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05/18/2020 09:14:01 •••

Good to Great on Every Possible Metric

X-Com Chimera Squad, judged purely on its merits as a game, is really good, and you should go buy it, because it's also reasonably priced and represents good, healthy trends for the industry. In a wasteland of billion-dollar, feast-or-famine video games overstuffed with Revenue Enhancing Devices, this is a great little middle-class, budget sequel that makes up for not having state-of-the-art graphics printed on discs of solid platinum with creativity, strong art direction, and a bold new direction I've wanted for this franchise since I jumped on with Enemy Unknown years ago.

A sequel (and wonderful palate cleanser) to X-Com 2, Chimera Squad takes place in a post-revolution world, where the millions of alien Slave Mooks abandoned on Earth after their dark masters left in a huff basically shrugged and began integrating into a normal society. Just as a setting, that's a great idea, introduces playable versions of the aliens we all love, and sets up tons of great story possibilities the game mostly takes advantage of, as the player commands a SWAT team of mixed alien/human characters.

As a Fire Emblem fan, I rather prefer this game's style of gameplay compared to classic X-Com, where every character is a distinct personality with a unique style of play. I understand it upset some purists that they couldn't rename soldiers after their coworkers or whatever, but to my mind it mostly closes that gap by taking full advantage of the first playable alien characters in the game's history, all of whom run very differently from the human characters, all of whom aren't much like each other! The variety here is lovely, and that's setting aside that it also results in story branch differences that feed replayability, with specific characters being more or less familiar with different crime bosses.

They aren't all necessarily the same kind of colorful cast I'd prefer, but none of them are truly bad (Terminal is probably the worst personality, and even she is more eh than bleh), and some are genuinely pretty rad. Special mention to all three playable aliens. And while the gangs have great concepts, their bosses aren't as developed as I like unless you've picked very specific squadmates, and even then could've been better fleshed out overall.

I also would've liked if the game let the player recruit all possible P Cs eventually, instead of capping out at eight squad members, and while I haven't felt like I need it yet, a respec option would be limitlessly welcoming to new players. And, while the between-mission conversations are generally pretty good and well-written, whether they're snippets of news or squadmate conversations, I do wish there were more of them and that they could trigger more often. Maybe I'm just trying to crowbar in too much Fire Emblem, but some kind of (platonic) Support analogue would let the characters be fleshed out through dialogue with each other more deeply than they are in-game.

And all of that's before we get to the gameplay! On the strategic level, resource management isn't quite as hard as in Enemy Unknown early on, but controlling panic and anarchy levels ramp up in difficulty as more and more gangs get taken down, and those that're left take advantage of the power vacuum. Just having "field teams" is also kind of bland compared to the personalities of manufacturing and research, but cutting down on those makes sense given it's a shorter budget title, and fits the themes of being police rather than soldiers. And it fits the shorter length and reduced scope, which in turn do more to incentivize repeat playthroughs than a million-hour duration would.

Tactically, I like that the battles are generally shorter and settled more-quickly than the hunts from the first game or the sneaks from the sequel, and Breaching is always a fun mechanic involving rapid target prioritization mixed with improvisation and long-term resource management. I also appreciate a return to Enemy Within's style of encouraging faster, less-defensive play via offering rewards, and that many of the characters have access to abilities involving mobility, repositioning, or, in two lovely cases, punishment mechanics to offer great counterplay against the alien forces. And I appreciate that the second game's strong mod support carried over into this one.

Finally, financially, it's a rare healthy beast of a game. Sensibly budgeted, with talented but not name-brand voice actors, and perfectly-good music and graphics that lean more on strong art direction and subtle world-building through little details than the standard huge sprawling whatevers. And they actually do pass the saving on to the consumer, with a $10 price tag during release that dropped to $20 afterwards, so you saved money and were rewarded for being an early adopter. So, if you're even a bit interested in turn-based strategy, pick it up. It's a good time that's not a huge life-eater.

05/18/2020 00:00:00

For the record, the game isn\'t perfect, and I have both some nitpick-y criticisms (Intel, for instance, is a significantly better resource than either of its two counterparts, and that probably should\'ve been rebalanced, and the way the tech tree is organized you won\'t be able to get to the majority of it and most of it will be less effective than just dumping research into better guns and medkits), and I had some significant technical issues I needed to DIY iron out before I could even get it to run properly.


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