A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that XCOM: Chimera Squad is a downloadable turn-based strategy game for Windows PCs. The game itself is focused on near-future sci-fi combat. Players control a squad of noble and compassionate soldiers attempting to keep shadowy forces from causing chaos and tearing apart a city filled with human, alien, and hybrid citizens. Factions within the city are loosely based on cultural identities and ideologies, creating a basic allegory for real-world cultural tensions and tolerance. Action -- involving guns, explosives, and mental abilities -- is viewed from a raised perspective, but the camera zooms in to show particularly brutal kills, depicting blood splashes and sprawled bodies.
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What's it about?
XCOM: CHIMERA SQUAD distills the series' turn-based tactical combat into bite-sized missions, some of which last just a few minutes. It presents us with a post-XCOM 2 world, one in which humans, aliens, and hybrids have learned to live together -- or are at least attempting to. Players take control of a special tactical squad sent to City 31, which is suffering uprisings from multiple local factions. The goal is to assist the police in keeping control of the situation by carrying out investigations and taking on missions the XCOM squad is uniquely suited to handle, including hostage rescues and prevention of terrorist attacks. Missions take place on much smaller maps than previous XCOM games and are typically broken into a handful of distinct enemy encounters, each of which begins with a sudden breach into a room or area that lets players take the initiative. The turn-based action that follows is largely XCOM as usual, with players moving units between positions of cover, healing, shooting, and leveraging unique abilities, such as controlling the minds of enemies. Between missions, players engage in base management activities that involve researching and purchasing weapons and gear, recruiting and training squad soldiers, and dispatching field teams to help quell situations and gather resources in different sectors of the city.
Is it any good?
This isn't a numbered game in the series and -- as its lower price hints -- it doesn't have the scope or depth of one, either. But that doesn't mean XCOM: Chimera Squad isn't worth a look for fans of turn-based tactics. Its designers used this game-between-games to try out some interesting new ideas for the series, some of which don't work, but many of which do. First, the bad news. You don't get to customize and name recruits (the cast is full of named characters, each with their own backstory and unique abilities/skill trees), and the franchise's renowned permanent death feature has been removed. If a character dies, it's game over. You don't get to continue on without them. If a hero is seriously injured, you need to stabilize them before they bleed out, then have them undergo rehab back at base to recover from any wounds with lasting effects. The breaching feature, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. Bursting into rooms without seeing enemy locations reduces strategy to a degree, but it also keeps the game moving quickly, ensuring you're always in the action rather than spending time moving around empty battlefields.
But what this mini-XCOM really gets right is pacing. Not just within missions -- some of which last just a handful of turns if you're efficient -- but also back at the base. Less important story details play out over broadcasts in the background so that you can devote your attention to other activities as you listen. And while there's a nice range of base tasks to keep you occupied, they are – much like the missions -- snack-sized, and rarely keep you from jumping back into the action before too long. The story also marks a bold shift forward, giving us a closer look at how society has shifted since the alien invasion, drawing parallels between tolerance of aliens/hybrids and our own real-world racial and cultural issues. By the end of this game, veteran players are likely to have a much better understanding of this fictional universe. There's no denying XCOM: Chimera Squad feels like an experiment, and you shouldn't expect to see everything here incorporated into the next series game, but hopefully Firaxis will keep the bits that work.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in the media. Is the impact of the violence in XCOM: Chimera Squad affected by the imagery that shows humans, aliens, and hybrids as equally capable of both compassion and hatred? Does this create more sympathy for aliens than what we see in some other games?
Have you ever faced a situation where none of the available choices was perfect? How did you handle it?
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