XCOM: Chimera Squad Review

Screenshot of tactical combat screen in XCOM: Chimera Squad
In XCOM: Chimera Squad, all agents in a team don't have their turn at the same time.

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Firaxis
  • Publisher: 2K
  • Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
  • Time played: 27 hours

What is it

Back in 1988, brothers Julian and Nick Gollop formed a gaming development studio in the UK called Target Games. After releasing a few turn-based tactics games in the late 80s and early 90s, Mythos in collaboration with MicroProse games, released UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka X-COM: UFO Defense) in 1994.

UFO: Enemy Unknown was a critical and commercial success (selling over 600,000 copies on the DOS platform) and has since become a classic game in the turn-based tactics genre. It's thanks to the game's success that many sequels and spin-offs were released during the rest of the 1990s and early 2000s. There were also imitators such as the UFO series of games by ALTAR Interactive.

Eventually, Firaxis (a development studio formed by ex-Microprose employees, Sid Meier, Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds) went to work in developing a reboot to the original UFO: Enemy Unknown called XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The game was published by 2K in 2012, and like the original UFO: Enemy Unknown, it was a critical and commercial success. Its sequel called XCOM 2, released in 2018, was also a critical and commercial success.

But despite all these successes, Firaxis wanted to try something slightly different and XCOM: Chimera Squad was the result. While at its core, the gameplay is very similar to XCOM 2, there are also some major differences, such as agents, regardless of faction, taking turns, instead of one whole faction taking a turn before the other does. You're also limited in terms of customisation of your agents in this iteration of XCOM as each agent has their very own personality and unique skill tree as opposed to the class-based skill trees in the normal XCOM games.

XCOM: Chimera Squad is set a few years after the events of XCOM 2. The alien organisation ADVENT that was controlling Earth is now defeated: humans and aliens now co-exist in cities like City 31. While local law enforcement is able to keep most things under control, a terrorist attack against the mayor's life results in an elite squad of human and alien operatives known as Chimera Squad to investigate who is behind the attack and to bring the perpetrators to justice. You play the role of the Commander of Chimera Squad and you're placed in charge of this investigation while also ensuring that City 31 doesn't fall into anarchy while you go about it.

The PC version of the game received a Metascore of 77 which indicates generally favourable reviews. The game fared about the same on Steam where the game holds a "Mostly Positive" rating with 73% of the 16,629 user reviews being rated as positive.

Critics praised the game for its interesting narrative, accessibility and its price. However, there were some criticisms made about the game's bugs, its sometimes short and repetitive battles, and its discarding of traditional XCOM concepts such as permadeath and character customisation.

How I got it

I purchased XCOM: Chimera Squad in April 2020 as they were offering a huge discount on the game meaning I got it for only $15 AUD.

I do enjoy turn-based tactics games and the XCOM series in general so it made sense to try ou Firaxis's latest offering in the franchise, especially at such an affordable price!

Considering how little free time I have available nowadays to play games, it thankfully only took 6 months for me to complete XCOM: Chimera Squad.

Screenshot of Breach Mode in XCOM: Chimera Squad
Breach Mode is one of the key features in XCOM: Chimera Squad

What I like:


Since XCOM: Chimera Squad is more small-scale and intimate along with agents that have well fleshed out backgrounds, the post-war world seems more convincing, and I love the banter and camaraderie between the different agents. You can even unlock extra dialogue depending on which agents you recruit: for example, I recruited an ex-police officer called "Blueblood" which resulted in him chatting with his former boss the Police Commissioner during a mission briefing. This helps give the game some replay value as you'll want to play it again with different agents to ensure you don't miss out on all the conversations.

In fact, I think the developers may have missed out on an opportunity here as the the development of extra missions similar to Mass Effect 2's loyalty missions for each of the agents would've been welcome additions to the game.


I love it when soundtracks employ leitmotifs or themes and the soundtrack to XCOM: Chimera Squad is one of them. Phill Boucher has created a theme for Chimera Squad that sounds more epic as you progress through the game's acts which helps you get attached to your team of enforcers, like they're characters from your favourite cartoon (in fact, come to think of it, this game does share some similarities to the 80s kids show COPS. All you need now is Chimera Squad shouting out "It's crime fighting time!" and you're set)!

Firaxis Audio Director Griffin Cohen and his team also do a great job in psyching the player for a new mission while on the Breach setup screen. The music dynamically changes: the more agents you add to the line up the more instruments or layers are added to the music. It's subtle but it's something I love about computer games that's not really replicated in other mediums. Oh, and speaking of Breach Mode...

Breach Mode

Unlike other XCOM games, Chimera Squad places a lot of emphasis on Breach Mode. As you progress through a mission, you'll be given the opportunity to breach and surprise attack the enemy forces in each room. This reminds me of other police games where there is considerable focus on executing successful breaches such as Door Kickers and Rainbow Six: Siege. It's definitely a mechanic for the Hannibals out there who love it when a plan comes together, resulting in a few enemies being taken down before they even get a chance to react.

