As videogames series go, Firaxis’s XCOM has been consistently fun to play and high quality. XCOM 2, and especially with the 2017 DLC War of the Chosen added, was certainly a high point. The fact that we compare just about every tactical strategy game since then back to XCOM makes it the (very high) bar that so many titles try to match, though most fail to even come close.
And yet, even with that success, there were still questions, namely when we would ever see another XCOM game. I mean, we won the war in XCOM 2 (and we also kind of won it in XCOM, though we were asked to forget about that when the sequel came out) so there was not really anywhere to go story wise. I suppose the alien lords could have come back to Earth for another round, but if XCOM 3 didn’t change anything, then it would just seem like an extension or another DLC for XCOM 2. It almost looked like Firaxis would be a victim of its own success, never able to top its previous glory.
But the developer proved to be pretty clever once again. Instead of putting out yet another world war type title, Firaxis decided to pair down the scope of their latest release, XCOM: Chimera Squad, to just one city. And instead of being in charge of a worldwide insurgency, you are the captain of an elite police force charged with keeping the peace in a place known as City 31 five years after the war.
Now, City 31 is special because there is a very high concentration of both humans and aliens living there. After the war, the Elders were either dead or dying on some far off planet. All of those alien creatures that were fighting the war for them got left behind on Earth. The ones that decided to surrender ended up eventually getting released from interment camps, and many of them are now living in City 31. So you have a human and alien population, which used to be fighting one another, now working in the same offices, living in the same apartment complexes, and working on the same assembly lines. Who knows, maybe they are even falling in love.
The world government wants City 31 to be an example of how everyone can live together and get along now that the war is over. And although the city has its own police force, your squad is called on for high-risk, priority missions that really couldn’t be accomplished by a less trained team. And like the city, you command a mixed race unit of humans and aliens. You are a bit of an experiment too, and your team’s fate will be tied to that of the overall city.
City 31 is divided up into nine sectors and each one has a level of unrest that can rise and fall with events taking place there. Generally, completing a mission in a sector will lower the local unrest while ignoring it will cause discontent to rise. But you only have one squad, and can only go on one mission per turn, which is a day of time in the game. Multiple events hit at the same time. So you might have a hostage situation in one sector and a bank robbery in another, and will have to pick and choose where to send your limited resources. If discontent gets too high in a sector, it adds a level of unrest to the city at large, as well as spawning an anti-riot mission for your team. And if the overall city anarchy gets too high, you lose the game, you know, just like how the Advent Project timer worked in XCOM 2, only this time you have a lot more control over the counter.
You don’t make characters in Chimera Squad. They are all premade, but at least they are interesting, with nice dialog between them at times. You also get to use some of the alien’s inborn abilities if you run your squad with them. For example, Verge is a sectoid with powerful mental capabilities and the ability to disorient, stun or even control bad guys while Axiom is a muton who is good at smashing things, like cover and lawbreakers. While Chimera Squad does not have defined classes, many of the characters generally follow archetypes from XCOM 2. For example, Blueblood (one of the most effective characters) is a human sniper type with gunslinger abilities. But in general, each potential squad member has a unique upgrade path.
You can only ever have four agents in your squad, and eight at your headquarters, so you wont meet every possible character during one playthrough. You are assigned squad members the first time you play, but thereafter can pick from the limited pool yourself each time by disabling the tutorial.
The missions are intense by design and throw you right into the action. Every single mission begins with a breach action. At this point, time slows down and everyone on your squad gets to take a shot before the enemy can react. In addition to shooting, some characters have special breach abilities that they can activate instead. Mastering the breach is a key to winning a mission, as you can drop the most powerful opponents sometimes before the tactical combat even starts.
Some missions have multiple stages, which means multiple breaches. Those can be quite challenging if you can’t heal your squad between stages, though you at least always reload. Since every mission starts in combat, there is no downtime like in XCOM 2 on missions. You wont have to walk a mile through a forest to find the enemy. Chimera Squad puts you in their faces from jump.
Many of the tactical missions are part of an overall story regarding someone who is purposely trying to destabilize City 31. You will have to go on priority missions to slowly unravel the conspiracy and even fight several boss-type battles with either really powerful enemies or waves of reinforcements. Some of those missions where you are holding out against waves of reinforcements are more exciting than the main one.
I have to say, I really loved XCOM: Chimera Squad. While its not quite as deep as XCOM 2 in a lot of ways, and I do miss character creation, it’s nice to jump right into the action sometimes. This is one of those games where I didn’t want to stop playing. After completing it the first time, I jumped right back in again to try out some new things. The fact that its available on Steam for $20 makes it an amazing deal for a AAA quality title. Depending on how you fight and how long you spend at the headquarters planning and fabricating new gear, there should be about 40 hours of gameplay. And then you can always start again.
XCOM: Chimera Squad may not quite be the XCOM 3 title we have been begging for, but in a lot of ways it might actually be better. Especially for action-oriented gamers who like to fight at the tactical level and not so much at the strategic one, Chimera might just be what the field medic ordered. Now if you will excuse me, I’ve got a city with millions of human and alien souls to protect.