Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 2: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I completed my first mission — without losing anyone — and was fully introduced to the mechanic of Panic and halfway-introduced to the notion of satellites. Like, one of these introductions where you can’t really hear the other person’s name over the noise, so you just nod and hope that it doesn’t come up ever again? Like that. I don’t know what satellites do, yet, nor why I would care, so I’m just going to ignore the whole idea until XCOM decides to tell me.

Or until I lose from ignoring satellites completely. But really, would that happen?

Steve calls me into Mission Control. Dr. Vahlen’s research team, he tells me, has started investigating the Alien Materials I told them to look at… but ‘the process could take a few days’. In the meantime, though, our satellite network (!) has come online, and I can use it to start scanning for alien threats!

Hey, remember that swanky globe?

It has a cool new button now.

As you can see on the globe, I have one satellite in orbit over Germany, conveniently outlined in green. I can also see a few of those green X-thingies, which I’m going to assume are XCOM base locations. Which puts my European base in… Poland? Poland or Belarus. Man, that’s crafty: the aliens will never think to look there!

I press the ‘Scan for Activity’ button, and time speeds up. The light on the globe rapidly shifts as the clock counts down at a rapid rate, dropping those seconds like a dubstep bass in our quest for alien contact. Surely, it won’t take long before we detect any alien shenanigans this way.

Five days pass this way.

“Day four. The numbers change. Still no aliens. The numbers keep changing. Why do the numbers keep changing?”

Well, aliens, if you’re gonna be like that, I guess I better pay attention to this research what just completed.

Woo! Progress!

Dr. Vahlen, already tired of these exotic extraterrestrial materials, asks for permission to cut up the Sectoid corpses I brought back in an attempt to learn more about the invaders’ physiology. I recoil from this idea a little, but the tutorial, crafty bastard that it is, has subverted or disabled the other two research options. So either I order alien autopsies or my brand new scientists get to sit around doing nothing.

Well played, dr. Vahlen.

To be precise: the Weapon Fragments options requires Weapon Fragments, which the Alien Materials option also needed; I was never going to have enough for both. The Experimental Warfare option needs nothing and is simply disabled.

As the base shudders for a bit, dr. Vahlen makes a crack about how dr. Shen’s team ‘finally managed to turn their machines on’, and I’m directed to another part of the base: the Engineering Bay. Here, it transpires, I can craft weapons, armor and items for my soldiers: ‘anything they dream up in Research, we can build’.

Research’s dream palette is, so far, pretty limited.

Our investigation into the alien materials has resulted in the plans for a Nano-fiber Vest, which gives vague advantages of no real description. I order five, because why not? In the Barracks, I equip some to Squaddie Dima and Rookie Tovik, and find they increase HP by 2. They go in the Other Items slot, though, not the Armor slot, like I’d have thought. Because of this reason, I decide against equipping Rookies Loween and Jones with them: grenades, after all, are also awesome.

I’m sure there’s a very low chance of this image becoming ominous or important later on.

I’m called to Mission Control again. It turns out the Council of Nations has a direct mission for me: one woman has managed to escape alien captivity, and needs to be rescued post-haste! This is, actually, a second type of mission: unlike Abduction missions, where I get a choice of rewards and guaranteed Panic feedback in some countries, these Council missions are fairly simple do-or-die deals. If I choose to accept this mission and successfully extract this woman, I’ll receive 230 credits, five Scientists, and some Panic reduction. If I refuse…

…this is still partially a tutorial, so it looks like refusal is not an option.

Look at the episode title. Now back to me.

I see no reason not to take the same squad I took last time. With one exception: as Squaddie Jones is still recovering in the medbay, I bring Rookie Smash instead.

Great, I’m sure you’ll fit right in.

And we’re off!

To Tokyo, this time.

Touched down in a section of Tokyo that’s apparently home to a large square and a beautiful fountain, my objective is to rescue one ‘Anna Sing’. I immediately wonder if that name is random-generated or if this is an actual character of importance in the storyline. Guess there’s only one way to find out, huh?

Here’s the thing about level maps in this new XCOM: they’re very simple. Sure, there can be a lot going on at times; I mean, look at this fountain park:

Is this a real fountain in Tokyo somewhere? No, really, I’m genuinely curious.

But there is, at any time, only really one way to go. There’s no wide-ranging exploration, or at least, I haven’t seen any of it yet. In this case, I can go northeast, or I can bump into level borders. It’s… let’s call it a stylistic choice and leave it at that.

One turn in brings me in contact with some weird humanoid alien: it looks like an elongated man in a black suit, wearing sunglasses. Dr. Vahlen recommends ‘capturing it for further analysis’, but unless bullets somehow only stun these aliens — a cursory info-screen examination reveals them to be Thin Men, how fitting — I don’t see that happening.

