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Review: X-COM: Chimera Squad is Part Spin-Off, Part Natural Progression

Screenshot: X-COM: Chimera Squad

I’ve had quite a back log. COVID-19 may have slowed down a lot of other industries, but video games are still releasing, mostly unaffected. I’m working through my backlog, because there are some great titles there, and I wanted to take some time to write about X-COM: Chimera Squad—it’s been my favorite turn-based tactics game so far this year.

X-COM has been the standard for turn-based tactics since the release of X-COM: Enemy Unknown about a decade ago. It’s hard to find an article or review about such a game without the mention of X-COM somewhere. And there’s a reason for that. Developer Firaxis has taken the X-COM series and made it their own, with tight gameplay and well-established, believable lore. X-COM: Chimera Squad feels like a logical next step for the series.

Screenshot: X-COM: Chimera Squad

X-COM: Chimera Squad feels like a smaller game than the previous two X-COMs—at least in scope–while still managing to be a full-fledged title. You play as Chimera Squad, a division of X-COM that is more about policing than about open alien resistance. In fact, the aliens that have been left behind on earth are starting to integrate into society in interesting ways. And of course, that brings out all sorts of socio-political issues, and a tinderbox of street-level conflict. There are some who want all aliens dead, and extremists who would find and exploit abandoned Advent technology to use against the local police. Chimera Squad is the answer—bringing the technology and expertise of X-COM down on the local insurrectionists, thugs, and other riff-raff. Your squad, of course, is comprised of alien and human operatives, hence, Chimera Squad.

There’s a bit of an X-COM meets SWAT feeling—you guide a small unit of four operatives through close-quarter battles. Unlike the previous two X-COM games, on missions there is nothing but combat. Mission timers are mostly done away with, and when they are employed, your squad is often within grabbing distance of whatever you need. That’s because there’s no map roaming—you will breach with your squad into a new encounter directly, with missions usually lasting two or three encounters.

Screenshot: X-COM: Chimera Squad

Between each encounter, you will breach. Breaching is new, and probably one of the most fun things about Chimera Squad. Sometimes you will have an option for multiple entry points, and different breaching methods. There are breaching charges and other items that allow different breaching positions to be available—but it’s mission specific. Breaching is energetic, and always exciting. You break into the room, and are given a list of targets with your chance to hit each, and their ‘surprise’ level. Some targets will attack you on sight, while others will be discombobulated or completely caught off guard by a breach. And while your team will often get all of the first shots, enemies will have their chance to shoot back, so careful planning is required.

The encounters in X-COM are usually over pretty swiftly—within a few rounds or so. This leads to a razor-thin margin for error. A single missed shot can mean your entire encounter can go south—and at higher difficulties, that can mean a cascade that leads to almost certain failure. This can make for some pretty gnarly difficulty spikes, depending on the encounter. And even though the city-map gives you an impression of what you should expect, it feels like “Very Difficult” can be a range from “easy” to “save scum required.”

Screenshot: X-COM: Chimera Squad

Combat in X-COM: Chimera Squad is exactly what you’d expect from an X-COM game. Having line of sight on an enemy doesn’t guarantee a hit, and there different cover types and considerations. With more alien allies, there is more chance for melee attacks. I used the Muton Axiom quite a bit to smash up my enemies, or used the snake-like Torque to tongue grab difficult enemies that buff allies. You can often buff your team with various abilities, like shields that ignore damage, or even GREMLIN drones that heal or stabilize an ally before they can bleed out on the floor. If you lose an operative before the end of a string of encounters, you can have androids jump in and take their place. They’re not as capable, but they can get the job done—especially with upgrades.

There is plenty to love about Chimera Squad, and despite it not being a “main series” title, it manages to provide a good amount of depth. In usual X-COM fashion, there is a lot to do between missions. There are upgrades to buy, operatives to train, and even missions that you can send your people on that help out the local police department. Dark Events are still a thing, and pop up when areas between levels are especially bad—and there’s a meter that tells you how much unrest any specific zone is experiencing at any given time.

Screenshot: X-COM: Chimera Squad

The story in Chimera Squad is compelling, and centers around a world that is post-alien in a way that X-COM, with its now deep backstory, can pull off. The aliens you have in your squad are recognizable as those you fought against in the war—heck, some of them even fought against the humans, according to their biographies. Each of the characters you can recruit aren’t randomly generated, instead they’re from a finite pool of operatives. That might make it seem less customizable, but it adds a ton of story and makes you actually care more for each of the individual operatives.

I really enjoyed my time with X-COM: Chimera Squad. It’s been my favorite turn-based tactics game during this recent tide of turn-based releases. It’s a perfect balance between X-COM and more police-oriented tactics game. Breaching is a blast, and the lack of downtime between combat makes Chimera Squad a surprisingly punchy title in the X-COM series. Chimera Squad’s story is a natural progression, and an interesting take on post-invasion earth. I heartily recommend this title.

X-COM: Chimera Squad is available now on Windows.

 

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