Review – XCOM: Chimera Squad

We can all agree that the stealth announcement and eventual release of XCOM: Chimera Squad was a surprise to all of us, especially considering its budget-y, spin-off-ish nature. Chimera Squad attempts to keep the core of XCOM‘s gameplay loop alive whilst attempting to add some major changes to its formula. So, did these changes pay off?

Chimera Squad is set year after the events of XCOM 2. The ADVENT have been freed from the control of the Elders, now living alongside the humans instead of against them. You play as an elite branch of XCOM known as Chimera Squad sent into the model City-17 in order to maintain the peace and stop it from bursting into chaos.

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Chimera Squad trims the fat.

The story here is pretty straightforward, but it does have some of the best characters we’ve seen ever since the XCOM franchise got rebooted. With the ADVENT now living alongside humanity, we have people that are all for the merging of species. We also have those who still hold a grudge against them, and want the model city proposal gone. The biggest highlight is the interaction between squad members that makes the game feel a lot more lively.

Chimera Squad features some major changes from the XCOM formula. First of all, gone is the squad creation system that we all know and love from the previous games. This has been replaced with the introduction of pre-made characters with their own personality and abilities. Whilst War of the Chosen had already played with the idea, Chimera Squad is the first game to embrace the ADVENT forces into your playable squad. These characters have their own backstories and personalities that I genuinely enjoyed.

Other changes are a bit more on how the gameplay flows. In XCOM 2 you would be dropped at the start of the map and have to make your way to the objectives. In Chimera Squad, you have the new and fantastic breach mode. This adds a new tactical angle I would absolutely love to see going forward. Each encounter has you deciding how your units will breach into a room with distinct advantages or disadvantages, with a cinematic approach not unlike the breach sequences from Call of Duty games. It’s up to you to figure out each unit’s strengths, and how to best use them for each scenario.

There’s also a new way on how rounds play out. In previous games, all of your units would play out their rounds, followed by all of the enemies. Here, on the other hand, there is an initiative system at play, with the turn order being changed throughout. This is a perhaps the biggest change and it doesn’t quite work all the time. Not being able to switch between soldiers during your turn feels rather limiting. Often times my XCOM instinct would kick in and I would try to switch between soldiers when you really can’t. Whilst I had fun with this new twist on the formula, I hope this is something they leave behind going forward.

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Breach mode is an interesting new addition.

A lot of the encounters in this game are in much tighter and compact spaces, often times not requiring much in the way of movement to clear out an entire room. It’s quicker to get into the action for sure, but it can make a lot of missions just feel a bit too repetitive. Also, due to the fact that the game only features pre-defined characters, if any of them go down you’ll need to stabilize their condition or the mission will fail. It removes a lot of the tense difficult choices in previous games, with the stakes being a lot less impactful. 

Don’t worry though, as despite the changes to the formula, this is still very much XCOM. Whilst these changes can make Chimera Squad feel like a different beast, everything we know and love is still there: top-tier tactical gameplay where you squad can’t hit enemies with a 95% hit chance, but manage incredibly awkward 30% shots through solid walls. Even though your characters are prebuilt, you can equip them with a variety of weapons and gadgets to suit your playstyle. 

Chimera Squad features some interesting visual additions, mostly due to the introduction of the ADVENT as a playable race. I got to admit, it’s pretty amusing to see a sectoid in regular human clothing. Everything is very clear onscreen. Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, is the amount of comic book-style cutscenes, as well as the fact that the awkward animations still haven’t been fixed.

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Yep, still XCOM.

Even though this is a budget title, that doesn’t mean that it skimps out on the amount of content it offers. Chimera Squad can take up to 25 hours to complete in your first playthrough, and like all XCOM games, it has an insane amount of replay value. You also have to remember that this game, like other games on the franchise, will most likely feature a lot of mods, further adding up to the overall replayability factor.

Chimera Squad feels like an experimental game in the XCOM franchise, and that is very welcome. Although not every change and addition worked in here, I still appreciate how bold they have been with this particular smaller title. Now, the question we are all asking ourselves is: where is my XCOM 3?

 

Graphics: 8.0

It’s basically the same graphical scheme from XCOM 2. There weren’t any new upgrades, but then again, there wasn’t a need for any.

Gameplay: 8.0

The addictive tactics-based gameplay is great as it has always been, and there are some new additions I’d love to see them adopting from now on, but it’s still lacking a bit in variety.

Sound: 8.0

The squad banter is solid and the overall sound design is pretty good.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Chimera Squad makes some huge changes to the formula and whilst not all of them work, there’s a lot of fun to be had in here.

Final Verdict: 8.0

XCOM: Chimera Squad is available now on PC.

Reviewed on PC.

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