Combat rarely lasts longer than a handful of rounds in the newest XCOM. In each encounter, XCOM: Chimera Squad kicks in the door, dives headfirst into an intense firefight, then walks out through a pile of bodies a minute or two later, dusting themselves down, a little scarred perhaps but eager to do it all again in the very next mission. XCOM’s turn-based tactical combat now comes in condensed form, relieved of extraneous matter, and for the most part all the better for it.
Assuming the human resistance triumphed in XCOM 2, the eponymous Chimera Squad is a special task force composed of human and alien soldiers that also serves as a symbol of a newfound cooperation between species. Dissidents remain, however, and so when the mayor of City 31 is killed in a terrorist attack, it’s up to the Squad to track down those responsible. The stakes feel a lot lower than the global emergencies gripping previous XCOMs, yet the smaller scale of the situation dovetails perfectly with the tight-knit group of characters under your control and intimacy of the tactical maps on which they’re deployed. There’s a focus and clarity of purpose here that stands in sharp relief to the sprawling saga of a typical XCOM campaign.
Indeed, Chimera Squad feels like it spins the Geoscape and puts just one city under the microscope. Nine districts comprise the strategic map, each day highlighting a few of them with new missions to undertake–some advancing the story, others providing valuable resources and gear. Ignoring one mission in favour of another will raise the level of unrest in the neglected district and contribute to a citywide measure of anarchy that spells game over if it tops out. Despite the lower stakes, there’s still an urgency to your mission, especially as the doomsday clock of city anarchy ticks closer to midnight. And the strategic layer does a decent job of forcing decisions over which missions and districts you need to prioritise, even if it’s mostly a dry game of resource allocation that fails to evoke any kind of emotional response to the lives sacrificed along the way.