Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 3: Tango Down

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I did some research, bought some armor, and rescued a woman from alien captivity. Not a bad haul, if you ask me. I made a little crack at the end about how nobody cares what the aliens are thinking; little did I know, however, how ominous those words would sound in the context of today.

Have I mentioned yet how much I like this base screen? Because you can just use the top menu bar to zip from function to function, it’s easy to overlook the many little animation details that have gone into it. Like the fact that your soldiers hang out in between missions. For example, here’s Dima and Smash working out on the treadmills…

At least, I *think* that’s Smash. Dima’s pretty easy to pick out, however.

…and here’s Rookies Devlin and DeHaan, just hanging out in the XCOM Swanky Soldier R&R Pad.

I’m going to assume the soldiers call it ‘the Bio-Hazard Bar’.

The whole base has little details like this. I love it. I mean, look at this sad, lonely office. I wonder who the sucker is they got to sit here in between missions? Probably some far-off authority figure, so distant to the regular troops as to be effectively nameless. All alone and friendless and…

…and *intelligent* and *handsome* and *not at all socially anxious* and…

Anyway, moving on. Steve has good news: the Council has donated a satellite to the cause, and because our current uplink facilities can handle one extra, I can choose to immediately launch it. Glee! I look over the various countries, comparing their bonuses. Or, well, ‘countries’: bonuses are continent-bound, increasing incrementally as I put more satellites in orbit over the same continent. Example:


From the looks of it, Asia and Europe provide large numbers of Engineers and Scientists respectively, North America gives a medium of both Engineers and Scientists, and Africa and South America… are both mixed like North America, but less good. I notice the base-location bonus back from the beginning is also present in this list, and that I already own it for Europe (makes sense, as that’s where my base is). Does this mean I get this bonus if I put a satellite in orbit on this continent? Or if I put satellites in orbit all over a continent?

It’s not the first, it turns out. Looking over the countries, trying to pick a bonus, I suddenly have an important realization: each specific country also increases funding by a set amount. And the USA increases funding by 180 credits a month, which is leagues more than any other country. Hell, it’s more than the whole of South America combined. Since I don’t really know yet how important Scientists and Engineers will be in the long run, I’ll go with the money for now.

Also, I just want to keep America safe. Some of my friends live there!

WARNING“, the Situation Room yells, “We have no Interceptors posted in range of this satellite! We will not be able to engage any alien craft in range!” I… have no idea what any of this means? I’m just going to follow Steve’s advice and start scanning for alien contacts while the USA-bound satellite is in transit. Surely the game won’t pull another ha-nothing-happened on me?

Turns out that it does. Four days after I start scanning, the satellite launch and the completion of the Xenobiology research project coincide. This prompts a meeting between Steve, dr. Vahlen and dr. Shen, in which dr. Vahlen — again! — starts about her crazy plans to capture these aliens.

Steve says exactly what I am thinking, here.

Turns out dr. Vahlen has actually had some time to think about this: if I give the command, she and her team will research an Arc Thrower, which can stun aliens from short range for live capture. While Steve is obviously not entirely thrilled with the ‘short range’ element, dr. Shen voices his agreement: he and his team can construct a containment facility in the meantime, which should safely hold all aliens, ever. Steve, still not entirely convinced, leaves to discuss the matter with me, ignoring the fact that I was there all along.

Which brings us to Facility Construction.

Shown here.

While the base’s top two layers are pretty much set in stone — Mission Control, Situation Room, Barracks, Hangar, main Research, main Engineering — the space below it is subject to expansion, if I want to. Another nod to the original X-COM, it basically works like this: I can construct facilities in any cave square that’s on a horizontal plane with an Access Lift on it, assuming sufficient time, money and Engineers. Filled-in squares need to be excavated first, which costs more money and time. Finally, I can construct more Access Lifts directly below the first one if I want to dig deeper; keeping in mind, however, that every facility requires a monthly upkeep in Credits, and an allotment of base Power.

There’s also an element of layout: certain facilities, placed next to each other, provide vague bonuses of a sort. Let’s not worry about that now, though. I order the Containtment Facility into construction in the conveniently-left-open space on the top floor (because I’m not allowed to excavate anything — tutoriaaaal!) and start research on the Arc Thrower. I also construct two Medkits while I’m in Engineering, because those seem like useful items that I’ll probably get a lot of utility out of.

Yes, they’re actually called ‘Medikits’. That’s a stupid name and I’m not using it.

