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XCOM: Chimera Squad offers the distilled essence of an XCOM game in a smaller package

I love the XCOM games, but I have to admit I’ve always struggled with them. Managed to beat Enemy Unknown on my second attempt (and with lots of save-scumming), and despite two attempts at XCOM 2, I always fell off it when the difficulty skyrocketed in the mid-game.

Chimera Squad, however, turns out to be exactly what I wanted from XCOM all along!

The game trims away a lot of the frustrations I had with the previous entries, leaving behind a shorter, tighter, and less challenging distillation of what I loved about its predecessors: high-stakes, best-in-class tactical combat in a B-movie wrapper.

Almost all of the systems of the previous XCOM games exist in Chimera Squad in one form or another, but immensely stripped down. You still have a meta-game of securing resources, training your troops, and researching upgrades in between missions, but without the base management. And the fewer overall options leaves less room for error should you choose a less-than-optimal path.

Speaking of less room for error, the structure of the game makes it almost impossible to enter a no-win death spiral. Your soldiers are all predefined characters (you eventually build a squad of 8 out of 11 choices), and if any of them dies on a mission it’s ‘game over’ and try again, so you’ll never lose your main squad.

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One of the most satisfying new additions to Chimera Squad was the Breach Mode. You start every fight with a choice of which breach route to take (some of which provide buffs or debuffs to your characters, depending on where in the breach sequence you place them), and then you get a turn of slow-motion breaching where each character gets to take a free shot. It was a lot of fun to try and make smart tactical decisions at this stage to see how many enemies you can take out before combat rounds begin. I also really enjoyed the change to the turn format, where it alternates between you and the enemy. Smart tactical play becomes more about reducing the number of (and sometimes outright preventing) enemy turns, making your successes snowball into crushing victories!

Further, the arenas you fight in a re much smaller than in the traditional XCOM games, and you see all of the enemies at once, so no more repositioning for an angle only to stumble on reinforcements. Instead, Chimera Squad has you go through a series of “encounters”, where you can breach through multiple rooms per mission, leaving fun tactical decisions like “should I use this character’s once-per-mission ability now, or save it for whatever is in the next room?”.

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All of this amounted to what I think has been my favourite XCOM to date! While it’s length came in at around 25 hours, that’s the perfect length for me with a game like this. And while I am sure that veterans of the previous entries might find the reduced overall difficulty to be too easy (by the back half of the game I was playing a much looser and riskier game as a result of being a little over-powered), I found the format a lot more enjoyable when the challenge became more about executing a flawless encounter than avoiding disaster.


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