Sorry, this is the best overview shot I have of one.

The alien moves into cover, shoots, missed. I decide to attempt cleverness, and have Rookie Tovik flank the alien, who’s now in cover behind the fountain. Doing so, however, brings Tovik within line of sight of two Sectoids.

One of them immediately skittered off, though.

Well, Tovik still has one action left: I can either move him back whence he came, like a sissy, or I can try to kill the Thin Man now and have someone else deal with the Sectoids.

Guess which option I select?

“Falling back” doesn’t net me these cool action shots.

The Thin Man falls, and I have Smash, Dima and Loween move up into cover. None of them can even attempt to kill the distant Sectoid yet, so… good luck, John?

Rookie (/will-be-promoted-after-this-mission-the-game-just-told-me) Tovik is grazed for three damage. I have him take cover inside a bus. Smash moves up; he seems to be able to attack the Sectoid, so I call up the firing overlay to check the odds. 25%, the game tells me. That’s not really worth it: a move to full cover or an Overwatch is probably a better idea.

In trying to cancel the Fire command, I accidentally press the same hotkey — 1, here — again, which confirms the outstanding command. Rookie Smash then proceeds to flip statistics the bird something fierce and kills the Sectoid from nearly twenty meters away.

The lesson here: Rookie Grag Smash does not give a single fuck about ‘probabilities’.

The immediate threat cleared, I have Dima and Loween move up past the fountain. Dima has no problems, but Loween passes a cloud of green and blue particle effects — wait, where did that come from? — and finds herself Poisoned.

Oh yeah, you can rotate the camera in this game. I almost never do this, but it made for a better shot of this weird poison cloud.

Poison deals one damage at the start of each of my turns. For how long? I don’t know; ‘a few turns’ could mean anything. What I do know is that while I was pondering this, a sneaky Sectoid has crept up to Loween and is now standing pretty close, in semi-heavy cover. I could have Loween take the shot, but there’s only a 31% chance to hit… and if she misses, the Sectoid could flank her, and between that and the poison things could get ugly. Maybe it’d be better to have her fall back to heavy cover instead?

Man, choices are *hard* when there’s lives on the line.

Or, I could have her throw her grenade at the alien, which deals enough damage to kill it and never ever misses. The Sectoid, mindful of its part in the grand scheme of things, dutifully explodes.

Nice shot, Loween.

In the Alien turn following mine, so does a nearby car.

Nice *shot*, Loween.

Not soon after, I find the escaped woman. With, damnit, a Sectoid menacing her. Luckily, Smash is nearby: with the alien out of cover and a 65% hit chance, this fight is as good as over already.

Smash misses.

“Fuck you, probability!”

Luckily, another Tovik flanking maneuver saves the day. Dima runs up to the beleaguered woman, and the second part of this mission unfolds: return the woman to the Skyranger. For this, I now have full control over her movements, as if she were a member of my squad: her only action besides Moving and Dashing, though, is ‘Head Down’. Probably a good idea, given the circumstances.

This is just a cool action shot of Dima and Smash protecting miss Sing. It serves no narrative purpose beyond that.

Initially, ‘getting back to the Skyranger’ looks to be trivial. Steve quickly warns me that additional aliens seem to be showing up, however, which is punctuated by them literally falling out of the sky.

No, really. That’s what happened. There was a loud THUD and everything.

The first Thin Man goes down rather easily, trading fire with Smash — who misses a >60% shot and hits a <50% one -- once before dying. On death, I see it explode into a cloud of green-blue poison: so that’s where that goop came from!

It was Old Man Jenkins! Another mystery solved, gang!

The second one is a little trickier, however, because it takes up Overwatch right near the Skyranger exit. I suppose I could’ve tried to wait him out, as the first one only Overwatched for one turn, but that could put the civilian in danger. Instead, I stupidly rush Tovik forward to a position I think is still safe. It is not: another three damage for John’s tally leaves him with two hitpoints.

Hey, remember how I equipped Rookie Tovik with that Nano-fiber Vest, which gives two additional hitpoints?

Hey, remember how Rookie Tovik currently has two hitpoints left?

Somewhere on the planet, a lone TV just sprang to life. The movie ‘Final Destination’ is playing on it, on infinite repeat.

Is it too late to rename this soldier to ‘Frodo Baggins’ instead?

Return fire from Tovik ends the second Thin Man, though, and after that the way to the Skyranger is clear. Anna Sing is saved, we’ve got some new alien artifacts and corpses to cut in, and nobody’s dead, just about. All in all, a fine day’s work.

ATTENTION, ALIENS: Stop messing with us. For reals.

Promotions for all! Dima — now Corporal — gets a choice between the Bullet Swarm ability, which allows him to act normally if his first action is attacking, or the passive Holo-targeting, which gives allies to-Hit bonuses on any target Dima hits that doesn’t actually immediately die. Hah, when has that ever happened? Bullet Swarm it is.