Turn order is important

Unlike the main XCOM games where XCOM and the opposing force take turns (i.e you move all your agents in the same turn), this isn't the case in XCOM: Chimera Squad: instead your agents generally alternate their turns with the enemy. One of your agents will get a turn, then one or more enemies will have their turn before another of your agents gets a chance at theirs.

This is quite a change for XCOM veterans but for those that have experience with other turn-based tactics games (e.g. The Banner Saga, Omerta: City of Gangsters, etc.) will be familiar with what is going on here and the importance of having your agents earlier on the timeline: in fact, there are even abilities to push your teammates earlier in the sequence.

Determining whose turn is next in the timeline adds an extra level of complexity to the game and missions become similar to football matches where the more possession you have the more control you have over the game's outcome: basically the more you can deny the enemies having a chance to take their turn, the better your odds of victory.

Non-lethal route encouraged

Although Chimera Squad is only called in for the most dangerous of situations in City 31, it's still technically a law enforcement unit. Consequently, the non-lethal (but riskier) route of subduing suspects and arresting them is encouraged, and you'll be rewarded with valuable intel when you do this too.

Lack of permadeath

While this is a contentious issue for XCOM veterans, I'm actually supportive of the fact that there is no permadeath in this game not to mention permadeath for some of the characters would make the game incredibly difficult, I mean, what happens if the only medic in the game dies? Permadeath works in the traditional XCOM games only because you're able to determine how you want to spec your characters and you always have a supply of new recruits to replenish your ranks in case you tragically lose your teammates: this isn't the case with Chimera Squad which is probably why they decided to drop permadeath as a feature.

While the game might seem more forgiving because your agents can't die, when your agents bleed out they are afflicted by scars. Scars can severely debilitate your agents making them less effective in missions and the only way to remove the "scars" is to have them recuperate for a few days meaning they miss out on missions. Depending on which agents are currently in your squad and which enemies you're apprehending, this can either be a minor annoyance or a serious problem (e.g. losing the tech-savvy agent Patchwork when you're up against droids).

Steam Achievements and Trading Cards

There are 40 Stem Achievements you can earn but unfortunately, no trading cards to collect.

Screenshot of City 31 Map with its districts
It's up to Chimera Squad to make sure City 31 doesn't descend into anarchy too

What I dislike:

Difficulty Spike

For most of the game, Normal difficulty seems to be the sweet spot and provides just enough of a challenge for those familiar with turn-based tactics games but aren't exactly geniuses at them. There have been a few missions where I've been close to being defeated or I've actually had to restart but when you reach the final Sacred Coil mission (Sacred Coil being one of the factions you're sent to investigate) there is a huge difficulty spike. You'll go up against a lot of tough enemies and if you don't take them out fast enough, they'll keep spawning reinforcements. It took me several goes to complete the mission even after dropping the difficulty down to "Story Mode" and the mission will require you to be surgical with respect to which targets to take out and well versed in your agent's abilities.

Small scale

While this didn't bother me that much it has to be said that the game definitely operates on a smaller scale than other XCOM games as you're only focused on 9 districts of one city instead of overseeing the defence of the entire globe.

Only one dedicated medic

Each of your agents can carry a medkit but there's only one agent who has a healing GREMLIN drone which makes her the team's de facto dedicated medic. If she is unavailable for missions (because of injuries or training) it can make some missions incredibly tricky.

Bugs, glitches and crashes

Like previous XCOM titles there are a lot of bugs and graphical glitches such as agents kicking open a door but the door not actually opening or agents crashing through windows that don't actually shatter.

The worst issue I experienced though was when the game crashed on me for some reason. During one mission the destruction of a power core by a specific agent triggered the game to crash (despite its destruction being the mission objective). Fortunately, I was able to workaround the crash by restoring the game and pushing another agent up in the timeline in order to destroy the core. Imagine if you were playing in Ironman mode though where you can't choose when to save the game and you only have one save game file: if you encountered the same crash I did you'd probably have to restart the entire game. Frustrating.

Score – 8/10 (Recommended)

XCOM: Chimera Squad is a cut-down version of XCOM that does away with permadeath and character customisation to focus on the exploits of an elite counter-terrorism unit investigating the murder of a mayor in a post-ADVENT world. The game could have used more polish and the difficulty spike at the end of the game is infuriating but the addition of Breach Mode, an overhaul to the way turns work, an awesome soundtrack and a colourful cast of characters are all very welcome. Recommended.

Is the game worth $29.95 AUD?: Yes. The game often goes on sale for half-price though (like it is right now, as I type this review) and it's a steal at that price, especially if you're a fan of XCOM or turn-based tactics games.

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[ LINK: XCOM: Chimera Squad Official Website ]