The XCOM series is one of my favourites of all time. I mean, I love strategy titles anyway but combine that with trying to save the Earth from alien invasions, that’s my jam right there. That and zombies, of which XCOM technically has in a spectral form. But anyway, as soon as I saw that XCOM Chimera Squad was being released last week. I knew I had to have it. And for a new release, it had a cracking offer, only £8.49 on Steam.
XCOM Chimera Squad takes off years after the events of XCOM 2. The war against ADVENT has been won, and society as we know it has changed forever. Earth no longer belongs to humans, there are a vast array of alien races, clones and hybrids now residing here. But, despite these new peaceful times, there were always going to be stragglers who weren’t happy with how things turned out.
The game starts with a tutorial, which you can skip, but for story purposes is worth sticking with. Plus there have been many changes from past titles that it helps you get to grips with, but we’ll cover those later. Your mission? To rescue the mayor of City 31 who has asked Chimera Squad, a division of XCOM, to come help clean up the city. However, she’s preoccupied having been taken hostage by unknown assailants.
After exploring the new mechanics of XCOM Chimera Squad and saving the mayor, it almost feels like the tutorial was a pointless task. Not because I didn’t learn anything worthwhile, but because her vehicle explodes as she leaves. That’s when Chimera Squad are asked to find the culprit, their motive, and at the same time, to win over the residents of City 31. Not easy when the shit only hits the fan as you arrive. Coincidence?
Now one of the first changes to XCOM Chimera Squad you may have noticed already from what I’ve described is that you’re no longer trotting around the globe. Instead, the game takes place in City 31, which is split into several districts. As such, gone is the ability to fly everywhere in a Skyranger, and you’re now stuck with an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) that will run you around the city.
You no longer have a fancy base either. I mean, you have somewhere your soldiers can reside and train, etc. But, you no longer have the ability to build power supplies, research labs or anything. Not that you need to, but it is an element I kind of miss. Instead, you have a basic base that houses your soldiers, allows you to train them or send them on spec op missions for rewards and has a map of the city at its core.
With XCOM Chimera Squad having a much smaller area to manage and protect in City 31, mission maps are smaller too. Which is great as there was nothing more boring than searching the woods for a survivor of a downed UFO for ages. But at the same time, they’re not actually smaller at all. And it’s because of a new feature that I love about XCOM Chimera Squad.
The new feature is that missions now have 1-3 stages known as encounters, each encounter beginning with Breach Mode. This allows you to set yourself up for the mission. You have several options of how to breach, dependant on abilities and equipment, for example walking through the main door or blowing up a wall. Once breached, your soldiers will then be able to shoot, perform an ability or rush for cover.
So how does this all set you up for your missions in XCOM Chimera Squad? Firstly, each breach point can offer your soldiers different perks such as stunning an enemy with a successful shot. Alternatively, it can also have negative effects like making them a heavy target for the enemy. But what order you send them in is also the order they move in the mission. But that’s the only point in the game where your whole squad fire together.
For the rest of each mission, your soldiers and the enemies take it in turns. However, abilities etc. can be unlocked to change the order, or give particular soldiers bonus actions. So, the more you eliminate at the Breach stage, the fewer moves you’ll have to wait for between your next turn. Not an issue in early missions, but as the game progresses and enemy numbers increase, XCOM Chimera Squad starts to challenge you.
Fortunately, the way the game progresses also allows you to better prepare for missions. Because following the assassination of the mayor, when you’re tasked to find out who did it, you’re given three factions to investigate. One of humans who don’t like aliens, one of hybrids with a new religion, and one of aliens, who SPOILER ALERT, just want to go home like ET. So, you know exactly what enemies will be appearing.
You can only investigate one faction at a time, unlike in Pheonix Point which allows you to deal with three factions at once. Though that can get a little heavy, so maybe this is for the best for XCOM Chimera Squad. As you eliminate one faction and move to the next, unrest in the city increases more for missions you don’t complete. And you won’t be able to do them all as multiple pop up each day, so there will always be one you miss.
As unrest in XCOM Chimera Squad increases in a district, it eventually increases the level of Anarchy in City 31. What this means isn’t really made that clear, although I assume it increases hostility and maybe game difficulty too. But, I didn’t notice anything at all really as it is relatively easy to manage this. On Normal difficulty anyway. Yet to push myself further.
