XCOM Chimera Squad- Review
Simplifying a Genre to suit everybody.
To say I was excited about XCOM Chimera Squad was an understatement. I Love turn-based Strategy games like XCOM. They carry an in-depth story, Suspenseful, challenging game play and each character can be made to feel unique to you. Chimera Squad is the 3rd turn based instalment in the XCOM. This is not XCOM 3 however but a spin off and offers a vastly different angle to XCOM as you will see throughout this review.
Story -XCOM the Netflix adaptation
The Story focusses on a single city, set 5 Years after the events of XCOM 2. Humans, Hybrids and Aliens are all living in peace. Set in a Californian City called City 31. It was kind of fun and quirky to see Mutons in hoodies and vipers in tuxedos, fleeing from combat alongside human civilians when in missions. But for me that was as funny as it got. The cut scenes of the game are done in A comic book style, frame by frame with audio overlaid. These cutscenes introduce us to an incredibly diverse cast of characters, each with their own unique, over accentuated personalities, and in some cases forced accents, such as the characters Cherub and Godmother. The training mission sets the premise for the story. The team resolves a relatively by the book hostage situation which ends successfully. This is when the story kick starts into the main game. A devastatingly predictable event shakes City 31 and now Chimera Squad must find the party responsible. The team is set to take out 3 different factions each as quirky as the cast. However, we never get to meet these faction leaders or truly understand their role in the game as the story overall feels quite rushed and primarily focused on the dry humourless banter between teammates. The story held a lot of potential for a truly in depth XCOM experience of life after the Alien invasions but failed to deliver. Instead giving us a Story that is more an attempt of comedy rather than a true follow up to the XCOM universe.
Gameplay- S.W.A.T the opposition
Chimera Squad Introduces a new, faster way of playing turn-based strategy games. The preparation/ Stealth phase is replaced with a breach mode. Breach mode is the new form of deployment where you are faced with deciding how to enter a room full of enemies, do you go high risk with additional damage or low risk with defensive bonuses. Each entrance offers advantages and disadvantages. Unfortunately, this is also the most tactical element of the game because after you hit that big breach button the game becomes extremely simple.
Your team breaches into a building or into deployment, where you are thrown into an over the shoulder view. The view focusses on individual targets blurring out the rest of the room, making it impossible to gauge. This Breach mode is an incredibly fun way to play, but is short lived as the explosive entry, is essentially nothing more than a novelty that would be incredible as an optional gameplay mechanic. The combat after the breach is incredibly short lived as it is all done room by room like a S.W.A.T team. You breach, you clear you repeat. This causes the game to lose the truly tactical feel other XCOM games have. Taking your Turn in Chimera Squad has also changed and in in a style that I enjoyed. Rather than you moving all your units and then the enemy moves all of theirs. Turns are now interlaced one unit at a time meaning the game feels a lot more fast paced and combat heavy. This turn system plays hand in hand with another new feature which is the teamwork action. Where two compatible units can take their turn together to focus on a single enemy or on a safer assault. Unfortunately, Chimera Squad does not fix one major flaw XCOM has had in every incarnation, that being the hit accuracy. If you have ever played an XCOM game, you will know that a 90% accurate shot is more likely a 50% chance to hit. Unfortunately, it is still the same in chimera squad. I lined up 3 of my 4 operatives with a 90% chance to hit a single target and surprise, surprise they all missed the mark. You would think that with 3 incarnations now of the turn-based series this issue would be resolved.
The home Base in Chimera Squad is similar in layout to other XCOM games, in the fact that it offers the standard map room, A research bench and an armoury. What I did not like about this is how it is all laid out for you. Research and Development (formerly science and engineering) has been condensed to a single work bench where you can assign a single agent to reduce build times. The map room is simply a table with a 3d hologram of the city’s districts. And the armoury is nothing more than a corner of the base with a group of lockers housing some very bored agents.
Overall Chimera Squad offers some remarkably interesting and new mechanics that would make for interesting missions or tactical options in a full XCOM game, but as a stand alone they are tedious repetitive and do not make for a full game. If anything, the gameplay feels like a tactical S.W.A.T game over an addition to the XCOM franchise.
Audio- Retro and Forced.
The soundtrack in Chimera squad is very similar both in mission and in the home base making it very difficult to differentiate between the more intense moments with its constantly ambient yet somewhat retro synths and militaristic drumline, making it reminiscent of an 80s Sci-Fi Movie. This music however can often be interrupted by the players surroundings. For example when I was tasked with a mission in a night club rescuing a Muton DJ (of all the things), the music would change to some Electronic Dance Music when zoomed in on a character taking a turn whilst standing on the dance floor. This makes the game far more immersive, as zooming in and hearing what they are hearing really help re-enforce the environment that you are in. Although the game insists on switching straight back to the cheesy synths songs the second the camera moves away from the player or the character steps off the dance floor. I would have been nice to have added a feature here whereas, you got further and further away from the music the volume would slowly decline. It feels quite lazy that this feature was not added as its quite a standard in modern games now.
The voice acting in the game, I have to say is one of the features, that is the most questionable aspect. The accents feel like they have been over-characterised to make the cast appear like they are from all different areas increasing the already diverse team even further, to the point where it feels unrelatable. The acting and accents often feel too forced. Although, it does fit in with the new story, soundtrack and gameplay, which overall makes the game feel more ‘Fun’ and opens the XCOM IP to a new audience. But to me to a fan of the series, I just do not feel that cast of Chimera Squad fits in with XCOM’s previous more serious casting.
Graphics- Straight out the comic store
Gameplay wise the graphics are a slight improvement on XCOM 2’s with improved textures, shadowing, and light reflections. The gameplay graphics are a moderate improvement on the previous incarnations, but the cutscenes I feel really take away from it. Although I do love the comic book style designs in the cutscenes, going between the two vastly different art styles, of the gameplay and the cutscenes, it takes you out of the somewhat immersive atmosphere. A prime Example of how immersive Chimera Squad can be is through the breach mode, like in former XCOM games you cannot see into a building you are not directly looking into but now as you enter the buildings and rooms through the breach technique you do not get a perspective of the room until after the whole team has entered and taken out as many hostiles as possible. This is due to the breach mode giving you an over the shoulder view of you operative which gives you a single focussed view of available targets, whilst the rest of the room is blurred and distorted though a fish eye style filter.
Summary – Welcome to XCOM
Overall XCOM Chimera Squad is a great introduction to the franchise and to the turn-based strategy world. The fast-paced missions and zone by zone combat offers an incredibly fun, yet repetitive game. But none the less this game is not for everybody including myself.
I feel this game’s unwitty and carefree characters take away from XCOMS’ well established and incredible story, almost degrading it. Chimera Squads story carried a lot of potential to deliver a very serious and even darker XCOM than its predecessors, but the mix of poor voice acting, varying art styles (each amazing in their own settings), and single track game play makes Chimera squad the weakest of all the XCOM franchise. If I were to say anything this game would be better suited as a stand-alone tactical S.W.A.T or FBI style game in this setting. Overall, for its price I’m willing to say that this would have made an incredible indie game, even go as far as to say a mobile adaptation for X-COM. But this was a game published by 2K and developed by the legendary Firaxis. I would have at least expected something as in-depth and tactical as Enemy Unknown/Enemy Within, in place of what I would title XCOM Netflix Squad. This game however, does give us new dynamics to the genre and the XCOM series and that is why I am giving it a solid 5/10 and hope that the next full instalment of XCOM can revitalise the franchise, and that Firaxis the highlights from this adaptation and add it to the next full installation.