Review of XCOM: Chimera Squad
Five years have passed since the events of XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. The elders fled from Earth, abandoning everything that was possible on the planet – from technology to aliens enslaved by them. They realized that it was no longer necessary to fight, and signed a peace treaty with the earthlings. This is all, however, on paper, because neither humans, nor hybrids, nor aliens trust each other. And, as the events of the game show, they are doing the right thing.
The focus of the Chimera Squad is not the global organization XCOM, but one of its “branches” – the “Chimera” squad, assembled from daredevils of different nationalities and races. The detachment was assembled recently, its funding (it seems) is near zero, and there is no public trust at all. XCOM sends them to City 31, a “model city” where aliens and earthlings try to get along with each other without bloodshed.
The city, oddly enough, is quite flourishing. The mayor here is from hybrids, representatives of different races and peoples sit on the council, and advertising for unique food that is suitable for all species, except for sectoids, is constantly on the radio. Organized crime, of course, also exists, and the local police have big problems with it. There are not enough working hands, and the three largest groups even wanted to sneeze at the cops. Therefore, a detachment “Chimera” was sent to the city to help local law enforcement agencies and test themselves in battle.
And, of course, anything that could go wrong went wrong.
The mayor dies immediately after the “Chimera” pull her out of the trap. Three groups simultaneously begin large-scale hostilities, hoping to achieve some murky goals. An old, dilapidated railway depot serves as a temporary barracks for the fighters, and instead of a fancy plane they have a decrepit armored personnel carrier. The fact that the detachment does not have enough people, funding and production capacity is somehow inconvenient to talk about.
Firaxis immediately said that it would be a small game (and if you are not convinced by these assurances, then take a look at the price tag), but at first I still want to call it a chamber game. Your squad is tiny, the maps are small, and you will spend three times less on the passage than on the same second part of XCOM.
However, in some places, much is seriously different from what happened in other parts of the series. The main difference that catches your eye right away is the local characters. Now under your control are not random dummies, which you are slowly “sculpting” for yourself – no, in the “Chimera” detachment are quite independent individuals. And each – with its own set of skills, with its own class and with its own characteristics.
In theory, this is a pretty interesting idea, which should have made players constantly shuffle their squad and come up with various tactics. Partially it turned out, however, there is still one serious problem – some heroes are tempted to be called “no alternative”.
For example, the Terminal. In the same XCOM 2, she would be a support fighter – with a drone at her shoulder and a med pack in her teeth. The trick is that her med pack is literally infinite, and you can even use it every turn. Moreover, it can be in any corner of the map, the drone will still fly where it is needed and heal. Or Puff – it knows how to attract allies or enemies, sprinkles all living things with poisonous spits, and also has obscene bonuses to evasion, thanks to which most of the game was a tank. There are eleven heroes in total, but in one playthrough, you can hardly try all of them.
And if it’s no joke, then “juggling” the heroes, constantly changing the composition of the squad is an interesting activity. And sometimes it is just necessary, because if someone is seriously injured on a mission, then he will earn not only experience, but also a scar. These scars spoil the characteristics of the characters, so you should get rid of them as soon as possible. And what is needed for this? That’s right – throw a soldier out of the squad and leave him in the training center for a couple of days.
Finding the “ideal” squad composition is actually another problem. Shotguns seem weak at first, but the owners of this type of weapon quickly unlock very powerful and useful skills, which compensates for the lack of range. Members of the support squad run around with rifles, and both of my fighters were completely diverse in this sense. The terminal of allies heals and gives them additional moves, and Verge at the same time breaks the psyche of the enemies and forces them to fight with each other. He can – he’s a sectoid.
The saddest thing about all this diversity is that the authors did not manage to somehow clearly describe the characters. You can learn a little more about each by referring to the curriculum vitae or by watching a minute video from the dossier. But they are practically not revealed directly in the game. Negotiations on missions are the minimum, it is impossible to communicate with them at the base, and as a result, the only thing that somehow reveals the Chimera fighters is the rather rare dialogues between them at the base. True, they are somehow more about jokes, there are practically no serious heart-to-heart conversations.
And this is damn insulting. Why make characters individual and write biographies for them if they don’t develop? So that we know that cats were handed out to mutons after the invasion, because they wanted to learn how to live in peace with others?
Other things have changed as well. For example, cards. I mentioned above that they are much smaller than those in XCOM 2, but let’s explain in detail. If in the previous game you were given a whole city block (or even a couple) to be torn apart, then in Chimera Squad you will have access to one or two small rooms at a time.
I write “at a time” for a reason: each battle here is a series of several isolated skirmishes (usually 2-3 pieces), where you first break into a building, shooting the most arrogant opponents, and then proceed directly to the battle plan. At the moment with the “break-in” you need to choose which passage your fighters will use, what skills they will use and whom they can smudge on the wall while the “assault” phase of the battle is going on. You will also need to choose in what order the fighters will go inside, and this is very important – because the order directly affects the fighters’ initiative.
