Last week, COVID-19 had me engulfed in dread. How long is this circuit breaker going to last? Are we going to be stuck in the house forever? Should I go out and punch someone in the face for bubble tea?
Then, like a bolt from the blue, the XCOM: Chimera Squad announcement dropped.
OMG. You have NO idea how much I needed this. Hell, I didn’t know how much I needed this. (Which is a whole lot) Even better, it was going to be released in a week! And my friends, that week is now.
Section City 31
XCOM: Chimera Squad is a semi-sequel to XCOM 2 and XCOM 2: War of The Chosen. I say semi-sequel because while it narratively takes place after XCOM 2 (and War of the Chosen, since that was just an expansion), it functions more as a spin-off than a direct successor.
In Chimera Squad, you no longer play as the commander. The war for Earth was won, ADVENT and the alien overlords were crushed. However, the aliens still remain, and are trying to make their living on Earth. One of the grand experiments of human-alien coexistence is in City 31. And that’s where you come in.
Chimera Squad is an experimental task force of human and aliens, brought into City 31 to uncover the mastermind of the plot to bring the tense peace between humans and aliens crashing down. So instead of playing a commander of a global task force, you’re the omnipresent controller of this task force; SWAT meets MIB.
The biggest changes that Chimera Squad makes to the XCOM formula are found primarily in the tactical layer. Instead of full human/alien turns, your squad’s turns are now interleaved with the enemy’s. This means you can no longer chain together multiple actions to guarantee crazy exploits, but it also means that you can more easily adjust to poor tactical choices and bad luck.
Another changes is breaches. Your group no longer wanders the map randomly aggroing pods of aliens. Instead, each combat consists of 1-3 encounters. At the start of each encounter, you choose a breach point (or points) to enter. You could kick down a door, crash in through a window, or even blow up a wall. Your choice dictates any bonuses or drawbacks, as well as your initiative order. Your surprise, breach round allows your team to shoot, run into cover, or use a ‘start of encounter’ special ability. After which, your opponents get a full round of firing into your guys, and then normal XCOM tactical gameplay starts until you complete the encounter objective.
While you won’t know the composition of your enemies, you are provided an estimation of how many there are, and how likely you’ll be injured during the breach turn. This allows you to plan accordingly, and makes the encounters seem a little more balanced and predictable. This moves XCOM Chimera Squad further away from ‘simulation’, and closer to ‘tactical board game’, which I’m okay with, but may not be the preference of others.
A Few Good Men
Another departure from XCOM norm is how you get team members. Squaddies are no longer wide ranging and infinitely customizable. Instead you start with a team of 4, and after key points in the game you get to choose 1 additional member, out of 3 offered to you by the game. There’s only a small crew to choose from (I’m guessing about 12), and by mid game you’ll probably only have 6 to 8 squaddies to pick from, and a max of 4 going on missions.
The lack of customization is balanced by how wildly different the Squaddies are from each other. Each squaddie has a unique niche, backstory, personality, and (for some of the aliens) race.
Add to that unique voice acting for each character, and random small talk in between missions, filling your roster out with members of Chimera Squad really does feel like you’re building your own A-Team.
Speaking of missions, the Strategy layer is changed quite a bit as well, although I also think that it ended up being pared down quite a bit. It’s no longer real-time with pause. Instead, days are advanced every time your squad goes on a mission.
The city map is essentially the global map, but instead you get income by setting up field teams in the various boroughs of City 31. Fail or skip too many missions and discontent in the borough increases, which increases city unrest. Get too much unrest and the city falls into anarchy, losing you the game.
You also no longer have the mini-game of trying to tunnel out rooms to build. Which does make sense, since you’re just a police squad, occupying a warehouse (I think). Research and training are similarly reduced. They exist, but the tech tree is not linked to specific enemies, and you can only train 1 person at a time. All of these simplifications did end up making things feel more board-gamey.
Honestly, I would’ve considered my thoughts of the strategy layer as points against its favor if it wasn’t for Chimera Squad’s price tag. I was very pleasantly surprised by the SGD$27 price tag, and hell if you buy it this week you can get it for $13.50!
To be honest, I got what Firaxis was doing after I saw the price. That’s why there’s only a few characters. That’s why there are re-used assets, and that’s why the cutscenes are animated comics rather than full CG. This isn’t a full game, so to speak.
Chimera Squad an opportunity to use the bones of what was built earlier to tell a new story, for cheap. It’s a chance for Firaxis to use a few of the weirder ideas that probably didn’t make it into War of the Chosen but deserved their day in the sun. It’s a way for XCOM die-hards to see a glimpse of what XCOM Apocalypse may have been like in this current age.
Chimera Squad is XCOM: Blood Dragon. And I’m okay with that.
Any fan of XCOM should snap Chimera Squad up at the current price point. Heck, If you’re new to turn-based tacticals and are not sure if they’re for you, this is a perfect game to try. And what are you going to do instead of play this game, leave the house?
Get Chimera Squad, now.