Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 1: First Off The Ramp

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I set the scene, glossed over the tutorial, and gave a first impression of our new probably-Germany-bound secret base. When we left off, I’d just been called into Mission Control by Steve, who sources tell me is called ‘Bradford’ but who I will stubbornly refer to as Steve, because of… hell if I know. Because of alien-related tomfoolery, I suspect.

This is what Mission Control looks like from the outside:

The blue border is optional, though.

This still being a halfway-tutorial, Steve helpfully explains what’s going on. Apparently, the aliens have struck at two countries simultaneously, doing whatever it is they do in attacks like these. I think they’re abductions? Regardless, even though I have plenty of material and manpower, we can only respond to one of these attacks. The country I rush to help — assuming, I guess, I manage to halt the alien incursion — rewards me for my help, while panic will increase in the country I ignore. I’m not sure what ‘panic’ means in game-terms, but I’m sure it’ll turn up at some point.

The aliens have hit Miami in the United States and Chongqing in China. The States offer me four scientists if I help them out…

I *could* make a joke about the USA and scientists, but I’m way too classy for that.

…while the People’s Republic will pay me two-hundred… what are these? Simoleons?

You’re telling me I can go into certain danger to protect you from aliens, and you’ll give me *fake money* in return?

Since I don’t know how and in which quantities both are good, I’m going to have to make a gut call. Let’s see… I love science. Wow, that was easy! To Miami, then.

In the Hangar, my squad is waiting. The game seems to have automatically selected the first four soldiers on my list: Squaddie Elijs Dima and Rookies John Tovik, Val Loween and Ranneko Jones. I don’t think I can select anyone else? Again: probably a tutorial thing. Not that there’s any particular reason to change out anyone but Dima: Rookies are all interchangeable.

From left to right: Val, Elijs, John, Ranneko.

I play around with equipment settings a bit, but there’s really not a lot to be changed. Each soldier carries a main weapon, a sidearm, an armor and one additional item. For the Rookies, that’s an Assault Rifle, a Pistol, a Body Armor and a Frag Grenade, with no option to change anything…

…though it does give me a chance to divine at least three character classes…

…while Heavy-class Dima has traded his Assault Rifle for a Light Machine Gun and his basic Pistol for a Rocket Launcher. Again, no option to trade anything out.

Though why you would *want* to trade out a rocket launcher is beyond me.

Beyond that, there’s not really a whole lot I can do. So let’s load ’em up! A cutscene plays, the Skyranger lifts off, and I watch a little green icon circle around the globe, to Miami.

“FREE TRIP TO FLOR-I mean, let’s all solemnly get these aliens or whatever.”

Mission objective: neutralize all hostile targets.

Collateral damage: ACCEPTED.

This second mission actually has a few more tutorial-elements, introducing such wild elements as ‘opening doors’ (as opposed to ‘smashing through them’), ‘climbing ladders or drain pipes’ and the advantage of height.

The fact that that drain pipe can support the weight of what’s basically a small car with legs is proof enough that we are in the future.

Oh, and there’s aliens here. Two of them, with their weird bug-like eyes, just kind of skittering around.

As they tend to do.

As soon as Squaddie Dima walks within their line of sight, they skitter to cover. Aliens get a free move to cover when first spotted, it seems; I guess it would be a little unfair otherwise, just having them sit in the open.

Then again, these are aliens. When have they ever played fair?

Tutorial mandate makes me move the rest of the troops into various covers. The little grey aliens, which one of last episode’s screenshots tell me are called ‘Sectoids’, fire at Dima and miss, his air conditioning-based cover taking the brunt of the attack.

A counterattack is, of course, imminent.

EAT LEAD, BUGEYES.

Then, after Rookie Jones successfully flanks the second Sectoid, the tutorial reins are off.

Natural 20!

Clearly, there’s more aliens on this map, or the mission would’ve been completed by now. The next few turns are a rather uninteresting slow advance: still wary of everything, I hardly ever dash, instead moving each soldier a regular amount and then initiating Overwatch. I’m not going to lose anyone on my first real mission, let me tell you this.

