The XCOM games aren’t for the impatient or faint of heart. The brutal, turn-based strategy relies heavily on random chance, permanent unit death, and an overarching campaign that takes many hours of careful resource management. Unfortunately, casual strategy fans find the experience daunting. XCOM: Chimera Squad, on the other hand, is a friendlier, more accessible XCOM game. This $19.99 spin-off for PC keeps the setting and general feel of the XCOM series, but reduces the stakes by offering a single city to protect, a modest squad of diverse (and pre-created) units, and a more forgiving combat. XCOM: Chimera Squad lacks the general brutality of the mainline PC games, but it still scratches that strategy itch.
This is the second notable turn-based tactics game to come out recently, along with Gears Tactics. While Gears Tactics translates the third-person shooter franchise into a strategy game to solid genre-shifting success, Chimera Squad shaves away some of the XCOM series’ denser aspects, keeping the genre but making it a bit more accessible.
Chimera Squad takes place several years after XCOM 2 and its expansions. The alien invaders were driven away, and humanity is now free to live alongside the aliens and hybrids who remained after the war. City 31 is one such mixed-species community, a metropolis of humans, hybrids, and aliens living together in relative harmony. When that harmony is disrupted by a terrorist attack, XCOM’s Chimera Squad is sent in to assist the city’s police as a strike force designed to deal with violent threats.
The scope is smaller than either previous XCOM game, which is why this game isn’t called XCOM 3. You aren’t fighting alien invaders across the planet, you’re fighting criminal factions through a city. The stakes aren’t nearly as high, and neither are the scales of the fights or the resource and technology requirements of your campaign. You aren’t trying to piece together every advantage you can get from downed and captured aliens and their weapons; rather you’re gathering intelligence and balancing resources while incrementally improved equipment is introduced through a far less sprawling development curve.
The XCOM: Chimera Squad’s reduced scope is most apparent in two places: your squad and the maps where they fight. Instead of managing an entire army of fully customizable soldiers from different countries, your squad consists of a growing handful of premade, fully-voiced characters. There’s Cherub, the shield-toting hybrid who works best as the point man when rushing into the scene; Godmother, the XCOM veteran sent in to help oversee the development of Chimera Squad’s younger faces; Torque, the sharp-tongue snake alien who can yank enemies toward her and bind them; and several more. Since each character has a specific design and skill tree, you can’t customize much more than armor color, compared with the full names/origins/visual design options offered by the previous XCOM games. Unfortunately, that personality is generally flat and boring, like cheap cartoon characters. The chatter between squadmates has all of the tension and depth of the 1980s G.I. Joe cartoon.
The smaller number of more specifically focused characters translates into a smaller squad size overall, which works thanks to the game’s smaller map size. You won’t find big, sprawling war zones in XCOM: Chimera Squad. Maps are generally limited to one street or building, which itself is broken up into individual encounters.
For each encounter, you decide which squad members breach at certain points in the map based on their equipment and skills. You can rush in through the front door, blow a hole in the wall with a breach charge, unlock a high-security side door with a keycard, or even send Torque in through a vent to sneak in from behind. Different breach points provide different levels of risk to your squad and can confer benefits, such as more accurate shots. They can also confer penalties, such as getting the attention of every nearby enemy. It all depends on the type and location of the point. When you breach, your squad rushes in and can open fire on enemies caught off-guard, rush into cover to avoid return fire, or employ extra skills that can further change the balance of the fight. The breach mechanic replaces the stealth maneuver-and-strike mechanic at the start of XCOM 2’s maps. Once an encounter is cleared and the room is secure, your squad moves on to the next encounter with a new set of breach options.
Since each squad member is unique, they aren’t quite as disposable as they were in the previous XCOM games. Deaths aren’t acceptable at all; when a squad member goes down, the character starts bleeding out instead of simply dying. You have a limited number of turns to reach the fallen agent and stabilize them before they die. If you stabilize them, you can keep fighting (though the downed agent is out of the battle, and gains a penalty “scar” that negatively affects stats and must be removed through training between missions). If the fighter bleed outs, or a nearby explosion kills them while they’re on the ground, you fail the mission and need to start over. No one in Chimera Squad is expendable. This makes the game feels more forgiving and lowers the stakes in each mission (and encourages saving and reloading regularly), but it doesn’t significantly diminish the general turn-by-turn tactical challenge the series is known for. In other words, it’s still very easy to get caught out of cover and overrun.
In addition to going on individual missions, you need to balance your time and resources across City 31’s nine districts. You accumulate intelligence points, elerium, and credits by completing missions, which you can spend on setting up task forces in each district to provide bonuses (including weekly income of the three resources), or directly on equipment and technology development for your squad. Intelligence enables building task forces and buying items in the black market, elerium enables the research of new technology, credits let you buy new equipment directly for your team as you unlock it through research.
Resource management in XCOM: Chimera Squad is not as involved as in the last two XCOM games, but it adds a layer of strategic complexity to the game. You still need to figure out how to best protect the city from unrest and improve the equipment and stats of your team, you’re just doing it with fewer options in the tech tree and a smaller map.
Visuals and System Requirements
XCOM: Chimera Squad looks just as good as XCOM 2, but with a generally more zoomed-in perspective. You won’t see the camera pull out past a large room or small street, with at most 10 units on-screen at any given time (and maybe up to 20 per encounter, for the largest fights). Units are detailed, though animation looks stiff and sometimes awkward. The classic XCOM visual of aiming a pistol directly through an enemy on the next tile is kept intact, for good or bad. With occasional hiccups for unit movements and actions, it looks occasionally janky.
System requirements are fortunately fairly modest. Recommended specs include at least a 2.4GHz quad-core CPU, an AMD HD 7770 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 650 video card, 4GB of RAM, and 18GB of storage. The game requires a PC that runs at least the Windows 7 operating system. The game supports Steam Achievements and Steam Workshop.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is a pleasant take on the well-established XCOM turn-based strategy formula. It keeps the series’ general mechanics and overall style intact, while shrinking a global, world-saving campaign to a city-protecting series of fast-paced skirmishes. Chimera Squad’s gameplay isn’t as complex as XCOM: Enemy Unknown or XCOM 2: Enemy Within’s battles, but it satisfies the same desire to carefully position your units for ambushes against belligerent aliens and mutants. Of course, this time aliens and mutants are on your side as well, which evens the playing field.
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