s10129107's XCOM: Chimera Squad (PC) review

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Game Hobbling Bugs hold X-Com Chimera Squad Back

X-Com Chimera Squad is an attempt at shaking up the lauded formula made popular in X-Com Enemy unknown and X-Com 2. Chimera Squad differs from the old tested formula by simplifying "on base" gameplay, introducing named and "developed" characters in the place of the traditional roster of randomly assigned soldiers and changing up how the fundamental turn-order works in-mission.

The base-building element doesn't really exist in X-Com Chimera. In it's place is a different take of the world map with 9 city districts to manage. These city districts can be upgraded for various rewards but the upgrade paths seem shallow and uneven. I had upgraded them all to their maximum level of "Rank 3" prior to completing the second third of the game. As you proceed various missions and "situations" (situations are essentially non-gameplay rewards that move the overworld clock ahead) pop up on the map for you to address. In typical X-Com fashion it's up to the player what to tackle and what to ignore. Unlike previous X-Com games, if the distress meter fills up all the way on any particular district it simply raises the city's "Anarchy" level. As a result, at least on the default difficulty level, managing the world map is a non-issue and removes that core component of long term stress and uncertainty in the overall progression of the game which is one of the most compelling components of the X-Com experience.

What's laid out before you is what remains of the X-Com base building and overworld map experience.
What's laid out before you is what remains of the X-Com base building and overworld map experience.

The overall structure of the game is divided up into 3 "investigations" which can be selected by the player in any order. Each third of the game provides a different roster of enemies to tangle with which require different approaches. As you progress through the story you'll get a drip feed of characters to choose to add to your roster. Unfortunately the game doesn't really tell you too much about what a character can do or even what weapon they may use. The result for me is that I just kind of picked the character that looked the coolest and hoped for the best. The characters' abilities are fun and diverse enough to make the tradeoff from developing your own roster worth while. As far as the design of the characters goes, they give you a smorgasbord of soldier types, aliens and human hybrids that you'd be familiar with from the previous series. They look visually good and fit in the blocky art-style of the game. The voice direction and writing of the characters is alarmingly bland. They all seem to have a generic chummy guy at the precinct vibe to them which is a strange contradiction to the back story they laid out for these people. Also it is beyond me how you can have such an eccentric roster of humans and aliens but the Snake lady sounds like a white girl from California and the Muton sounds like he's doing his laziest Vin-Diesel impersonation. Another curiosity is that over hours of everybody talking to each other like they are people they kinda know around the office you'll get an out of place tidbit of how difficult it is to go on in a job where you lose your teammates. Is it a meaningful addition... not really... does it matter... not at all.

Given that you're flying blind in picking which of the three investigations to start with and which of the characters you pick out of the bucket the difficulty is alarmingly uneven. I had picked an investigation revolving around a criminal faction called the Sacred Coil (a human alien hybrid cult) to start the game. Whether the game felt very easy, a good challenge or very hard changed dramatically with every mission. Also, as the end of that act had a boss room that was difficult to the point of being unfair and absurd. A lot of the unfair difficulty of that last fight could be mitigated if you picked different characters or picked the Sacred Coil as your 2nd or 3rd investigation but there is no way for the player to know that without seeking outside information. The second third of the game was a cakewalk, requiring no real depth of though to get through the game or deal with the overworld.

While you're in a mission two things jump out at you immediately. The first being breach mode. Instead of inching up your characters and cycling between overwatches and reloads between encounters you are moved immediately to a door that you can breach at the beginning of every mission and after the last enemy is eliminated in every encounter. At the beginning of every encounter all your weapons are reloaded and your badly hurt members are healed a bit. You can then take 1 free shot per character in what feels like the Men-In-Black target range. All this streamlining substantially hastens the pace of the old games but removes a huge chunk of the strategic positioning that the previous games were known for. That being said, a time or two I found myself doing silly things like juggling the last enemy left in a stun-state so I had the time to heal up all my guys. The second big overhaul is the turn structure. In previous games, your entire team would go, and then all the enemies would have their turns. In Chimera Squad the turns are mixed up between your teams and the enemy activity based on the order that you breached the door in. Again, the strategy feels dumbed down in that you don't have so much of a focus of where your units need to be given their weapons and powers and are instead considering the best way to eliminate the bad guys who show up between your squad's turn. Eliminating or disabling an enemy before they can take their turn results in your next guy being able to jump the line and lather rinse and repeat. It's not all that simple but this is the strategy I employed for the majority of my time with the game and didn't really have to change it up much.

The revised turn order mixes things up... but not necessarily in a good way.
The revised turn order mixes things up... but not necessarily in a good way.

Game Bugs highlighted as they happen in the devleoper console.
Game Bugs highlighted as they happen in the devleoper console.

Unfortunately the second chapter is all that I had completed as into the 3rd world my shotguns and armor just disappeared. As a result, I could not switch or upgrade weapons or armor. In place of the weapons and armor there were 50 medkits. Why? Who knows. After a brief consultation with the internet, I found that this is sadly a common issue and the only solution is to restart the game from a save point before the problem started (which you cannot do unless you manually save constantly and are aware of who has what weapons) or enable the developer console. While I was able to add the default weapons and armor back, the stuff would just disappear again and you could not upgrade your equipment even if done properly through the game. The developer console does make it clear when there are errors happening but there is naught you can do about it.

This game was certainly a surprise when it was announced and for the 10 dollar pre-order price it seemed like a no-brainer if you're into this series. Sadly, while the new ideas and characters in X-Com Chimera Squad do offer a fresh look at what the X-Com franchise could be, the changes are a mixed bag and the uneven pace and difficulty can be boring or frustrating and the game breaking certainly don't help matters. If you're still curious I would recommend waiting until Firaxis irons out all the bugs and perhaps offers this game up at a discount.

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