To manage unrest and anarchy, you can do a number of things. The spec ops missions I mentioned above, which you can send idle agents on, can lower both. But to do that you’ll need to unlock those missions by placing Field Teams in districts. These help you earn income, intel and elerium depending on what type of team you use. Upgrading them can also lower unrest and offer better rewards, as well as some abilities.
The abilities you unlock thanks to Field Teams are limited to four, and you have to meet certain goals to unlock each one. You are able to lower unrest in an area, hold the level of unrest so it doesn’t increase, complete an additional reward mission, and lower City 31’s anarchy level by one. After using each one, you then have to wait a number of turns before they can be used again. So use them wisely.
You might be wondering what reward missions are though. And it’s one of four types of mission that pop up in XCOM Chimera Squad. Reward missions are where you send your APC but no battle takes place. They just earn rewards for helping 31PD. Then there are Orange missions which are general battles, also with rewards, Pink missions which are story-based and Red Emergency missions where unrest is at maximum in a district.
The new features in XCOM Chimera Squad don’t stop there either. And again it’s with mixed emotions. In previous titles you can recruit as many soldiers as you wanted, even making up your own soldiers. I loved this in XCOM 2 and ended up making the FULLSYNC team to take on the alien menace. Now though everyone who plays the game will be subject to the same characters. Well, at least four of the same.
You start with four soldiers, then as you progress you are given opportunities to recruit more. But you do get a choice, and each soldier has their own class and abilities, oh and back story too. It’s the one part of having fixed characters that makes the story that bit more engaging, as you form bonds with them. And I’d say it’s worth the lack of creating your own characters.
The only issue I have with soldiers is you no longer get to increase the size of your battle team. Ok, it may have made the game a little easier. But, well, that’s my only argument. You’re stuck with four soldiers. That, and you can have up to two androids as reserve units. These come into play when a soldier of yours is downed in one encounter but you still have another left, they step in to fill the gap in the squad.
Androids aren’t as useful as squad members in XCOM Chimera Squad, and they don’t have all the fancy abilities the others do. However, it does mean you can almost sacrifice a soldier (don’t forget to stabilize them so they don’t die) for another squad member with full health. And although they aren’t as fancy, they can be upgraded with spare parts and also equipped with utility items like grenades, so they’re not all bad.
You’re probably thinking, this doesn’t sound like an XCOM game at all. But it’s not all new. There is some old stuff recognisable in XCOM Chimera Squad too. Sadly, not good. Bugs are back and they’re as bad as ever. One of your soldiers stands on top of a box? Expect to see them running through the air for the rest of the fight. An enemy sitting right by you? It’s ok, we’ll shoot in the opposite direction because our bullets bend.
Yep, for everything that Firaxis Games have done to freshen up the series, and they’ve done a lot. They’ve left in an infestation of bugs in XCOM Chimera Squad. Which at first felt nostalgic making me think of the older games. Shortly followed by frustration that this crap is still happening. It’s early days so maybe patches will fix this. But going off the old XCOM titles, I highly doubt it. I’d just settle for removing all the crashes though.
It’s not the only downside either. For example, some very obvious things seem to have been missed from XCOM Chimera Squad. One soldier, Cherub, is equipped with a pistol and riot shield. His abilities include projecting shields on himself or squad members and his riot shield doubles as a weapon. Which is great, but surely a shield should add armour too? Nope. However, a quick mod you can find HERE rectifies that.
XCOM Chimera Squad Overall Thoughts
Despite the frustration that XCOM Chimera Squad causes, and it caused a bunch at times. I loved this game. Firaxis Games have done a truly tremendous job at refreshing the series, whilst keeping true to its core mechanics. Sadly, even the buggy ones. The introduction of the encounters and breach mode have to be my favourites, and although I miss customising my own soldiers and bigger squads, fixed characters really add another level of depth to the game. I’ll be playing this again and again for a long time. Or at least until XCOM 2 becomes available on Switch and I jump on that again.
XCOM Chimera Squad is developed by Firaxis Games, published by 2K Games and available to buy now on Steam. Whilst you wait for it to download, why not check out more of our game reviews by clicking HERE.