Basically, four-or-so turns of slowly creeping forward with no enemy in sight.

Two more Sectoids are spotted just outside a little shed to the… let’s assume Up-equals-North and call it Northwest. Upon discovery, they immediately skitter into the little shed.

“Hey”, the game chimes, “I know I said I’d let you take care of things, but this would be an excellent time for Squaddie Dima to field-test that rocket launcher of his!”. I happen to agree, but run into a problem: the rocket launcher, like the grenades earlier, has a limited range. And when I move Dima up into range, I learn the hard way that firing a rocket is a full-round action.

Also, I’m largely unsure what that 90% means. Miss chance? Misfire chance? Probably something like that.

Dima, Loween and Tovik take shelter behind a cargo container, while Jones takes point behind a few stacked wooden crates, high enough to still provide full cover. The Sectoids helpfully illustrate why there is more involved to picking cover that just that little shield by firing at Jones: the first shot of plasma fire splinters the wooden crates in much the way you’d expect globs of superheated plasma would. The second shot, now fired at a fully-exposed Jones, hits. Four damage.

Yikes.

Alright, Sectoids, lesson learned. Dima’s still not in rocket range, so I tell Jones to high-tail it out of the combat area. This turn, everyone Hunkers Down in a corner, and the aliens’ plasma globs sail wide.

It’s rocket time, now. The game helpfully suggests that I move Dima up to the highlighted squares to take a shot, but since we’re no longer in tutori-land, the game can go suck it: moving Dima would delay the rocket by another turn, which implies another round of Sectoid aggression, and I am not losing a squad member in the first mission. Besides, a little creative aiming allows me to hit the shed anyway.

I didn’t get a screenshot of the rocket in flight, but I did get a screenshot of the aftermath.

And with that, victory.

Dadadada da da DA-dadaa.

The squad, victorious, returns home in the Skyranger. Ranneko Jones, who killed one Sectoid, has earned a promotion: to Support! It grants him access to a once-per-mission Smoke Grenade.

I’m assuming his near-brush with death taught him the value of defensive action.

Because now-Squaddie Jones is also the only one to get hit, he’s sent for a stay in the medbay’s new plasma burns unit.

It’s *like* Disney World, only with extensive skin grafting.

Finally, I’m shown what we managed to bring back from that mission…

No, I don’t understand either why there’s only two Sectoid corpses. Maybe the rocket impact pulverized the other two?

…and shown the results.

While I’m happy with the rewards, it’s a little upsetting to find out that failure to protect *China* has spread panic *all over Asia*.

Both Steve and Scary #47 Council Man congratulate me on my victory, with Steve additionally trying to support me in my resource-mandated failure to help China too. He invites me to the Situation Room, where I am shown this:

A visual indicator of how well I’m doing! How *droll*.

This is an overview of the Panic state of every Council member nation. As you can see, most are low: only China is at 3, having recently been attacked, and the rest of Asia is at 2, because China is a part of Asia. Panic spreads, after all. Panic is Bad, obviously: if a nation reaches peak Panic (5) there’s a chance they’ll withdraw their support from the Council, instead electing to focus their defense inwards. Should this happen too often, the XCOM Project will be dissolved. And that would be Bad.

Playing around with the system some more, I can tell there’s an additional mechanic in play here with regards to the satellites: it seems as though having more satellites in orbit will get me more monthly funding, as well as more Scientists and Engineers. I have no idea why I’d want this, beyond the basic ‘more money is good’, or how I’d get to obtaining more of these satellites, but I hope to learn more about this in the next episode.

Next episode: I do not learn more about satellites. I do, however, learn more about the aliens.

19 comments

  1. There’s plenty reason to grab a pistol over a rocket launcher. Rockets blow things up, and exploded bits are hard to retrieve and subsequently research. Ergo, pistols = science! It makes perfect sense.
    It’s gonna be a fair while until I get the cheeve for exploding aliens. I, too, am a sucker for science.