Even though the tutorial hasn’t told me so, I decide to dick around in the Hangar section for a bit. I find I can buy new Interceptors here, and that I can edit the weapon loadout of the two Interceptors currently stationed in Europe. Well, ‘can’: ‘could’, if I had anything interesting to equip them with. Still mindful of Situation Room’s admonishment earlier, I order one Interceptor be constructed in the North American base.

Surely one interceptor is enough to take down the wide variety of aliens drawn to the United States every year.

More scanning for aliens, at Steve’s behest: apparently, UFO traffic has picked up recently. And third time’s the charm: our European satellite picks up a small UFO just kind of minding its own business. It could be up to no good later, though. Better shoot it down pre-emptively. Also, fuck aliens.

Hey aliens! FUCK YOU.

I order RAVEN-1 into the air. It takes off, flies to the allocated spot, and engages the UFO in what appears to a be 1980’s computer game battle. Pixelated UFO fires on pixelated jet fighter, while I sit by confused. Do I… do I interact, here? There’s a big red ABORT button, but I don’t want to abort… and beyond that, everything seems to be going well. Steve?

Seriously, though: I can tell the Interceptor is fighting the UFO, that’s it has health that depletes as it gets hit, and that there’s a time limit to how long we can track this thing. I can’t really tell how the UFO is doing, and so find myself surprised when after three shots it goes down.

Victory for Sylvanas?

Applause erupts in Mission Control as the nearby satellite moves into position to get a better view. The UFO is down… but not out! It’s survived the impact relatively intact, and it seems likely some of its occupants have survived as well.

Steve is *not* amused.

This is, of course, a great opportunity: capturing a largely-intact UFO would give us valuable alien technology to work with. A strike team is assembled: Dima, Tovik, Loween and Smash are sent out to show these aliens who’s boss.

Look at how serious Grag is taking this whole thing.

‘Wait a second’, I hear you say, ‘I thought Tovik and Loween were injured during the last mission?’ And they were, you’re absolutely right; good memory! The thing I feel I need to point out here is that I abstract away a lot of time. Whenever I ‘scan for aliens’, the game speeds up time until something happens: this can be anywhere from one day to ten. In between that last mission and this, almost two weeks have passed: plenty of time for everyone to get back on their feet. This time-dilation will probably happen a lot over the course of the Let’s Play, so don’t worry about it too much.

The Skyranger flies our intrepid soldiers to an undisclosed location in Germany. It’s night-time when they approach, but you wouldn’t be able to tell: almost everything in the UFO’s crash-path is smouldering or outright on fire.

One rare cinematic action-shot of the squad disembarking the Skyranger later…

First turn, I cautiously move forward. No contact. In the second turn, I remember that Squaddie Loween — now Assault — has the active Run and Gun skill, which allows gunfire after Dashing. Let’s take that out for a spin, shall we? I activate the skill and dash her forward into nearby cover… and, sure enough, close to some confused Sectoids.

Shown here in dramatic Soldier-o-Vision.

I can either order Loween to Fire or to Overwatch. Firing chances aren’t that great, but somehow I doubt these Sectoids are going to move at all. So I have Loween take the shot.

She fires her shotgun — oh yeah, she carries a shotgun now — and misses. Ah well.

Second up is new-Sniper Tovik. He moves up close to Loween — turns out I didn’t really Dash her that far — and prepares to fire. It is at this point that I learn that, like Rockets, you can’t move and fire a Sniper Rifle in the same turn. Unlike Rockets, however, the Sniper Rifle is the Sniper’s main source of damage. So… I guess I’ll just have Tovik sit here?

(Future Jarenth’s note: if you actually play XCOM as well, this will mark the first point where you wonder ‘why doesn’t he just switch to pistol?’. Or possibly the second. What I’m saying is, stick with me: there will be quite a few of these moments before I figure out weapon-swapping.)

I move Dima and Smash up, but neither of them can get close enough to fire, so in cover they go.

On their turn, one of the Sectoids does… something. Something psychic-like, I guess? The first Sectoid projects a swirling beeam purple energy to the second, which increases the latter’s health by one. If that sounds vague, I’m sorry: I really don’t know how to describe this any better. Maybe this image will do it justice?

I don’t know what it is, but the fact that it’s Sectoids doing it means it’s probably bad for me.

The second Sectoid shoots at Loween, wounding her for three damage. Bastard.

