Publisher: 2K Interactive
Developer: Firaxis Games
Genre: Turn-based Tactical
Saturation of turn-based games in the market are in the up and up these days, thanks to releases like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Into The Breach, and indie releases like Mutant Year Zero and Phantom Doctrine. So after all that, the giants of strategy game, Firaxis, releases XCOM: Chimera Squad, surfacing itself with a thud instead.
Chimera doesn't bring the big guns, the gripping atmosphere and high stakes that XCOM 2 and War of the Chosen has. You'd be remiss if you think there's anything here that makes it a great XCOM game. But it is by definition, an XCOM game.
Whereas this iteration brings new ideas to the fold, the execution doesn't quite get that reach yet. At least the game's release is much cheaper.
You start off 5 years after the humans won the alien war. Most of the species stuck there have decided rather to live in harmony and help advance civilization further. Though, there are always insurrectionists with different ideals compelled to stifle such a thing and its upto the new XCOM squad of SWAT team to tackle these issues only in City 31.
Remember when I said the stakes were low? Yeah, well you're only handling issues in 9 different districts of the city. Your fight is against 3 different groups: The Progeny, Gray Phoenix and Sacred Coil. All 3 of these factions are part of your investigations to resolve the growing crisis in the city. After closing the case on each of them, you get to understanding the inner dealings around the city, intertextual commentary on the newly formed society, and learn more of the lore for the franchise, something I believe XCOM fans will definitely dig into.
That being said, this isn't an extensive addition to the XCOM series, as a spin-off it does its own thing. The story won't grab you by the gnarls and certainly won't keep you on edge as if the world is going to end or something. No, being self-contained might have its positive traits and to me that's ok. The game goes, however, without having real-time cutscenes that the prior games had before this. Everything is just stills of comic books one scene to another.
There's also the matter of your squadmates exchanging banter, something with a bit millennial-ish humor with some characters being rather spicy on the takes sometimes. Just healthy squad chitter chatter without much to say about the story. That being said, the dialogues between the characters work out only in the perspective that your characters are law enforcement.
Alright so the big new gameplay mechanic that is featured from the start of the game is Breach mode. You enter selected positions around one or several entrances with different bonus traits for both your team and the enemy while picking which equipment to use for breach. Different kinds of breaches require different items like lockdoors requiring keycards or hollow walls needing breach charges. It's during this, you pick how your team encounters the perplexed enemies, either you kill them with bonus critical chances or you increase your hit chances by plucking them out of cover or disorienting them for the next round and so on. This mechanic can also make or break your game, depending on how you handle them encounters.
Everything you loved about XCOM 2, it's been sort of cut down. That's mainly because it prioritizes what little it has like equipments, perks, and gadgets for most of the missions you play are pretty brief and rather take around 5-20minutes to complete so sound tactics essentially help you complete them.
In the mission briefing room, you have the city map where you can start investigations from 9 districts and reap the rewards you receive. This is where you also control the tensions that are steaming up in each of the districts, using field team abilities to manage them. You can also take up missions, critical and non-critical. Some missions don't stay for long while others are just one-time opportunities. You have the option of skipping the day, but that is used if you have barely anything worth looking into. Investigations and missions rewards you with Elerium(used for Assembly or Training units), Intel(spent on scavengers for unlocking new items, building or upgrading field teams), and credits. Sometimes you'll be even rewarded with new Assembly research or new items to use.
Assembly is there to unlock new gadgets, add-ons, armor and weapons as well increasing field team ranking. You can add a unit to half the process. Spec Ops is where you coordinate city workers to find out small stashes and to reap rewards. This requires one unit to complete however. You can also train your units increasing their stats. All of them assigned and assorted while doing the job simultaneously. Scavengers come at opportune time to provide higher ranking gear provided you have the intel to spend.
You can also change your crew's loadouts, if needing more items you can even purchase them with credits. Earning 3 of the currencies require that you apply all 3 districts with field teams and upgrading them for more resource gathering. As each crew levels up, you can pick which abilities they'll use for both in breach mode and full combat.
Now getting into the meat of the game right after prep work, each mission is started with a breach. You enter an area and you tackle enemies XCOM style. This time, you're playing all the alien species as part of your crew, meaning you can use the abilities you earn after they rank up. This changes up the style compared to the previous XCOM games where human units were regular soldiers or psionic. Now you have the whole bunch to play with. With bonus actions like team up which can only be used once per mission help you queue up your teammates in turn row version of timeline.
Missions vary a lot, and they carry some surprises as well, the game requires much like the previous XCOM titles to use what you have and stay on your feet. There were times even in more difficult fights where I was winning every turn, that's mostly because of my crew selection and their abilities fitted the situation. Other times that could also be the opposite. Especially now with the different and large roster of teammates, each fight while quick also goes out with you blasting foes left and right because of their low HP. Though personally I feel like they're little underutilized in this title considering how the mission structure is and all.
Now, the enemy A.I is a little flimsy as the earlier games and that problem still stems from old coding used. The gameplay overall is nearly the same as well with some of the input issues returning. Doesn't feel like much has changed for XCOM since 2016, understandably this was released as a mere experimentation but could have gotten better. One giant nitpick I also have with this release is the UI, it looks god awful at times especially during mission briefing. I was able to tolerate it for so long but then there are times even the UI got clunky as well.
XCOM has a polished look and feel to it. Nothing much else out of the ordinary. In fact, it looks less glossy with more color palette added to it. That being said, it's also using an old engine like UE3 so some aspect of it feels pretty dated like effects, lighting, gloom, and so on. Even though I've seen much different results from Injustice 2.
Sound is crisp, clear, and succinct. By design to be intuitive for the play experience. In fact, it still has the personality from the previous game before it without much variation. Music is ok, it's not something great to write-off about compared to the high-octane orchestral music from XCOM 2. It dwindles as you continue to play the game.
Of course, there's also the bugs. This game has weird glitches like after reinforcements showed up, I decided to load up my game to the point before and found out that the reinforcements were never showing up. This glitch got me to win the game but it felt pretty unfair and off-putting. Not to mention, the old issues from previous games pop their ugly heads up.
If you're in the season for turn-based strategy games, this is worth a look. It's not the best that XCOM has to offer, not so bad either, flaws and all.
Interesting enough, this, Troubleshooter and upcoming Gears Tactics game make it an interesting time for TBSGs this month. Chimera Squad is a worthy addition to it. Even if I feel like it could have done a lot better, but hey it's on sale now till May 1st for 10 USD, from original 20 USD. That's pretty much a killer price.