Here at Reticule towers I’ve been reviewing Firaxis’ new XCOM game; Chimera Squad. Luckily for you lot I’m a huge XCOM fan so I grabbed the title as soon as it came out to bring you the only definitive review….
However it’s not going to be as simple as I thought. I’ve put 9 hours into it already and feel I need to spend more time on it before I can give you a fair evaluation of the title. As such i’m going to do a ‘first impressions’ piece with.. erm… my first impressions (and perhaps some context as to why I want to spend more time on it), and then I’ll follow it up with the final review late this week/early next.
So jump to the cut for my initial thoughts.
Ok, first things first- I picked the game up on pre-order for under a tenner. The full retail is going to be around £17, and while I can definitely say it’s worth a tenner, I’m currently hesitant to recommend the game at the higher price. This is not to say that it’s a bad game, far from it, but it does feel rushed and there are a number of issues that should have been picked up on play testing that weren’t.
Chimera Squad has a very similar play style to the previous XCOM games. You’re placed in charge of a squad of elite police trying to run-down a number of rebellious factions in City 31- the post XCOM2 city responsible for showing that humans and aliens (all different ones) can coexist peacefully and prosper. You’re a militant FBI in a futuristic proto-eden basically.
The gross structure is the same – pick a mission from a map, go do mission, get reward. Repeat. There’s an overarching ‘anarchy’ meter that anyone familiar with XCOM will immediately understand, and you can research and upgrade as you go along. So far so familiar. Where this title detracts from the template is in the mission types themselves and your squad roster. Rather than be dropped into an arena, have you move to the location, set up an attack and then pursue that to the conclusion- you’re placed immediately into ‘Breach Mode’; one of the highlighted ‘features’ of the game. You select entry points and then you’re in.
Breach effectively gives you a free shot on the enemies and there are bonuses/penalties for using certain entrances. It’s neat. It’s even a little cool when you first use it, but it does seem to be there to gloss over the very small size of most of the arenas and to move you from one combat encounter to the next as soon as possible. You’ll not be doing any movement outside of combat here. Everything is in the room/area you enter. You collect/wipe out the enemy, and then you’re automatically taken to either the mission end/report, or the next breach.
So far I’ve come across missions with up to 3 breaches in a chain. It’s quite jarring to finish the last enemy, only to then be dropped, with no movement, directly into the next breach. Even if the door is 3 paces from your characters you don’t get to move them there- it just jumps.
There’s also a huge suspension of belief here too. The people literally in the next room are supposed to have not heard the war-zone next door and are then somehow ‘surprised’ when you blow through the door.
As a result It’s non-stop action from the second you get into the mission, until the second you’ve finished. It’s exhilarating at first, but after a time I have to admit that it becomes quite exhausting. There’s no down-time in the raid. Never did I think i’d miss the trudging across a map waiting to find that last patrol that could often happen at the end of rounds in the other XCOM games, but without it the game feels almost too quick, too forced. It’s an odd sensation.
That means each breach feels like a separate unrelated instance. More akin to an MMO than a strategy game. I’m still not sure where I sit on it and this is one of the reasons I’m wary of giving my final verdict just yet.
The other big change is that you’re stuck with the squad you’re given (aside from a few preset recruits). They’re all individual characters with their own personalities, skills and load-outs etc and they can’t die. Well they can, but then it’s game over. Initially this was the thing I was most wary about. For me, the joy of XCOM was naming one of my Squad after Nick and then forcing him to die, pointlessly, time and time again. Many others loved being able to name and customise characters after friends, family and co-workers. It added some real attachment to your squad and made the deaths feel meaningful. I worried that removing this option would take a lot of this investment from the game. This, I’m also on the fence about. While I’ve grown very attached to three of my team, the rest I couldn’t care less about, and as they can’t die- why should I?
Finally (for this article at least) there are the bugs and design issues. Of which there are a lot. I’m giving Firaxis a chance to push-out a post-release update to fix some of them before I do the final review, but I have encountered a LOT of issues. These include:
-Two CTD’s (crash to desktop)
-8 game freeze’s requiring forced exit and restart. These seem to be tied to missions with reinforcements.
-Multiple animation and path-finding issues, too many to list.
-Major issues on enemy turns, ranging from long ‘hangs’ to animation issues.
-The alien voice work, outside of Verge, is atrocious. Everyone sounds the same.
-Stun for 1 turn doesn’t work, it does nothing. This needs fixing.
-Berserk only works for one turn, so it feels slightly under-powered.
-The mission load-out screen is un-intuitive and messy, I cant easily see who’s got what equipped and what’s available TO be equipped. Other XCOM games were fine, this new display doesn’t work as well.
-You can’t opt to take a robot in, so always have to field agents. Seems odd to have them as a back up, but not a main option.
-You can leave a downed (but stabilised) comrade on the floor and extract without them and still pass the mission, contrary to all the other games.
-Map re-use. I’m only just halfway through the campaign and I’ve been on the same map 7 times already- for different missions, in apparently different city districts. This doesn’t bode well for replay-ability.
That’s it for now. As you can see I have some qualms about the game.
Don’t get me wrong though, I am enjoying it and it does have promise. I just don’t quite know where I sit on some of these big issues yet and that will ultimately decide the final score. Once I figure it out this week I’ll give you my final verdict.