It’s now my third turn, and Tovik is all rested and ready to fire. Chances to hit are not great, though it’s interesting to note that Tovik’s accuracy actually seems to increase for the farther-away Sectoid. I opt to shoot at the latter, the one performing this health-boosting fuckery: see how you like a bullet to the skull, Gandalf.

Tovik shoots, and scores, and earns himself a promotion: the offending Sectoid goes down. This has the unexpected side effect of killing the other Sectoid outright as well. Yay, psychics?

What I’m saying is that this technique has *drawbacks*.

Smash runs over with his shiney new medkit: further inspection reveals that I can use it once, to heal four damage. Dilemma, dilemma: do I use to now to heal Loween’s three, effectively wasting one point, or do I keep it for later, more grievous injuries?

Ah, fuck it. We don’t even know what else is in store here. Have some healing, Val: I’d rather see it wasted than applied too late.

For reference: here’s how it works.

I move further up. The UFO’s main entrance seems to be protected by some sort of force field, which dr. Vahlen suggests I bypass; luckily, I can see a big, gaping hole just to the right. Attempting to reach this hole does activate two more Sectoids, but leave it to Corporal Dima to take care of those: machine gun fire fells the first, while (on the second turn) a rocket takes down the cowardly hiding second.

Rocket in three, two, one…

I move Loween up to the UFO. Two things happen. One, I get a clear view of the inside of the UFO, which contains a glowing green energy container of some description. Dr. Vahlen, giddy as a schoolgirl, implores me to be careful around all this alien technology.

Well, that’s going to be a little difficult, because the second thing that happens is that a nearby crystal seems to materialize an alien out of nowhere. It takes up position opposite Loween.

Shown in the top right: dr. Vahlen babbling on, oblivious to the very real and probably dangerous alien that just *materialized out of thin air*.

Well, that shouldn’t be a problem: this is Val’s element, right? Close range, shotgun, go.


I think I hate shotguns, now.

Dima’s already fired his rocket, Tovik doesn’t have line of sight and needs to move first, and Smash is too far away to help. Goody, no options: my favourite situation. Actually, that’s a lie: I can make Smash deploy his Support-granted Smoke Grenade, which creates a nifty purple cloud of increased defense in a small area.

Today’s colour filter: purple.

It’s a good idea, and a tactically sound decision. It just so happens that this particular alien doesn’t really seem to give a shit. He shoot and hits Loween at close range, dealing six damage.

Six out of seven.

Hey, remember that healing I was worried about earlier? If I hadn’t already made a Final Destination joke last episode…

Of course, with survival comes additional worry. I have Tovik take a shot, but he misses: the smoke works both ways. What to do? I can have Loween try to hit again, but if she misses, that’s probably it. Or I can have her try to hide, but that’s no guarantee for anything. Fight or flight, fight or fli – wait, didn’t we have a similar situation in the last episode? How did I resolve that, again?

“Frag out!”

The weird alien explodes, dies, and dissolves for some reason. And with that, I win. UFO’s clear, squad: time to come home. All of you.

Even *if* one of you is going to have to spend almost three weeks in a body cast.

Another decent round of promotions sees the following interesting tidbits:

Dima makes Sergeant, and gets to choose between a Shredder Rocket — which deals four damage, and increases the target’s damage taken by 33% for a few turns — and Suppression — which locks the target down and allows free reaction fire it they do move. I pick Suppression, because when have I ever had to shoot a target more than once? It only occurs to me after locking the choice that the Shredder Rocket option would likely have given me a second rocket to fire. Ah well.

On a side note, Sergeant Dima has also acquired the right to bear a nickname. The game decides he looks like a Collateral. I try to change it to Captain Hostility, but that doesn’t fit; and really, it wouldn’t work anyway, in this system of military ranks. Sergeant Elijs ‘Captain Hostility’ Dima? Besides, Collateral fits: Dima has caused rocket-based explosion damage in literally every mission he’s been in since he became Dima. I think I’ll leave all nicknames the way the game assigns them, in fact, unless I have compelling reason to overwrite them.

Corporal Tovik can get either Squad-sight, which allows him to fire at any target that an ally can see, or Snap Shot, which removes movement restrictions on the Sniper Rifle in exchange for a -20 Aim penalty on shots made after moving. Seeing as though can’t-move-and-fire just nearly got Val killed, it seems a no-brainer.

Finally, Corporal Loween can pick either Aggression or Tactical Sense, gaining either bonus Critical Chance of Defense based on nearby enemies. I really want to pick Aggression, as it makes so much more sense for the character I’m creating here… but it just seems bad. Again, when have I ever needed to crit something to win?

