Chimera Squad is both a spin-off series of Xcom, and a continuation of the Firaxis Xcom storyline, and overall, I think it’s a great addition to the series, both from a gameplay and story perspective. It’s not without problems, though. While the setting, background lore, and plot of the game are interesting, the characters you play leave much to desire. You see, it suffers from something most modern writing suffers from nowadays – quirky Marvel humor. Yet, it’s tolerable by presenting the story as something serious, it’s just that the tone gets constantly shattered by the quippy and sarcastic characters you are forced to drag along.
Chimera Squad takes place five years after the defeat of the Elders in Xcom 2. Humanity is once again free, but so are the aliens abandoned by their Overlords on Earth. Instead of continuing the fight, humans and aliens are now working together to restore society, and the city of City 31 is a shining example of this cooperation. Well, for the most part. As it is, the current mayor gets murdered, and three distinct factions of terrorists vow to bring the city down. Here is where you come in as the commander of Chimera Squad. A hastily thrown-together police unit to counter this threat, including humans and aliens alike, and it’s your job to investigate the criminal scum and to restore order to the city.
The main difference from the earlier games in the Firaxis Xcom series is that the agents under your command are a bunch of set characters all with their own unique style of fighting. While the agents are allowed to get knocked out during missions, they can’t die, and if they do its game over, and a mission restart will be required. This is a pretty big departure from the usual Xcom gameplay, but it works in this setting since it’s on a much smaller scale – you are basically running a small swat unit with highly specialized agents. What would be interesting, if it wasn’t for the abysmal writing for these characters, is that they all come with background stories, which provides some insight into what happened to other places that weren’t directly connected to the Avenger in Xcom 2.
Now, the background lore for the characters are not bad on its own, but the way they all talk, and their mannerism makes them insufferable. This unfortunately affects the lore stuff since it makes it hard to care for them – if you don’t like this kind of humor of course, but then I would ask what is wrong with you!
Jokes aside, other than that aspect, the writing is interesting, and I think it fits splendidly in the Xcom lore. It feels like a very natural continuation, which makes it all the sadder that Xcom 3 is on the back-burner at Firaxis having the lead designer (Jake Solomon) of Xcom: Enemy Unknown and Xcom 2 quit the company.
Are you ready for turn-based tactics?
Gameplay wise the tactical combat works much like Xcom 2, but with some additions. Instead of being presented with large maps free for you to explore and tackle however you want, you are now thrown into smaller combat scenarios that last from one to three encounters. This style of fighting is much snappier, but it loses some of the more open-ended approaches of the previous games. Yet, it works, and once again, it fits the setting of small swat-like police skirmishes.
Each encounter has a tactical breach moment, which has you getting the drop on the criminals through breaching where the bad guys are hiding out. These can play out in a couple of different ways depending on what characters you got with you, and what kind of equipment you have. Most of the time you will shoot, but at times you get prompted by unique breach opportunities, like blowing a hole through a wall, if you carry explosives. This makes the breach much more effective. It’s an interesting take on the formula, which gives you a chance to get rid of some pesky enemies without having to expose yourself. It works a bit like setting up alpha strikes in Xcom 2, but you decide who gets to shoot what.
Another crucial change is how the turns play out. Instead of each side taking turns moving all of their units, the turns are now intermixed. This makes a huge difference in how the general combat plays out compared to the older titles. There is now a big focus on knowing who takes their turn next, and what they can do, which adds another tactical aspect to the game, making it even more involved. This also means that you can’t just alpha-strike everything down. The terrorist will have their turn eventually unless you are an Xcom God and deny your opponent at every turn. For most of us regular Xcom plebs, though, that will not happen very often, so you got to prepare to mitigate damage somehow, which they are a lot of ways to do through items or skills.
All in all, the tactical element is fun. There is a ton of different skills to use, and seeing these skills interact with each other makes for some interesting and unexpected outcomes. For example, the character Godmother can have a skill that makes her automatically attack enemies getting close, regardless of turn order. This skill, in the combination with the “pull” skill that the snake alien Torque got, you can pull enemies close for double punishment if you pull the mob within Godmother’s reach. This makes for interesting gameplay, and it is always fun to discover new synergies between your agents.
Take care of your agents
If an agent gets knocked out during a mission, or just takes massive damage, you risk the agent getting a scar. These scars will have a negative stat effect, and it can range from worse aim to reduced health points. Some of these scars are worse than others, and to get your agent back in tip-top shape, you need to send your agent on therapy. This can be bad if it’s a crucial agent since it takes a few strategic turns for the agent to return. This means that you got to be careful on missions, which adds another factor to the tactical gameplay to consider. If an agent gets knocked out during a mission, while mission encounters remain, you can order a bot to help with the remaining objectives if you got one. These bots are a poor replacement, compared to your agents, but they will help in a pinch. However, I would say, it’s not worth making this into a strategy, because beyond making the tactical combat much harder, it does affect the strategic layer as well.
On the strategic layer, you will get to pick missions and make choices that will determine city anarchy. This is one of the more important things to understand during play since reaching maximum anarchy will end your campaign. Each day you progress through the campaign, anarchy goes up. This can be reduced by doing missions or sending agents on “drives” to maintain good public PR. However, this will not always be simple, since districts can easily snowball out of control due to rising anarchy if left unchecked. This is why it’s important to make sure your agents are in good condition, so they can go on missions and such to reduce anarchy instead of spending valuable time recovering.
Each mission, or “drive” you do will earn you money, intel, or elerium, all of which are used for different things, but all equally important for the campaign. Here the strategic layer is also the place where you shop for your agents and level them up. There is plenty of different items to buy and research, which makes for many different approaches to tactical combat. In the beginning, resources are hard to come by, though. So it pays to be careful not to overspend, and not to spend resources on stuff that sounds cool, but as it turns out does not help you that much while fighting.
Just like the tactical combat, the strategic layer of Chimera Squad is good. And in combination with each other, it makes for a grand old time. It’s actually surprising how well-presented this game is – top-notch marks here. It’s a shame that the character writing brings that down a tad.
It’s still Xcom 2 in style
The visual style is maintained from Xcom 2 but expanded in how it would look five years later, now with humans and aliens living side by side. The sleek tone of Advent remains, however, civilization is making its mark on the futuristic city that the Elders once built. You will be fighting in factories, run-down slums, and grocery stores, all with their distinct look, and I can’t help to be fascinated by the insight these areas provide. It makes my fantasy run wild – for some reason the Xcom aesthetics and lore stuff trigger it, making me wonder how people survived the alien invasion and coped with the aliens being granted amnesty. Beyond that, the game looks great, everything from character design to architecture, and on a technical level Chimera Squad seems to run well with no issues, except for one weird crash that locked the game to the screen, refusing to let me access the task manager.
The music and sound design are good, much remains the same from Xcom 2, and any player of it will recognize the sound effects. However, they are a lot of new soundscapes to take in as well, as in new music and background city sound. The voice acting isn’t bad either, it’s just what they say that irks me. Much of the voiced dialogue comes with that “talking-down” superior and sarcastic tone, though, and having that certain annoying style of delivering lines that nobody likes does make it lose points.
Yet, it’s a minor point to the complete package, including the story and gameplay. The presentation is accomplished, and it’s clear the game is well-designed beyond what is expected for the price point I bought it for. There is no meandering, and the pacing is kept up to the end. In other words – a tight gaming experience well worth the money. It’s also pretty challenging which is a big plus. I played on “expert”, which I felt was a perfect difficulty setting. Not too hard, and not too easy. You just have see past the Marvel style of writing, and if you can do that, you are in for a treat. Recommended!
Thanks for reading.