Tovik’s accuracy turns him into a Sniper: his Headshot skill gives him extra crit chance and damage (on a cooldown), and he trades his Assault Rifle for a Sniper one. Smash’s ridiculous non-accuracy relegates him to Support, which we’ve already seen. Finally, Loween’s burn-the-world attitude makes her a perfect Assault: her Run and Gun skill allows shooting or Overwatching after a Dash move (also on cooldown), which is accompanied by a dashing Shotgun. That’s four classes, already. I wonder if there are any more?

(Future Jarenth’s note: No, there aren’t. These four are it.)

Finally, Loween and Tovik are sent to the medbay, for lingering poison and plasma burns respectively. They can keep Ranneko Jones company.

I get the feeling the Plasma Burns Ward is going to have to get extended soon.

And with that, the mission is over. The Council is pleased with XCOM, I’m pleased with my soldiers’ progress, and the aliens… well, the aliens are dead, so who cares what they think?

Next episode: dr. Vahlen cares what the aliens think, apparently.


  1. The morning after XCOM, and there is more XCOM. I like it. As lovely as that fountain is, I’m pretty sure is not based on anything in particular, as that mission moves around a bit. The layout and Anna Sing seem to be constant, but I met them in Shanghai.

    1. That is correct. The Anna Sing mission always takes place in the same level, with the same character, just like every other extraction mission. Even the order of the missions is the same. The only thing that changes is the country it takes place in.

  2. What I really like about this game (and only recently discovered) is that no matter how long you take to do priority missions, the alien invasion will always escalate at the same pace. It really simulates how they have a set plan of attack, and works beautifully against stalling to grind materials/research/promotions.

    1. Huh, that is pretty neat. It does imply you’re basically capable of messing everything up just by not progressing quickly enough.

      1. Yep. You do or die, pretty much. Just like the original (so not much credit to Firaxis there ;) ). It has a losing-is-fun feel to it, at least for me.

  3. Hm. Gotta say, your verbl descriptions of the happenings are very crucial for this LP – the screenshots are pretty, er, difficult to parse withouthving played the game itself. So good work on that, Jar.

    By the way, “act normally if first action is shooting” – what does that mean? Without that, do people have a mental breakdown and start sobbing for two full turns?

    1. I try. Thanks.

      Usually, using Fire Weapon as your first action ends the turn, forfeiting the second action. The Bullet Swarm passive ability subverts that: if you (that is to say, your virtual representation) use Fire Weapon as the first action, you still get a full second action. Walk, Hunker Down, Reload, Fire Weapon (Again), any special abilities you have, the works.

      In practical terms, it usually just means ‘shoot twice’. Although ‘shoot, then move’ has also seen some use.

      EDIT: I don’t know how Bullet Swarm interacts with the soldier-level panic state, though. Probably poorly.

    2. If first action is shooting, the turn is over for that soldier. With the perk, the soldier can move after shooting (but not dash) or can shoot again (or Overwatch etc.). It basically acts as if the soldier moved normally (not dashed). Twice the fun!

  4. Loving the LP thus far, with one exception – the posts just seem short. That’s not to say they *are* short. I just like reading them so much that I always want more (moar, MOAR!).

    As for the classes, I really wish they added more. Six would have been the best idea, since later on you can have 6 soldiers in your squad, and hey, who doesn’t love diversity? I live for the decision making, perk picking and number crunching in games. That’s one of the reasons why Skyrim will never be better than Morrowind for me. But I’m losin track of the subject at hand – love the game, could have been more complex. Love your LP, could have been MORE. *smirk*

    1. Trust me, I’d write more if my day job didn’t get in the way.

      Or, well, maybe I would. I did Warlock at 3-a-week while unemployed, and it was still pretty rough. Don’t underestimate how much time these things take. :3

      EDIT: Though they mostly take a lot of time because I’m breaking all previously established screenshot limits with this one.

      1. I understand perfectly. That’s why my previous words, while true, were intended as a joke. I do appreciate the current amount of awesome. Keep it coming!

  5. Enjoying it!
    I feel you on the “um, I don’t understand [x] so I’m going to ignore it until it’s too late” strategy. This seems to happen not only in many games, but in real life as well.
    “Hmm, the sink is leaking onto the floor. Eh, how bad could it get?” … Three months, extensive fungus, and one structural refurbishment later… “Oh, I see. Time to read up on the many uses of Teflon tape!”

    So, yeah, might want to do some Satellite research before it’s too late. (realizing that you’ve probably already finished the series by the time I’m posting this comment)

    1. Thanks for reading!

      I am done at this point in time, yes. To take away some of your worries, though: the series does get tense. It’s not a straight slide into ignominious failure.

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