This is a review of the new XCOM spinoff game by Firaxis, XCOM Chimera Squad. XCOM Chimera Squad released with very little fanfare a week or two ago and had an early purchase 50% off discount on Steam. Now that I’ve played through the game (twice), I have a pretty good idea of why. This game is a bug-riddled mess.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s still a good game, underneath it all. But there are so many bugs and weird design issues with this game that it’s really hard to ignore. Let me make an analogy. If you’re familiar with laptops, you’ll get this. XCOM Chimera Squad is like a good, budget laptop with great internals, but the chassis is made out of plastic, it gets 20 minutes of battery life, and it heats up to 10,000 degrees.
Here are some of the problems with XCOM Chimera Squad that I have to point out in this review. First, it crashes constantly. There’s a pretty well known crash that most people get where the game crashes when enemy reinforcements arrive, about 30% of the time. But it also crashes pretty frequently outside of that, just randomly. In two playthroughs of this game, I’d say it crashed or softlocked at least 25 times.
Second, the optimization in this game is horrible. My laptop can effortlessly play The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, etc. This game, which has the graphical fidelity of your average indie game, causes my laptop’s fans to spin up to airplane-landing decibel levels, and the thing heats up to the temperature of molten rock. It’s insane. It gets so hot I can actually smell it. The thing, though, is how little this game seems like it should demand of a laptop. The resources it takes up just from idling in the menu are just nuts.
The tooltips are full of typos, odd capitalization, strange word choices and stylistic inconsistencies that make it feel like it was translated from another language back into English. It’s bizarre, frankly.
It’s got every kind of bug you can imagine. Animations not playing, UI buttons working sometimes and not working other times, scenes that strangely can’t be skipped even though they’re not different or more important than other scenes, visual oddities like floating characters. Just, every wacky, stupid bug you can imagine is here. These are not big deals like the crashing and the insane resource utilization, but they give the whole thing an air of being unfinished. For a great example, here’s the victory screen I was met with when I beat the game:
Looks like I got… 46… “N”? and 1 “SSIONS” whatever that means. The garbled text doesn’t even fit in the UI.
So, that’s all window-dressing in the end. Those are things they should clearly just fix, but I don’t think they make a significant impact on what the game actually is, which is essentially an indie strategy RPG in the sort of $20-$30 value range occupied by Supergiant Games (Transistor, Hades), Red Hook Studios (Darkest Dungeon), and Harebrained Schemes (Shadowrun, Battletech). Actually, Supergiant’s Pyre is probably the most similar game I can think of to this game in terms of scope and playable characters, although certainly the gameplay is quite different. The gameplay is very similar to Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun series which was derivative of the original XCOM gameplay.
The graphics of this game are fine, except for the fact they seem to be wayyyy more resource intensive than they should be. They’re not exceptional. There’s very little style to them overall. It’s that sort of fantasy photorealism that works well in a flight simulator from 1995 but just doesn’t have any wow factor in the 2020 games scene. You’d be forgiven for thinking some of the main characters were just generic units based on appearance alone. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the 2d art style either. I found a lot of the portraits to be very plain and not representative of what the character models actually looked like. It sort of clashes with the photorealistic 3d of the game, as well. The art style as a whole doesn’t seem cohesive.
In terms of gameplay, I quite like the core of the gameplay, because I like strategy RPGs, but there were elements I really didn’t get. Breaching is an alright concept, but it takes way too long. In fact, everything in this game takes way too long. The animations are soooo slow.
The upgrade systems are decent enough. Kind of a standard skill tree. A bit barebones, but it gets the job done. I don’t want to complain about this. For this scope of game, skill trees are a welcome addition. The problem is not the system, it’s whoever did the ability designs. The balance in this game is all over the place. Some characters get insane abilities at every level, some get hot garbage. Characters have a choice between ability A or ability B at rank 2 and 4, but one ability is almost always clearly better than the other one by a huge margin. Some of the skill designs are really cool, like Zephyr’s, and some are completely lacking in inspiration, like Godmother’s.
The story is incredibly… standard. There’s nothing special about it. Your squad is new to City 31, the mayor dies, and you have to investigate 3 different factions and engage in a series of several battles with them before destroying their leader. It’s like Ghost in the Shell Standalone Complex, but without any of the actual, uh, story. Like, if it was just the most generic plot imaginable in that universe. It didn’t make me think. It didn’t make me feel. It didn’t make me care about the characters.
The music is forgettable. Quite literally. I can’t remember it. It made zero impact on me.
The whole execution of this game harkens back to a day when tech kids made games because of the wonders of this crazy new computer language called C. The vibe of this game is very Linux, Commodore 64, Visual Basic, 1995 Windows Logo. By vibe here, what I mean is it feels like those things are what the people who made this game think is cool. It lacks the style and artistry that really sets games in this category apart.
All that said, and I realize I just ragged on this game for like 2 pages, I liked the game. Holistically, I liked it. This kind of sRPG combat really gets me. I like it a lot. Harebrained Schemes’ Shadowrun series is one of my favorite series of all time, and this game’s gameplay is very similar. I like skill trees and customizing my characters and having a wide roster of unique characters to make a team out of. I did like the characters in terms of gameplay, even though many of them looked incredibly generic (Claymore, Godmother) or downright ugly (Cherub). The plot was serviceable in the sense that at least it had one, and being able to choose which faction to go up against was kind of cool.
I wish the game fixed its bugs. I wish the 3d art style of the game was more representative of the 2d art style. I wish the animations were faster and more dynamic. I wish some of the character abilities were more inventive and delivered more choice and customization. I wish the story was really good instead of feeling like an item on a production checklist.
If they had done those things, this game could have been a B+, maybe even an A-. But it’s really hard to say XCOM Chimera Squad is worthy of more than a C in an honest review, and I say that as someone who really wanted to like it. I am this game’s target audience. And I did like it, in sort of the sense that even bad pizza is still pizza, you know? For $10, which is what I paid for it, it really did deliver tremendous value at that price point, though.