XCOM: Chimera Squad Review: Police Academy
“XCOM for the poor,” “housewives will like it,” “Firaxis’s Diablo Immortal,” which offensive descriptions didn’t give the spin-off of the famous tactical series. Chimera Squad really does not look like what we are used to seeing in the franchise, and it feels very different. Frankly, this is a rather bold change of course, which certainly will not appeal to everyone. But the main thing has remained unchanged: firstly, playing Chimera Squad is still interesting, and secondly, in spirit it is the same XCOM as before.
WELCOME TO THE CITY 31
Although it must be admitted that there is a much less oppressive atmosphere. Remember how gloomy the world looked in the first and second parts? First, the plot in the spirit of “Independence Day” with the invasion of disgusting aliens, chrysalids hiding in the carcasses of whales, and executions of civilians. And then an even more hopeless sequel with the implacable ticking of the Avatar project counter, zombie invasions of wanderers and hunting for XCOM operatives.
So, Chimera Squad is already a completely different game in mood. This time, the world, in general, is not in danger: the problems are purely local. You take on the role of the leader of an elite police squad sent to City-31 — a metropolis where people and aliens coexist together. Recently, disturbing events began to occur there: the mayor was killed in the city, and mysterious terrorists either abduct aliens, create sects, or open shell companies to cover up their dark affairs. Of course, later it turns out that the Big Conspiracy is hidden behind all this, and the world is still threatened again … But purely formally.
Alas, the loud statements of the developers that there will be a serious plot with meaning in the spin-off did not materialize. Yes, field investigators acquired biographies, unique portraits and model models, and even, you will not believe, characters: this is expressed in short conversations between missions. And these dialogues are written, by the way, very well. Heroes poke fun at each other, discussing the situation in the city, their lives before XCOM, you can even learn something useful from these conversations. But … all this does not affect the game. On the battlefield, the heroes, as they were, remain simply idiots, which, of course, can support a comrade when he performs a useful action («A great shot!»), But nothing more. And the script may have reduced the level of pathos due to a more mundane conflict, but it remained a set of cliches from fiction.
Well, okay. In the end, it’s more logical to go for Mass Effect for a deeply worked out plot, and here we have a tactical strategy — gameplay is more important than narrative. But Chimera Squad is an unusually balanced game: along with a decrease in passions, the scale of strategic mechanics has also decreased. Instead of a large base — a small operational headquarters of the «XCOM police», in which nothing needs to be built, you do not need to worry about energy supply, defend yourself from flying saucers or think out a modernization plan. Instead of a map of the whole world — a plan of a small town with nine districts. Each zone, in theory, should have its own unique architecture of levels, but in reality it is not so easy to find differences. Instead of six active fighters from a couple of dozen soldiers, there are only four in the detachment of the available eleven. Instead of fifty unique research — typical upgrades such as “improved gun — greatly improved gun — very much improved gun”. In short, there is much less content — at first it seems that it does not exist at all.
But do not rush to throw tomatoes on the screen. The change of scale is quite logical, because now we do not save the whole world, but we manage point-by-point sorties and try to prevent lawlessness in a single city. There is no longer a “scan” button to skip the time on the global map: one completed operation equals one past day. By analogy with the previous parts, in different areas on the city map there are always several tasks at once, and you need to constantly prioritize. If you fulfill the main mission, but ignore a side event elsewhere, panic will immediately rise there. As soon as the level of panic in one of the regions reaches a critical point, the level of anarchy increases — this is the local counterpart of the Avatar counter from the last part. And if anarchy, in turn, reaches its maximum, then you simply lose.
This approach has its advantages: a minimum mechanic suggests more dynamics. Panic and anarchy in the districts can be suppressed with the help of observation posts, which are bought for intelligence (one of the three local resources, in addition to loans and electricity for research). We have to calculate our strengths: it’s better to save on weapons, but invest in improving the observation post in a lush area in order to prevent an outbreak of panic. In addition, if the population reaches the red alarm level, unrest will begin — they will also have to be distracted in order to clear levels from enemies and save civilians.