(Future Jarenth’s note: Jesus, you’re bad at this. Just because you don’t need it now doesn’t mean it won’t come in handy later.)

Hey, you don’t have to get all angry with me. I’m just trying my best based on my limited understanding of this game.

(Future Jarenth’s note: While that’s technically true, I still think you could have expected stronger enemies to show up eventua… wait, how are you talking to me? I’m in the future.)

You are? Then why is your text visible there from the moment this episode launches?

(Future Jarenth’s note: Listen, I’m supposed to be indicative of the author’s more advanced state of game knowledge gained over time, whereas you represent his knowledge of the game at this point in time.)

I thought these episodes were written while playing?

(Future Jarenth’s note: That’s just a narrative device to make for more interesting reading. I’m actually quite a bit farther in than this, but it wouldn’t be fun to just write ‘and then I made a bunch of stupid rookie mistakes that I know better than right now’ in every episode.)

If that’s the case, though, why are you here criticizing me for them.

(Future Jarenth’s note: Comic effect.)

…Alright. Well, this has all gotten a little too meta for my tastes. Let’s just leave off here, it’s a good point anyway: everyone’s still alive, after three missions, we’re making good progress, and maybe I’ll be able to capture a live alien next time!

(Future Jarenth’s note: Heh.)

Stuff it.

Next episode: No more of this meta-narrative fuckery, I promise. Also: SPIDER-MAN. WILL. DIE.


  1. Can’t-move-and-fire problems caused you to take Snap Shot instead of Squad Sight? With Squad Sight it’s a case of ‘don’t need to move, can kill enemies pretty much anywhere on the map’.

    I’ve never been able to force myself to take Snap Shot, so I’m interested in seeing how much mileage you can actually get from it.

    1. In-character, remember I have no idea what I’m doing. Out-of-character, Snap Shot is decently useful in bases and UFOs and the like. You know, places where you can’t always draw a bead from the other side of the map.

      1. That’s why you simply don’t take your Squad Sight snipers along for UFO murdering, but instead an Assault with Tactical Sense. Having an extra 10-15 defense comes in quite handy when all you have is 20 to begin with :P

        Still, I agree re UFOs. Snap Shot has its uses if you don’t have a good replacement squad member, or just need your Snap Shot sniper to get more experience. Some highway maps are also pretty bad for Squad Sight because cars tend to screw line of sight anyways :/

        Bases, not so much. I only had one fight in ‘the base’ where Squad Sight didn’t trigger.

  2. Remarks part three: son of the nitpicker:

    – Adfsk not picking Squad Sight or using pistols *grumbles*

    – Suppression for a heavy is actually not bad, and with Danger Zone it will deliver a guaranteed 3 damage to any alien caught inside the (now increased) radius.

    – Shredder Rocket does indeed give you a second rocket. Quite handy against Sectopods and other 15+ hitpoint monstrosities.

    – Shouldn’t have sent that satellite. Save them for when the panic starts raging in countries.

    – Yes, keep the nicknames, please! The game sometimes hands out very ridiculous ones, like one of my first Heavies: Mary “Big Momma” Lee.

    – You probably want to waste a few extra turns to better position your squad. I can see that in the screenshots, they’re quite spread out. Move those back members up a bit so everyone can assist in case things go south. This becomes very important when breaching larger structures.

    1. Oh? I didn’t actually know Suppression and Danger Zone combined. That’s pretty neat.

      I get quite some use out of Snap Shot, actually. I agree on the pistols, but don’t worry, that’s temporary.

      In-character: What’s a Danger Zone? Also, what year is this?

      EDIT: I had to send a satellite, for the tutorial. Looking back, though, I probably should have sent it to China.

      1. Okay, a quick first-time visit to the UFOpedia reveals that I was telling a half-truth: Suppression does benefit from Danger Zone, but that only increases the AoE.
        To make Suppression deal damage, you need to select Mayhem as your final skill (which means you miss out on the additional rocket) and Mayhem deals damage based on the tech level of your gun (so with the LMG it deals 1 damage, the heavy laser makes it deal 2 and with the heavy plasma, it deals 3 damage, Ah-Ah-Ah!).

