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XCOM: Chimera Squad review: Tactical discount

Xcom: Chimera Squad is more than just a spin-off, it's a complete reimagining of the XCOM formula. Are these changes any good or is Chimera Squad a discount nightmare for the series? Our review.


It’s been four years since XCOM 2 took the world by storm, giving players more of the great turn-based tactical gameplay that has dominated the series since the original in released in 1994. In that last installment, Firaxis changed things up, offering a bigger and better experience than available before. With XCOM: Chimera Squad, the developers are looking to change things up yet again – but this time in a more drastic way.

By title XCOM: Chimera Squad seems like another perfectly welcome entry in the series. But once you dive into it, and start really experiencing the nuts and bolts, you’re going to realize quite quickly that this isn’t the usual XCOM that you know and love. That isn’t a bad thing, though, and XCOM: Chimera Squad offers a new approach to the series in a completely standalone experience that might just leave you wanting more.

The path less traveled

This isn't the first time that 2K has tried to break off from the basic formula in an XCOM game. In fact, it’s pretty hard to forget about 2013’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, the weird third-person shooter that left much of the XCOM community divided. While it might not have hit the nail on the head as well as Enemy Unknown or even XCOM 2 in 2016, XCOM: Chimera Squad doesn’t look to make quite as many drastic changes to the formula.

You’re still working with the basic ideas of XCOM. Players take turns making moves, attacking enemies, and all of that. Unlike normal XCOM, though, Chimera Squad utilizes a timeline system similar to RPG games that rely heavily on AP Points. It's a system reminiscent of RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin, Tyranny, and Pillars of Eternity. Instead of moving all of your allies at once, you’ll need to take turns, moving them in turn with the spot that they appear on the timeline. It’s a very different way to approach the XCOM formula – and one that requires you to think outside the box – but it still manages to scratch that XCOM itch.

On the other hand, though, this might seem like a completely different type of game to some players. If you’re not a fan of timetables and the like, then you’ll probably find yourself struggling to enjoy the combat in Chimera Squad. If you don’t mind trying things out from a new perspective, though, you’ll find that Chimera Squad is still very much an XCOM game, even if it looks a bit different from the outside.

Exploring new frontiers

Make no mistake, while XCOM: Chimera Squad looks and pretty much plays like an XCOM game in most capacities, it’s a completely different type of experience. The player-built armies of past games are gone, replaced by static characters in a developer-set pool of recruits. You can’t customize them like you would in previous games, and the biggest consequence of your failure – the loss of your best soldiers – is no longer a threat here.

Unlike previous XCOM titles, which saw the permadeath of soldiers when they die in combat, Chimera Squad instead focuses on a bleedout system. When a character is downed, they enter a stage of “bleeding out”. If the player is unable to make it to that character, and the soldier perishes, the mission will have to reset at a checkpoint. You cannot lose characters anymore – this was probably the biggest change that we noticed during our time with the game, and easily one of the most jarring.

Of course, you’ll also find that the hub area is a bit different. Where previous games made you upgrade and build facilities, you’ll now find that they unlock over time. Each system still works very similarly to how it did in past instances of the game, so players shouldn’t feel too lost as they get used to things.

Tactical goodness on a budget

If you’re looking for a good XCOM experience that won’t break the bank, then XCOM: Chimera Squad hits all the right notes. The story is a completely standalone experience, and while it is set after the events of XCOM 2, it doesn’t actually follow as a direct sequel. The game introduces several new mechanics, all of which work out really well in the XCOM formula.

A particularly favorite addition of mine was the breach system. At the start of each mission area, players set up their characters in different areas. These areas can often offer bonuses, debuffs, or new avenues to attack. It gives the game a very unique tactical feeling, as setting up your characters in the right spot can make all the difference -- especially on higher difficulties.

Players will need to harness the powers of both human and alien soldiers as they work to police City31, and try to build back up the civilization that was lost between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and XCOM 2. While the revolution is over, the fight for peace is just getting started.

XCOM: Chimera Squad does a great job introducing players to alien and human characters alike. Each of which has a distinct personality and feel to them, bringing their own special abilities along for the ride. Being able to force your way into the enemy’s mind and have them attack their allies with Verge's Berserk move was a welcome addition to the power at my fingertips, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t mind seeing more XCOM experiences in the same vein as Chimera Squad.

Whether you’re picking it up at full-price, or grabbing it during the special launch sale, XCOM: Chimera Squad is a fantastic gem, and an excellent spin-off for one of gaming's most celebrated strategy franchises.

This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. XCOM: Chimera Squad will be available on PC on April 24, 2020.

Guides Editor

Joshua holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and has been exploring the world of video games for as long as he can remember. He enjoys everything from large-scale RPGs to small, bite-size indie gems and everything in between.

Review for
XCOM: Chimera Squad
  • Fun standalone story that introduces new characters to the series
  • Great timeline-based combat that feels at home in the XCOM formula
  • Captures the XCOM feel while offering a new experience
  • Changes might be too jarring for some XCOM fans
  • Lack of permadeath for characters takes away the series' biggest consequence
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