In true alien fashion, Chimera Squad arrived out of nowhere and invaded my gaming habbits for the last month or so, occupying 47 hours of precious playtime. Preconceived ideas of it being a vertical slice of what a “usual” X-COM experience would be like based on its 9,99 price-tag I can safely- after having played through and through- that I’m more than pleased with what ultimately is very good tactical game and even more so, an excelent sneak-peak into the world beyond the battlefields of X-COM. Chimera Squad stands out as what a spin-off should trully be- keeping the base gameplay nearly intact, shaking things here and there to provide a fundamental different expecience that feels familiar and welcome to fans of the genre. Make no mistake, tho- for each funny and memorable character, interesting background information, smart new abbilities and skills Chimera Squad is also chock-full with numerous bugs and technical problems. Let’s get going!
Deep into STORY– Welcome Chimera Squad, the world/galaxy deadliest and most diverse police force. If humans lost the war against the alien invasion in the first X-COM reboot, X-COM 2 saw a bunch of rag-tag resistance fighters smacking down the Advent and their otherwordly overlords. In this new iteration, Chimera Squad shows the player what follows Advents’ apparent demise- The war is no more and City 31 exists as an experimental beacon of coexistence between humans and the various species that took part of in the Elder Invasion. After Mayor Nightingale is assassinated at the start of the game, shadows of a not so distant past hauntingly hover above the city streets, threatning to put an end into a human-alien fragile, yet peaceful existence.
Shaking up classic GAMEPLAY– There are two monumental changes to the core gameplay of what one could call “the traditional” X-COM (reboot) experience. The first and most notable difference is that turns no longer process in the same manner of moving the entire squad, ending turn and the enemy does the same. The new system works on a priority basis for individual unit movement. Usually you move a unit and perform an action, the enemy does the same and so on. It’s an interesting twist to the basic formula of entire squad movement because battlegrounds tend to be smaller and the number of foes has significantly dwindle to fit its’ urban and indoor environments and themes. The recipe of squad movement would spell entire destruction for the second team to go. Most encounters happen at near-melee distance so 80-100% hits are far from uncommon here. If you’re facing 6 enemies and you could move and gun down 4 or more in a single round with no challenge then things would plummet quickly into the boredom realm. Keeping things in a priority basis allows for interesting skill set-ups and squad interplay while punishing overly agressive players. Sure you can one-shot that mutton but then what happens when Cherub is out in the open and the enemy will move 2 units than can take him down?
The main set-back with this system shows its rear, ugly head in the last echelon of missions where the number of enemies is inflated beyond any conceivable reasoning just to spike up encounter difficulty, achieving nothing but frustration. When fighting a ridiculous disproportionate amount of foes the gameplay devolves into the enemy moving four or five units at a time until you’re able to react. This practice is even more egregious when the game decides to pull some bullshit and spawn inconsiderate amount of combatants with little to no warning and you’re completely unable to prepare for such an onslaught. Unfortunately, those 95% extremely fun and engaging missions ended up being tainted by a sour taste left in the players mouth in the last 5% of the game with some victories feeling like cheating- ending up being little more than reloading saves until the AI decides to move 2 or 3 units into the same place and you can blast then with a grenade and level the playing field a little bit.
BREACHING the monotony– The second addition, this one being most excelent, is a clear nod to the thematical nature of the game. The first X-COM has you going into the Unknown (get it? Because Enemy Unknown?) and exercising extreme caution in every encounter because no one trully knows what lies ahead. The second entry created the very fun stealth mechanic that turned the player into an apex predator, being the one that strikes first, unseen, unheard, from the shadows. Chimera Squad introduces the BREACH mechanic. You assign the members of your Squad different entry locations and priorities of entrance and, upon kicking doors, smashing windows and crawling through vents the game slows down and the player is given a number of action it can take. Far from complicated, the obvious option is to shoot everyone you can either oneshot or take down the most dangerous assailant in the room, if you ever encounter some enemies trying to react and shoot back just make sure to use the phalanx skill from Cherub so it taunts the enemy into shooting at his shield.
