My first contact with XCOM was with the original 1994 version of the series, though quite a number of years later in the early 2000s. The game was super fun with great atmosphere, chilling music, good difficulty (after the game difficulty fix, of course) and had fantastic use of organic gameplay and storytelling.
Who doesn’t remember the times where a panicked and demoralized cadet picks up their own lazer rifle and makes a low-accuracy, long range snapshot against a Crysalid to save the life of another teammate?
Fast forward to more than a decade later when Friaxis, the current developers behind the Civillization series, announced that they would be releasing their take on the series in 2012, I was ecstatic. I fondly remember thinking “Wow, this is an actual remake of the game I loved instead of whatever 2k games thought XCOM: The Bureau (also showcased that year) was supposed to be”
Now 8 years later with a couple of expansions and a sequel behind their back, is XCOM: Chimera Squad still a fresh experience for a veteran SRPG player? Let’s see.
What is XCOM: Chimera Squad?
XCOM: Chimera Squad is the 3rd instalment of the XCOM franchise (not counting the expansions) by Friaxis Games. The takes place 5 years after the events of the first game, where XCOM forces have successfully uprooted and driven off the alien-led government, ADVENT from Earth.
You control the eponymous namesake of the game, Chimera Squad, and are tasked with enforcing the harmony between Aliens and Humans living in City 31 and stop the usurping factions from taking over control of the city.
These factions are The Progeny, a group human psions that don’t take kindly to non-psions. The Grey Phoenix, alien scavengers that is gathering weaponry to totally not become an arms dealer. Last but not least, the Sacred Coil, which enough said, is a cult; what good ever came out of a cult?
Without spoiling too much of the story, let’s just say that these factions are undoubtedly connected in some form even if their goals differ from each other.
Banter and Characterization
The biggest change to the formula in XCOM: Chimera Squad is their emphasis on characters. Unlike past games where your squad is basically made of “generic template guy/girl” from X country, all squad mates that you control now have detailed biographies and backstories that spans from the pre-XCOM era all the way till the current day of this game.
As a post-advent society, you’ll get to pick from a bunch of racially and species diverse cast of characters from a pool. This means that you’ll get access to cool abilities like psionics without going into late-game research, a plus in my book if balanced properly.
All of them are voiced too, each with their own personalities and quirks. Characters often talk to each other before mission briefings and sometimes during missions as well which adds the much needed flavor into the game; kind of like how they presented key characters that drives the plot in the previous XCOM.
I would’ve like to see something like a friendship/rival mechanic here where squads get deployed with different boons and banes depending on which teammate you pick though, as you aren’t as incentivised to switch out teammates that works best for your playstyle unless they are out of commission for the mission.
Good things aside, making all teammates key characters does have its trade-offs in terms of gameplay which we’ll talk about later.
The general gameplay pattern hasn’t changed a bit compared to the previous games; your main meat and bones combat is still your standard turn-based RPG fanfare with the player controlling a squad of units comprised of different classes all with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Outside of combat, you’ll be doing the same kind of operational duties to prepare for the next mission: doing the science-y kind of research
and baking a great cake to unlock new armors and equipment to add to your repertoire, producing said armaments in the engineering quarters, training and managing your troops… you get the idea.
As always, with the focus on escalating tensions in these types of games, the game gradually gets more difficult based on which faction you decide to pursue first. With the defeat of your first chosen faction, the other factions get stronger and so on with faction-based bonuses which encourages some variability and replayability.
Tactical Map & Base of Operations
Your tactical map as far as the story goes, is now confined to a single city, of which you have to defend against 3 those particular factions that serve as the main antagonists of the plot. Like XCOM 2, the game still features the threatening aura of the “big countdown of doom” though there are quite a few more ways to reduce the effects; you’ll almost certainly never reach the fail state of the game, honestly.
Since we’re starting off story-wise with an established team with more resources, base management in terms of building and defending your base has been cut. I do wish there was something other mechanic to replace this on the Ops screen though, as those always add a strategic layer of planning and using your resources.
Resource management has also been cut a tad, with only 3 primary resources, Elerium, Credits and Intel that you’ll have to deal with. I don’t find this to be too concerning regarding the gameplay depth as credit gain has been balanced without the buying of additional scientists and engineers in mind; though the trade-off is that you won’t be able to speed up engineering or research.