Yes, here’s another big difference from the previous installments in the series. Chimera Squad has become more reminiscent of some turn-based role-playing games. Now you don’t have a single unit move, each fighter acts independently, and a lot actually depends on the order of the move. You will constantly have to choose who to fire first (and who to substitute for the bullets), and who will have the dubious honor of unloading a stunning mine in the doorway with your body. You will have to carefully read all the bonuses and penalties at a specific breakout point, think about which of the heroes would be better off applying this buff (or “easeing” the penalty) – the mechanics, in general, are pretty good.
But this is not without its drawbacks. After going through one segment of the map and moving on to the next, you can no longer go back. The game is constantly driving forward, so there will be no tactical retreats with ambushes and games of staring with superior enemy forces. I have a twofold attitude toward this innovation. It seems to be correct, there is nothing to start a trench war and give the opportunity to escape right before the start of the location … only sometimes the maps become ridiculously small, and you have to get out like Houdini never dreamed of.
For example, one of the story cards is a small room of 15 × 15 cells. There are four of your fighters, ten people are enemy at the beginning of the battle, one of them is the boss. And if you do not have time to cut down the portal in the middle of the hall, then several more enemies will be thrown on your head.
Challenge, all the cases, but the need to fight in such cramped circumstances is sometimes seriously depressing. In this case, you do not even have the opportunity to escape from the mission, leaving a couple of agents captured by the enemy and failing the task. The death of a character, a key hostage or the destruction of a necessary object is the end of the game, and escape from tasks is not provided here at all. So you have to spin to the last. I actually managed to win a couple of missions when a half-dead fighter and one barely waddling android remained in the squadron.
In general, the gameplay on the missions is similar to the previous parts – you get comfortable in Chimera Squad quickly if you played. Unless you have to get used to the individual sequence of the move.
The tactical map fuss has also changed. Since you do not control the entire XCOM organization, but a separate detachment, you do not need to wander around the world. Instead, the game puts you at the mercy of a city divided into nine districts. They regularly experience various kinds of crises that need to be promptly resolved, as well as side assignments where you can get hold of something useful. The point is that in one game day you can do only one task or resolve one crisis (you can close one crisis “for free”, but the opportunity for this does not open immediately) – and the remaining unresolved cases will increase the discontent of the residents.
Five units of discontent in the area – and the city will begin to be covered with a wave of anarchy. If you somehow manage to bring the anarchy counter to 14, then the game is over, so it’s better not to delay with the resolution of crisis problems.
Otherwise, everything is more or less standard. Research weapons and armor to become stronger, research various gadgets like tracer bullets and incendiary grenades, train your blockheads in the tricks of war and help them unleash their potential.
Here, except that it is worth paying attention to the fact that you may come across epic guns. No, this is not a crossover between XCOM and Diablo, just a number of weapons here have certain skills (and do not look like the standard ones). These legends can be obtained as rewards for side quests or bought on the local black market. The cannons are useful, the only problem is that you never know in advance what skill will be pumped on the barrel.
The fact that the budget of Chimera Squad was less than that of the previous game is indicated not only by its scale, but also by its technical condition. XCOM 2 was also far from a gift at the start, but the main problem there was in performance. Something absolutely wild is going on with Chimera Squad. The game runs smoothly, but literally at every second action, you may be crashed to the desktop with a request to send a bug report.
Moving to another zone? Departure. Used a healing ability during the assault phase? Departure. The game crashed for me even if I gave the order to the Terminal to use its “ultimate” – stabilization and treatment of all team members. In just eighteen hours of playing, I managed to fall out on the desktop twenty times.
And do not forget about the typical “Ikcom” bugs. Dancing corpses, operatives shooting in the opposite direction from the target, a camera flying away “through the roof” (after which it is necessary to fight literally by touch), as well as various problems with saving. Autosave reloads, for example, completely break the timer of enemy reinforcements, which makes the mission simply impossible to complete.
Well, the enemy AI is absolutely phenomenal here, of course. Enemies either demonstrate a high level of strategic planning, then try to poison your immune-immune characters. Either in a couple of actions they cut out half of your squad, then for some reason they huddle together behind one flimsy wall, as if waiting until you throw a grenade there. A special hello to the berserker mutons – I met them literally a couple of times during the entire campaign, and they constantly did some kind of nonsense. While you can do this, they are brainless by default.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is an extremely interesting game. A kind of light version of XCOM, more compact and in places much simpler than the original, but with interesting ideas and sensible implementation. The only pity is that the developers simply did not tighten up many things to an acceptable level. It is interesting to play, however, this cannot be taken away from Chimera Squad.
P. S. Localization in the game is simply awful – endings, cases and genders are mixed up, in some places there are grammatical errors and inaccuracies in translation. If possible, it is best to play in English.