XCOM: Chimera Squad review — An experimental hybrid yielding mixed results

Firaxis throws out the tried-and-true formula for a new kind of tactical game, with some interesting changes that work — and some that really don't.

Xcom Chimera Squad Breach
(Image: © Windows Central)

Whether you're heading up a special organization against unknown threats popping up all over the globe, or fighting back against invaders who have taken over the Earth, XCOM has always been about a fear of what lurks in the dark. That's changed with this latest entry. XCOM: Chimera Squad eschews the overarching, globe-trotting adventures of past titles with a singular focus: protecting City 31.

It's a mixed bag of changes, with some of the new features being quite welcome. Quality of life changes improves gameplay, while squadmates that are full-fledged characters with banter and personality provide welcome depth and comic relief. The addition of alien and hybrids to the roster is also quite enjoyable.

On the other hand, the narrow focus on the breaching concept as a repeated setup, compact maps, and the complete lack of permadeath all add up. It's worth trying out; however, not everything here is something Firaxis should carry forward.

What I liked about XCOM: Chimera Squad

The story setup here is simple but engaging enough. Five years after the events of XCOM 2, the titular Chimera Squad are a mixed unit of humans, hybrids, and aliens working to keep the peace. After a disastrous assassination takes place in City 31, Chimera is assigned to figuring out who is beyond the attack while investigating and dismantling various criminal organizations.

It'll take around 20 hours to finish, give or take a little depending on the difficulty.

It's reasonably clear Firaxis approached the making of Chimera Squad as an experiment because even though it's still a turn-based strategy game, there are lots of new ideas here. Some of them, like the new types of squadmates, work quite well. Instead of being limited to a roster of human soldiers with differing nationalities, several aliens and hybrids are available alongside the human characters. If you've ever wanted to unleash a Sectoid's mind powers or strangle out a foe with a Viper, you can do just that.

Xcom Chimera Squad Gameplay (Image credit: Windows Central)

Xcom Chimera Squad Gameplay (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

Missions revolve entirely around the new Breach concept. You line your squadmates up in a chosen order around particular entrances to a building, with some entrances only available if you've got specialized equipment. Taking your enemy by surprise, you'll be able to get off an opening attack before taking cover and letting the round begin.

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CategorySpec
DeveloperFiraxis Games
Publisher2K
PlayersSingle-player campaign
GenreTurn-based strategy
Age-ratingTeen
Game PassNo
MicrotransactionsNo
Price$20

There's also an overarching threat to manage, just like in other XCOM games. Here, as you manage the threats in City 31, you'll have to work to keep the city from falling into complete anarchy. If that ever happens, you'll lose. With that said, you can only respond to one mission in a day. Do you quell a riot to keep tensions from building, or pursue a new lead in your current investigation that'll speed up your efforts? Having to make those choices adds to the immersive layer, like you really are managing a squad of special operatives.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

There's also some excellent quality of life tweaks, such as the game recognizing that if there's only one enemy left and they are immobilized, it'll go ahead and just end the round. The operatives themselves are fun, bantering between missions and having humorous discussions, such as when the Viper Torque insists that she's technically an Earthling. The addition of this kind of fun dialogue does come at a cost, though, with more on that further down.

By and large, it looks similar to XCOM 2, though there's more visual polish in some areas, with some surprisingly good textures and lighting. While it's not quite as long as past games, there's still going to be a fair bit to chew through. It'll take around 20 hours to finish, give or take a little depending on the difficulty.

What I disliked about XCOM: Chimera Squad

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Unfortunately, many of the new ideas here end up tearing down parts of the XCOM formula that simply didn't need replacing. Breaching into an area is cool, but you will do it on every single mission, often two or three times. Combined with the more linear maps, once you've got your optimal squad configuration sorted, the second half of the game becomes an absolute chore, as an occasional new enemy isn't enough to keep the dozens of encounters from playing out almost exactly the same way.

Squad members having dialogue is cool, but now, a character can't be lost permanently. I understand many potential fans are stressed about permadeath wrecking their enjoyment, but completely removing that feature has the major side effect of stripping out a fair bit of tension. In past games, it was the player's choice to continue on through a mission even when a soldier was lost. Now? You never have that option. I hope that moving forward, Firaxis at least includes an option to bring permadeath back, even if the focus is on more in-depth, characterized team members.

On a technical note, I encountered a fair few bugs. In addition to several hard crashes, the game would "soft" crash from time to time. Upon loading into a mission, the camera would get stuck, and the game wouldn't resolve itself, requiring me to load a previous save. The camera also repeatedly fails to let you see anything while aiming an ability. Needless to say, you should be saving between every mission.

Should you buy XCOM: Chimera Squad?

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

With all that said, series veterans who are skeptical have every right to be. The endgame can be a slog, as pushing through encounters that feel exactly the same over and over drags on and on. Meanwhile, the linear maps and removal of permadeath, even as an option, completely strip away the tension many like myself love XCOM for. I do recommend trying out XCOM: Chimera Squad considering its low price, but I hope that moving forward, Firaxis is careful about what it chooses to bring into future titles.

If you are one of the people who have in the past been turned off by the concept of permanently losing your squad members but are still interested in the turn-based gameplay, I recommend giving this a go. If not, I'd only recommend this to XCOM veterans with an open mind. The low price certainly helps, as it's quite nice that this game isn't $60 but is instead available for $20.

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.