While XCOM 3 is still a daydream or an unannounced project, fans of the franchise are still getting another game based on the XCOM 2. XCOM Chimera Squad is set after the war. Humans, hybrids, and aliens now live a mostly peaceful coexistence in City 31. XCOM has sent Chimera Squad, the first team to consist of humans, hybrids, and aliens alike to take dangerous items off the streets. With the assassination of an important figure, the team’s mission changes as they struggle to find out who is trying to disassemble the fragile peace in City 31.
I enjoyed XCOM Chimera Squad’s writing. The plot is a standard police drama with a sci-fi twist. The plot isn’t very deep, but it’s enough to bring all the missions together. For those new to the franchise, there’s a decent amount of world building in the character biographies and the radio chatter between missions. The story has a certain degree of replayability as players have the option to chase different targets and each team member has their own lines for mission conversations. The random banter between characters is probably some of the best writing in the game. It brings out each character’s unique personality and offers some lighthearted moments to break up the grittier plot.
XCOM Chimera Squad takes the franchise’s classic turn-based combat and gives it a SWAT team twist. The main addition is the breach mode that starts off each map. Players assign each of their four squad members to enter from available entrances. Each entrance has a randomly generated effect that can help or hinder characters. During the breach, characters are also able to trigger a variety of items and abilities that can give the player a little extra edge in combat.
The overworld board game binds each individual mission together. While there are also some options for improving character skills and snagging extra currency, the emphasis is squarely on managing the city’s anarchy. Too much anarchy and it is game over. The difficulty starts at a leisurely pace, but soon becomes a constant panic as players try to figure out what is the least bad choice to make.
Combat is an enjoyable challenge. Mission difficulty trends upwards in a consistent linear fashion save for the odd story mission that needs to be done in a specific way. Characters synergize well, offering a lot of opportunity for creative tactics. Enemies tend to hit incredibly hard, so tactical errors can be punishing. By default, XCOM Chimera Squad is still reasonably accessible to new players. Permadeath isn’t a thing as the game ends if a character bleeds out and dies; however, players are still punished for having character knocked out in combat as they are left with a scar that lowers a stat. Training can remove a scar, but it will take a character out of action for two days. The game tends to be very generous with the auto-saves, so it’s easy enough to wind back to an earlier save in case a serious tactical error is made. Of course, there are options to amp up the difficulty for the truly hardcore.
The gameplay is incredibly addictive. The tick-tock rhythm of the gameplay pushed me into a “just one more turn” mindset that made time fly by. The endless possibilities for creating different team synergy is more than enough motivation to try multiple runs through the game. For those new to the franchise, XCOM Chimera Squad’s riveting gameplay is an excellent example of why the franchise has had so much staying power.
The tutorial could be improved. There is a short battle to introduce players to the basics, but the rest is left for the players to figure it out. There is some documentation in the in-game manual, but it doesn’t cover everything.
The balancing is well done for the most part. Each character fills a specific niche, allowing for all the synergy possibilities. No character seems to be excessively underpowered, but there are a few that still need balancing. Blueblood is incredibly overpowered compared to other DPS characters and needs some attention. Zephyr also needs some balancing because her fist weapon can’t be upgraded. In the beginning, she an incredibly powerful character. At end game, she must either be converted to a less effective crowd control character or a pretty average DPS who must follow a cookie cutter talent build.
The biggest flaw with XCOM Chimera Squad is the incredible number of bugs plaguing the game. While there is nothing game breaking, there is enough quantity to make up for it. Everything is there, from minor graphical glitches causing characters to float in the air for no reason to major issues like upgrade descriptions being completely incorrect.
The game uses a nice combination of comic book-style 2D art with a more realistic 3D style. The 3D style won’t be mistaken for a hyper-realistic look as there is a hint of comic book influence with the slightly flatter colour palette. While the 2D work uses simple animations, the 3D animations are well done. Character movement is both realistic and natural looking.
The audio experience is solid. The sound effects are good, with a nice variety to keep combat from getting stale. The soundtrack is enjoyable and unobtrusive, with heavy use of low-key electronic music for the sci-fi flair.
Even with its warts, XCOM Chimera Squad is a fantastic game. Since most of its problems are not mechanical in nature, a lot of issues will be fixable given some time and patches. It’s just a shame the game wasn’t held back by a month or two to allow for more polishing time. Considering its price point and the amount of content offered, XCOM Chimera Squad is a solid pick to keep XCOM fans busy while they wait for XCOM 3 and give new players a chance to see what the franchise is all about at a very accessible price point.
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