previous titles. Instead, players are tasked with controlling the panic levels of an entire city, lest it gets thrown into total anarchy. There are several districts in City 31, each with its own panic level meter. Once the meter reaches a certain spot, City 31 gains a point in anarchy. If the anarchy meter is full, you lose the game. This works in the same way as the Avatar Project timer from XCOM 2.
As you'd expect, there are a lot of meters to manage. Certain missions allow you to lower the overall panic, but it's inevitable that some districts will be thrown into chaos. It's a dirty game of managing these levels while attempting to take out the three factions. It's not nearly as in-depth as the base and overworld management from, say, XCOM 2, so managing anarchy is just a nuisance above all else with little depth. Besides that, within the base, you can upgrade your troops and craft new armor and weapons by using various currencies.
The Many Bugs of XCOM: Chimera Squad
Overall, XCOM: Chimera Squad's gameplay is unique enough to stand apart from its predecessors. While combat is definitely fun, it also reveals many, many bugs. In just about every combat encounter, you will experience a myriad of bugs ranging from slightly annoying to practically game-breaking. On the more severe side of things, I was met with a crash in the first two minutes of playing. I encountered several other crashes during my initial playthrough. In one instance, without fail, my game would freeze up when reinforcement waves came in during a specific mission. I had to reload my save from a different point in order to get it to stop.
Character animations during combat are riddled with problems. Half the time, your character will fire upon an enemy but will look like they aiming in the wrong direction. Torque the Viper has one particular ability where she can coil around and strangulate an enemy. Most of the time, this would result in both her and the foe levitating in the air. For audio bugs, my team had two robotic drones. When I would make a drone use an ability, sometimes it would hover in the air for upwards of 10 seconds while constantly creating an awful hovering sound.
Animations just don't work as they should. Some reinforcement waves would comically walk through a closed door. A few turns later and an alien would actually break down the door as they should have from the start. You can venture onto the Steam forums and see for yourself a wide range of other bugs. Unfortunately, many of these problems hinder the gameplay experience. Previous XCOM games had a few bugs here and there, but those aren't anywhere near as bad and frequent as Chimera Squad.
XCOM: Chimera Squad Review | Final Thoughts
The graphics remain almost unchanged and very similar to XCOM 2. Because of that, it's an easy game to run despite the bugs hindering the overall experience. There's also a unique comic book aesthetic this time around for character portraits and some cutscenes. It's different from the usual XCOM style, but it works well with its cast of quirky characters and attempts at lighthearted humor. Furthermore, the worldbuilding is superb. The aliens and humans have successfully assimilated into a world where XCOM succeeded in quelling the ADVENT threat. The assimilation is present through various posters plastered on the walls of buildings, and even through Sectoid, Muton, and Viper civilians in human attire. And then there's the Viper strip club. I'll just leave it at that.
For fans of the series, this entry is one that will likely scratch the XCOM itch. Even then, I have a hard time recommending XCOM: Chimera Squad in its current state. There are too many bugs that really make the experience an unpleasant one. It's definitely playable in its current state, and you'll likely have fun with the new mechanics and characters, but until Firaxis Games squashes those pesky, awful bugs, you might want to hold off and play Gears Tactics or even return to XCOM 2 and its many mods.
TechRaptor reviewed XCOM: Chimera Squad on Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
- 11 Unique Characters
- Fun Breach Mode and CQC Encounters
- Cool Post-XCOM 2 Worldbuilding
- Wide Range of Bugs
- City Management Lacks Depth
- Annoying Anarchy System