XCOM: Chimera Squad has turned around from announcement to release in record time, dropping in amongst a sea of delays and uncertainty to deliver a consistent, subtly tweaked take on turn based strategic action that ticks all the right boxes.
It's vital to acknowledge that, despite the [welcome] inclusion of truly alien squadmates, character specific abilities, and the punchy new Breach mechanic, this is still the XCOM game you're looking for. Any tweaks to the formula have been made without sacrificing the core essence of this revered and fiercely debated series, and Firaxis should be commended for iterating where it's logical.
Although the lore is dense, and newcomers will essentially be thrown into the deep end with little prior context, the writing and voice acting does a great job of not alienating the uninitiated (pardon the pun) to the point where you're left flailing in the dark.
There's a sense that Chimera Squad is already well established, both in terms of narrative relevance and player attachment; we thoroughly appreciated the vocal quirks of our assembled team, and it made each encounter that much more enjoyable.
You'll begin hands on missions by configuring your breach tactics, assigning characters to particular angles of attack. Some will require a specific item (like an explosive charge, keycard etc...), while others simply demand a good old fashioned door kick. Once inside, you get a first strike opportunity to catch enemies off guard, before continuing with the familiar, turn based back and forth.
These sequences, which can often occur multiple times in the same instance, inject a fluidity to proceedings that fits nicely alongside traditional move selection.
Visually speaking, some animations lack polish, especially when viewed from a closer, more exposing angle, but the character design and overall style feels relatively consistent with previous titles. Cut scenes are stylish, embracing a graphic novel aesthetic, but again the stiff animation feels at odds with the quality voice acting. It just seems like a missed opportunity, and perhaps a symptom of this being a budget priced spin off release.
Unique moves definitely open up your choices in combat, and layer in welcome nuance to the turn based action. Some allow you to modify, and even disregard, the turn order for a crucial moment, redirecting he tide of battle in your favour and setting up foes for their future demise.
There's a slight embrace of the absurd to be found here, with slinky serpent Torque able to literally constrict enemies and nullify their options, while Cherub deploys a defensive shield on an ally and Verge causes the opposition to dabble in a dose of friendly fire.
Although it might seem at first glance to be a somewhat wild departure from the established norm, it's important to acknowledge developer Firaxis' attempt to break out of their conform zone here.
There's a lot going on, and it works in Chimera Squad's favour. Subverting expectation is a powerful technique, and one that they have utilised to great effect. XCOM: Chimera Squad is a thoroughly enjoyable strategic adventure, and well worth checking out. Lock and load for a turn based good time.
XCOM: Chimera Squad is available now, for PC.
Review copy provided by 2K Games.