XCOM: Chimera Squad isn’t the next entry in the main XCOM series, which dates back to the early 1990’s. This means two things: it’s not a full priced $60 game, and it’s not as in-depth as a game in the main series. What some might call “XCOM Lite” or a mobile version of the game, I would argue has a surprising amount of things to do and still manages to keep you engaged for hours at a time. For those of you unfamiliar with XCOM, it was a grand strategy game from the 20th century in which you as the leader of the XCOM program, lead Earth’s defense against alien forces. A few sequels were produced, until eventually the series was rebooted in 2012 with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. This title would later receive an expansion update, XCOM: Enemy Within which added new elements to the same formula. That same year there would be a spin-off title called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which attempted to take the series in a different direction, and wasn’t as universally loved as the main series. Falling back onto known successful strategies, XCOM 2 would release in 2016 and the series would return to greatness along with receiving a bunch of updates and the full expansion XCOM 2: War of the Chosen. I would say that Chimera Squad falls somewhere between a spin-off in the same way as The Bureau, and a full XCOM title because the game is not too far off from the main series in terms of gameplay and also carries on the story from the two games that are part of last decade’s reboots.
Looking at the screenshots above, you wouldn’t think this wasn’t a part of the main XCOM series, and to a degree you’d be correct. The combat system present in Chimera Squad is familiar to anyone who has played these games in the past. This style of tactical combat is somewhat standard form in other genres as well, so you should feel at home with the mechanics right away. Where some differences emerge is in the new “breach” system, and the addition of encounters. Each mission will consist of 1-3 encounters in which your same squad will have to fight and survive til the end, along with completing other sub tasks as needed. Each mission starts with a breach, where you can arrange your squad in order of entry along with selecting differing entry points depending on your squad makeup. For example, if you have someone with a breach charge equipped, certain walls can be blown up to gain breach bonuses while one particular agent you can recruit has the ability to enter through vents. Otherwise, you’re pretty much playing as you would expect, and after missions end you return to HQ, much like you would in the main series.
HQ is probably the biggest change that makes this game feel like “XCOM Lite.” Instead of having a sprawling base and some options to customize, you’ll have what equates to a police station. Your crew of agents hang out in the locker room where you can equip them with new gear that’s found via missions or built by you. Research takes place, and takes days to complete, but will open up new options for your agents. You can buy stuff from a black market. You’ll spend most of your time looking at the city screen, where you essentially monitor the happiness of each borough. If people are scared/pissed, there will be anarchy, which equates to a new mission you have to complete in order to lower the angst. If too much angst happens all over the city, it’s game over. You do have tools to deal with this though, where you can send teams to each zone and have them do stuff to lower the overall terror level. Upgrading them provides you with abilities to automatically lower terror or freeze the level where it is so it won’t raise for a while. These abilities are on long cool downs though so you’ll have to use them wisely. There are different missions that advance the story, but you’ll have to wait days for an investigation to end so that you can properly enter that mission and progress. In the meantime, you’ll be trying to maintain order by doing side missions in different areas. It appears that there are different factions and though you can only choose one to focus on, I’m unsure if you end up investigating them all or just one per game session. Whatever the case I didn’t quite finish the investigation I am on at this point, so I can’t say exactly how a game is completed.
Though there is voice acting there wasn’t much time put into the story that brings everything together. Most story bits are told through cartoon like stills and barely animated sequences, though there is more dialogue and what have you during combat missions and in HQ as well. The overall story carries on from the 2012 reboot to now. In that first game, Earth was being attacked by aliens. In the sequel, the aliens had overtaken Earth and the last vestiges of humanity were working together to take Earth back. This continues from there, where essentially the war ended, much of the alien forces left, much of humanity was killed off, and the remaining humans and aliens have attempted to create a unified civilization. It seems to be working, but there are various factions of aliens and humans that are against unity and that’s the stuff we’re around to squash.
Overall I think the story fits well enough in the context of this universe and the gameplay is reflective of the series while being easier to just jump in and go. It really is a “lite” version of a game we already know but it somehow works. It’s also a very attractive price point if you are itching to play XCOM but can’t bring yourself to fire up the older games. At $20, you really can’t go wrong. Just don’t expect the same epic overtones as the originals.