It makes sense within context too as the international government will probably be providing your squad with all the auxiliary manpower you need.
The environment is not super varied and you’ll go through a fair share of urban environments like offices, piers, factories and warehouses etc. which do get repetitive at times.
Map wise, the size of the maps has also seen a reduction and each “portion” of the map that you get to move around in is comparatively playground sized against the large swaths of land that can contain multiple buildings like the last game.
I think as a cascading result, stealth is no longer a mechanic in this game unlike the previous title which is a bummer.
The difficulty does seem to have come down a notch, even when playing on the highest difficulty like I have for this review. Due to the setup of the story, you’re no longer outgunned from the beginning as you were in the first 2 entries of the game.
Plus, the player now has access to a couple of really good abilities from the get go. Gremlin’s healing drone ability comes into mind here as allows her to heal allies from across the map without restrictions.
Additionally, again due to the game being more character focused, allies will no longer be able to die in missions for the sake of continuity; Meaning that while they could get ‘downed’ in combat, it is never more than just a time penalty on when they could get deployed on missions again.
I wish they’d have some way to incorporate perma-death again as that has always been an iconic part of the series; sending your fresh cadets in trial-by-fire style has always been a key aspect of an XCOM style game. The removal of this is a different take, but not necessarily for the better.
The main mechanic added to the XCOM franchise is the use of Breach Mode when entering into different sections of the base. With it is your first strike advantage where the game goes into slow-mo targeting mode when you breach a door, window or some other breach-able apparatus, awesome!
Of course, there comes a series of trade-offs with advantages and disadvantages conferred for each mode of entry; for example, one entry might give you +1 armor for your next encounter, but also make you more likely to miss your breaching shot. Additionally, you won’t really know the composition of enemies or where they’ll spawn, meaning that it’s not always the best tactic or choice to have your bullet sponge bust through the main door.
Now that I think of it, it was really weird for every infiltration mission of the previous game to simply start at a section of a base even if it didn’t make sense for them to not go in all guns-blazing for a particular mission.
That said, it does however make the game feel rather stage-y for the most part. It doesn’t make too much sense for everyone else to not be alerted of your presence from other sections (and thus come swarming in to stop the intrusion) to be able to “catch them by surprise” every time you breach an area multiple times for any given mission.
Overall, I do see the potential for this to be used in XCOM 3 and I find it a pleasant addition to the game. This is provided that it’s done more tactfully, maybe once per appropriate mission or so would be a good balance.
The music of Chimera Squad is a mostly digital affair, with mostly electronic and synth mixes for the OST of the game. Whether it’s the sombre composition of the operational theme or the more upbeat and aggressive tracks of in-combat missions, I think it balances the mood of the game well without being overly dreary.
You can have a listen from the link below:
Overall, I quite like the music though maybe not as much so as the original 1994 XCOM.
At the price of $30 USD, it would be hard pressed for fan of the genre, like me, to pass this one up. Sure, you can make the argument that there were some things that were stripped from the game to call it “truly XCOM” like base management, defence and a more expanded world map, but I think they were definitely experimenting with a more tightly focused game. This should be treated as a story-based expansion to the current XCOM universe and I think the price duly reflects that.
From Friaxis’ point of view, it makes sense for them to experiment with a different take on the formula; it’s going to get stale after some time. I do agree, however, that it’s a bit misleading on their part to label this as a sequel as it feels like more of a standalone expansion to me. I’m sure there’s more to come in this franchise and no doubt we’ll get a real numbered sequel in the time to come.
My opinion? Go in with an open mind and treat it as Friaxis’ take on making Strategy-RPGs in the vein of Fire Emblem or Valkaria Chronicles and only but the most hardcore of XCOM purists will be disappointed.
Good game for the price, though the reduced scope of the game can be a turnoff for some. Change in some of the fundamental designs like characterization of teammates can be a big plus if you like the Fire Emblem/Valkaria Chronicles approach.
|The Good||The Bad|
|+ Character Banter/ Customization||– Less in-depth “out of combat” gameplay|
|+ Story-focused gameplay||– Less challenging than XCOM 2|
|+ Get-go access to psionics and more varied abilities from unit to unit||– Smaller map size and stealth mechanic removal|
|+ Expansion-level pricing ($30 USD)||– Scope of the game is smaller|