    1. Although, once the Sectopods and other heavier aliens enter the field, you’ll be thankful for bringing rockets and grenades.

      1. I once killed a sectopod with one person in one turn. YOUR 30 HEALTH MEANS NOTHING.

        (Colonel Heavy + plasma heavy weapon + HEAT + bulletstorm = DEAD)

      1. I like to think that your character is pro-rocket. If Mythbusters has shown us anything, it’s that explosions and science can coexist peacefully.

        (Come to think of it, that exact thing will happen in a few episodes.)

  2. In our running series of “Let’s see what Jarenth has not yet found out”:

    – There’s exactly one thing you can switch the rocket launcher for. All I’ll say about it is that it requires a successful battleship raid (which I’d like to request while I’m talking about it).

    – Actually, aliens only get a free move if they spot *you*, which means a lucky sniper can sometimes get stealth kills.

    -I’ve mentioned this last time, but the 90% from the rocket launcher is indeed accuracy. What I didn’t mention is that if your attack roll falls short, it won’t just harmlessly fly into the background, oh no: that sucker will deviate from your selected route, and can deviate straight into your unsuspecting squadmates.
    Moral of that story: if you want to fire a rocket, make sure the rest of your team is behind the heavy. I’ve yet to see a rocket do a 180.

    As always, we will be watching.

        1. He has a habit of commenting about things I missed as well.

          I’m going to step outside the narrative for a second here to indicate that I like comments like these, when structured constructively. So keep ’em coming.

          1. Ah, I see. This is the first LP of yours that I’ve read, so I was unaware of our mutual habit.

            Like I said last time: anything I can teach you might help to keep me alive. Assuming I’m still alive, that is. If not: FORGET EVERYTHING!
            At the same time, it’s also a fun challenge to think ahead and try to figure out what you’ve already discovered and what not.

  3. I’m disappointed to see that I wasn’t, despite the promise/threat, to be the second one off the ramp.

    Actually I was aware of this before, and I already knew there wasn’t a ramp to begin with so the promise/threat was a bit hollow on that front. I mean, without the ramp it’s kind of meaningless to be the second or first. You’re just one of the buggers in a lump.

    Therefore I propose the threat “first/second out of the lump” when using people’s names in a game of Xcom.

    1. The lack of a “ramp phase” is a bit of a disappointing omission, compared to the old X-COM games. No more “grenade in the Skyranger, everybody dies” moments. Although you can be discovered by every single enemy in the first turn, if the map is small enough. So at least the game is still capable of throwing fairness out the window and flipping you the bird while it’s at it.

      Personally, I’d go for “first/second into the meat grinder/terror mission”.

      1. I don’t think I’d miss the ramp half as much if the sound of footsteps on it wouldn’t be engraved to my mind as the mark of the beginning of a mission.

  4. I chose China, because I couldn’t resist the urge to get mo’ money. Turns out it was a good idea and also a very bad one at the same time.

    The bad part was that I ended up with 5 panic in the US by the end of the month and they left the council. Ouch!

    The good part was that, as far as I’ve seen, scientists are much less required than engineers/money. I had like 5 scientists in the first month and 3 more in the second one and had no problems with research. On the other hand I had severe engineer-lacking problems and couldn’t build stuff that I really needed because of it. And money is always good, fake though it may be. There’s ALWAYS something cool you can spend money on.

      1. As a small critique/endorsement: I really love how you played ahead a bit and occasionally throw some cookies about what may happen in the future episodes.

        Well, it was more of an encouragement than a critique, but you get the idea.

    1. Until you start running out of materials, especially elerium and to a lesser extend alloys. And the US leaving the council? Ouch, that’s $180 per month you’re not getting…

      But yeah, this last play through I got money or engineers when possible and even though research STARTED slowly it was totally fine by midgame.

  5. In my experience, satellites are pretty much the best thing to spend money on early game, because they give you more money at an insane rate. Like, they pay for themselves in a single month, sometimes quite a bit more (like the US).

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