The positions in which Squad units are put also limit what kind of skills and items they can use: The first unit breaks the door and the second one flashbangs the room but is prevented from using any inate skills like healing the squad-for example- but the unity in the third spot can’t use their breaching items but can use skills. And adding to that that most encounters range from 2 to 3 breaching phases the player needs to take into account the items they have and the shuffling of units between breaching spots to achieve maximum sucess.
PERSONALITY over PERSONALIZATION– Chimera Squad ditches the randomly generated soldiers and enlists fully voiced and fleged out characthers, each with its own skills, bits and bots to play around. This is one of those parts I would really love to go deep talking about it but it is also one of the best to explore for yourself but let me say that there’s a sectoid Fox News-like anchor, a segment about muttons owning cats and trash-talk between the members of Chimera. This anchors down the idea that a multicultural group of inter-galaxy species are trully putting aside their differences to try and make City 31 and Mayor Nightingales’ project work. Former foes turned friends, a ressonating message in these trying times no less. One thing that might annoy those of us that enjoy tinkering around with the way our pixeltruppen look and play is that guns and appearance are both locked from the get go, what the game gives you is what you get. Does Terminal have a SMG and looks like a less hot version of Jack from Mass Effect 3? Yes, so she’ll keep using a SMG and look like a less hot version of Jack from Mass Effect 3. You can’t equip a pistol, a shotgun, a SMG is all you get. Want to equip some cool police gear? Changing uniform colours is all you get, no customization for you!
ARSE of an ARSENAL?– You see, the eternal pacifist that lives within these wargaming texts has a weird fascination with the innards and contrivances behind killing instruments, namely fire arms. Maybe it’s that satisfying clacking and slapping of the inner springs and hidden mechanisms coming into being for twisted, nefarious deeds. I love having visual feedback for every single gun in a videogame. A simple shotgun should not look the same as a Mastercrafted Shotgun. Unfortunately Chimera Squad is way off the mark with having only two visual variations for each weapon, one being the basic Saturday-Night Special and the other one its’ more alienated version you can loot. To cover for this shameful lack of ordnance the looted alternatives come with extra skills, some of it game-changing. Lets’ imagine my shieldboi Cherub, he is carrying a lame mastercrafted pistol- sure it does massive damage but that is it. Now imagine this shieldboi carrying an yellow looking gadget of doom, way too large for his small alien hands. Now imagine that shieldboi has the skill of shooting twice every couple of turns because of his new toy, opening entire new tactical avenues such as killing 2 frail enemies or a thick one in a single turn, pretty impactful if you ask me. I found myself thinking a couple of in-game days ahead when trying to tackle really difficult missions because Cherub was injuried and he was the only one in my Squad that could use a pistol (and a shield).
Chimera Squads’ arsenal feels like missed oportunity in less-than-lethal weapons, which stands out as weird in a SWAT/Cops theme. You would think that bringing peace into City 31 would be more complicated than gunning down entire buildings of baddies like a wild west sheriff. The only way of taking enemies in is by knocking them out with a melee strike of any kind. By the end of my campaign I had wiped out entire city blocks by killing 7 enemies for each enemy capture: 723 kills! Solar’s system most lethal police force indeed. It’s also kind of disapointing that flashbangs and other breaching utilities can only be used in the breaching phase. Where the game offers great variety is in all other kind of explosive gadgets with shock ‘nades, plamas ‘nades, poison ‘nades and all sorts of exploding bits.
Chrysalids and other BUGS– By now, it seems that launching X-COM in a buggy state is almost an unavoidable, milenar a tradition and Chimera Squad is no different from its’ main entries. For 3 times the game crashed to desktop mid-mission out of nowhere; the camera kept on slipping the cameramans’ hand across the whole campaign, shaking widly and pointing everywhere and nowhere. Your units will stand one square away from the enemy and suddenly spin 180 degrees, shoot their guns and spin back to their original positions. These are not game killing bugs but they happen frequently enough to become a hassle.
Overall this intergalaxy Rainbow Six Siege stands as a valuble addition to the X-COM franchise that I wholehearted recommend, a great value per credits proposition.