In a word, even though the drama is now unfolding over a few square kilometers, it will not be boring anyway. Yes, at first the anarchy scale doesn’t really bother: we declare quarantines relaxed, send free agents to special operations and thus level some of the unrest. But by the middle of the second investigation (there are three in all), the treasured streak will begin to grow by leaps and bounds. And here adrenaline strikes the head in full: if it is incorrect to calculate forces and drag out investigations, the city will rebel — and you will have to start from the very beginning.
As for the fights themselves, they are all the same outwardly — with one major exception. Now the tasks are often divided into two or three battles (read — phases), each of which begins with the planning of the assault. First of all, you choose at which entrances to the location to place the fighters; in some places you can make your way with the good old explosives. Then we need to give everyone the initial action: someone, say, treats part of the party members before the assault. And only after that you finally break into the location and start an open skirmish. It looks completely new and, it must be said, fresh. The mechanics of preparation are not a decorative lotion, but a full-fledged stage of the battle. And sometimes it becomes decisive, because illiterate actions during the assault itself can send half the detachment to expense.
And this is best avoided, because the death of any operative leads to the failure of the mission or even the whole game (in the «Terminator» mode). In order not to lose, the soldier needs to be reanimated; however, after that they will still lie on the ground until the very end of the battle — they can only be replaced by android fighters. But smart planning serves as a guarantee for a successful outcome of the battle: there is a chance to lay down part of the enemies already at the beginning of the collision. For this, the party members have special “assault” skills: the alien Verge, for example, can raise not too weighty opponents into the air, depriving them of cover and turning them into an easy target.
And here the main feature of the spin-off comes to the fore — your wards. All eleven fighters in Chimera Squad are truly unique and in demand. Of course, their specialization largely repeats the samples from the original. There is Godmother — a stormtrooper with a shotgun, capable of making several enemies at once with a shot over the area. There is a Puff — a snake that enters the hatches during the assault, spits poison and pulls the tongue of both comrades and enemies. And my favorite operative is the alien Zephyr, who fights hand-to-hand. At first, it is rather weak and useless, but if it is properly shaken, Zephyr becomes indispensable. She cuts down groups of enemies with a series of attacks, blocks other people’s blows and shots and, with the support of fellow healers, takes out opponents one by one.
At the same time, you will not be able to go through the whole game with the same four fighters. One can get injuries that significantly reduce its effectiveness in battle, and will have to send him for recovery. Another will need an upgrade to improve health, and it will need to be temporarily replaced by someone else. So in any case, you will use the abilities of all your operatives — and, believe me, each of them will show himself as a valuable member of the team.
And so that you certainly explored the capabilities of each fighter and did not get stuck on one thing, the developers increased the pace of the game. Remember how in the previous parts of XCOM some missions could last for an hour, or even a half? So, in Chimera Squad, each battle lasts about five to ten minutes, and the longest missions rarely take more than half an hour to complete. The reason for this is the reduced size of the cards: now the entire level space can be limited, say, by the room of the bar, where 5-6 opponents have dug in. There is no time to hide and maneuver especially — you need to act quickly, so the fight sometimes lasts literally two or three moves.
True, for the same reason, improvements to weapons that provide reloading without the cost of money laundering seem pretty useless. Why are they needed if during the whole battle you can never once recharge corny? But at the same time it works for the atmosphere: if before it was not believed that literally two dozen enemies lurked on a huge flying saucer, now everything is logical. You are fighting not with huge battalions, but with isolated groups of enemies.
In short, Chimera Squad is not in vain lacking the cherished number “3” in the title: this is not a full-fledged continuation, but a kind of lightweight one — in some places more fascinating, in some places more casual — an option for all known tactics. Something like a series of Revelations in the Resident Evil franchise: everything seems to be the same, but fewer twists. Someone will like this approach more, someone will spit. It is unlikely that Firaxis expected the old fans to unanimously accept the novelty with open arms, but such an XCOM is perfect for beginners — and can be an excellent occasion to get acquainted with the great series.
Have a nice day and play just in good games 😀