XCOM: Chimera Squad Review -- Future Imperfect

XCOM: Chimera Squad is basically everything I could have ever wanted from an evolution of the franchise. Individual characters matter more than ever thanks to unique abilities and the on-the-ground urban combat is a fresh change of pace from XCOM 2’s “the world is ending” scenarios. The only thing holding it back is a level of technical jankiness that won’t exactly surprise anyone, but did disappoint.

The premise of the game is relatively simple: in the wake of XCOM 2’s events, the world is trying to heal years later, and that includes a melting pot of a city for aliens, humans, and hybrids alike called City 31. The eponymous Chimera Squad, which is made up of all three kinds of recruits, is assigned to the city and generally tasked with lowering unrest and preventing anarchy. By and large, this means investigating several nefarious factions as they look to upset the tenuous status quo.

Mechanically speaking, the changes from XCOM 2 to XCOM: Chimera Squad are significant, though it still uses a baseline version of everything from the previous game and should be fairly familiar to veterans. Combat now begins with a new “breach” mode where players decide where and how their characters should enter an encounter, with various bonuses or penalties applied, and it makes for a pulse-pounding start to what has historically been a spooky, quiet beginning to modern XCOM encounters.

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(Photo: Firaxis Games)

Beyond the aforementioned unique units, the other biggest change is the fact that turns are now interleaved such that one faction no longer goes all at once. While it can absolutely be frustrating to play against, and players will likely find themselves taking far more damage than they might at first suspect, the new turns allow for a far deeper and more satisfying level of strategic play. Do you make a beeline for the objective, or do you try to take out the next enemy in the turn order to provide a longer string of uninterrupted actions? Add to this the ability to bring one teammate's action to the front of the line once per mission, among other turn-shuffling options, and there’s plenty to consider at every step that truly impacts the way you play.

If it sounds like I’m being overwhelmingly positive about the game, it’s because I am. The modern XCOM games are far up on the list of my favorite games, and XCOM: Chimera Squad takes that and really nails some essential upgrades. Nothing introduced here, from personality-based squads to breaching to the new turn order, should be excluded from future entries because of how well it works. Which is why it’s such a bummer that my experience was plagued with minor technical annoyances.

On more than one occasion, the actual breaching of a location encountered several hiccups from the very start. The actual mechanics of it all worked fine, but the animation and user interface had trouble keeping up with what I was doing from one second to the next as I cycled through possible targets. In one instance, trying to pick a different target somehow landed me with an entirely different point of view as if I’d swapped characters. And, while unrelated to breaching itself, I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to get stuck behind a table during a mission to the point where enemies had to destroy my cover before I could move.

It’s all just a bit clunky, in general. Nothing is quite as easy to get done as it could be. Swapping loadouts from one character to another is a chore, despite the fact that the game encourages said swapping on the regular by injuring folks, providing certain bonuses for bringing along specific characters, and so on.

XCOM: Chimera Squad is by no means perfect, but a lot of what made my experience with it frustrating are the sort of things that are likely to get patched at some point in the future. Still, the vibrant worldbuilding and refreshed combat and strategy layer make for an exceedingly delightful time, and it’s hard not to recommend folks at least give it a shot if they’ve ever been interested in strategy games.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

XCOM: Chimera Squad is set to release for PC via Steam tomorrow, April 24th, for $19.99. A PC review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.

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