    2. Nested nitpickings;

      -So many explosives. I probably have as many explosive kills total, as Jarenth does this early into the game :P

      -Assaults are best when used as an executioner. One alien left? Just send your Assault to invade his personal space (preferrably from a flanking position) and waste the sucker. 100% chance to hit for solid damage works wonders against these low level foes. With Rapid Fire, it works extremely well against Mutons and Chryssalid (spoilers; there are enemies called Mutons and Chryssalid) as well.
      If they don’t finish the job, well… I guess they have extra health due to Extra Conditioning, so how much harm can one shot do? :D (way too much, that’s how much. Shouldn’t have missed, fool!)

      -I swear by Tactical Sense as such. Either they stick to cover and get great defense even on medium to short ranges, or they get Flanking and a high crit chance regardless.

      Nitpick on the game:
      “I move further up. The UFO’s main entrance seems to be protected by some sort of force field, which dr. Vahlen suggests I bypass; luckily, I can see a big, gaping hole just to the right.”

      I got this message on one of the big corner-forcefields. ‘How am I to breach a *forcefield*, lady? Just send some poor sucker through to have him killed by the forcefield?’ Had to see an alien casually ignore it to figure out that, indeed, the enormous forcefield does jack shit. The doorsfields clicked just fine with me, though, so it’s not all bad :P

      1. The return of nitpickception?

        Remember that Future Jarenth’s sense of game knowledge is somewhere in the vicinity of January next year.

        It did take me like eight missions to figure out the doorsfields. I would usually just rush a man through them instead.

        EDIT: Explosions are great. The Mythbusters are on my side, here.

  3. Wow. You’re actually not losing soldiers. That’s… weird!

    Also, I agree: while explosions are awesome (especially in situations like the one where Val had 1 HP and the grenade guaranteed her survival), the corpses and stuff that you destroy will be dearly missed later on.

    Another thing I noticed – if you equip a soldier with one of them nano-fiber vests (or things that increase HP), and the damage they take in the mission is less than or equal to the bonus HP, they don’t take wounds that require recovery time. It actually tells you this in one of the loading screen tips, but I just wanted to tell you in case you didn’t get this particular tip. Or if you’re like me and notice it before seeing the tip and then start wondering if one of your squad members is Chuck Norris in disguise.

    1. This applies to any armor. Soldiers have a base HP class dependent on rank and class, and then bonus dependent on items and armor. They don’t need to heal until at least the extra health in damage is dealt.

  4. Doesn’t Xcom tell you before you move that the option will be closed if you do it? Because that seems like a pretty big oversight in a game that has a move-action -system in order to facilitate turn planning.

    (According to an interview on RPS the developers thought the Action Point system made it too hard to make plans on individual turns since it was hard to visualise what everyone could do so they went with the Move-Action system.)

    1. It does not tell me before every single turn that I can no longer snipe when doing so, no. I don’t think there was an initial warning the first time, but I might be mistaken.

      1. You can read it in the item description for each and every sniper rifle in the game :P You’ll also only do it wrong exactly once, really.

        1. Once per weapon/ability that has the limit and one extra every time you’ve forgotten. Considering there’s plenty of space to say “you can’t move and do this” I think it’s a glaring omission to lack it right there besides the hit-chance and the rest.

  5. Pistols aren’t really a huge deal yet, but if you take gunslinger and upgrades pistols.. they can be a REALLY good backup weapon for snipers. And there’s literally NO reason not to use a pistol unless you’re afraid of getting hit, since it doesn’t take ammo and you can’t overwatch anyway. (I was watching TB play in a mailbox, supposedly like his 9th run, and he never used his pistol on his sniper. It was really irritating me, it probably would have saved a life or two)

    *cringes when you pick snap shot* In all honesty I picked that up my first time too, it just sounded so useful. Then I heard squad sight was better, picked it, and snipers turned into lethal immortal death machines. Except in UFOs, but heavies and assaults are awesome in UFOs, so…

    Also that second rocket from shredder rocket IS super useful, and the extra bonus is kind of nice, although I don’t notice it much. I just don’t see much point in suppression when you can ROCKET someone instead.

    1. It’s funny: going through the aggregated screenshots of future episodes, I actually use Suppression fire quite a bit. Until… well, until a thing happens.

      Rockets make a very satisfying sound when they obliterate priceless alien artifacts.

    2. On Suppression vs. RAWKITS!: Suppression is something that requires several additional skills to become really good, while rockets are quite good by default.
      The main downside to rockets is that you disintegrate any salvageable stuff it hits, which can impact your operations in the long run.

      Also, a fully, properly upgraded Suppression does the following:
      – Guaranteed, 100% accurate and unavoidable 3 damage.
      – Reduces enemy aim by 30.
      – Increases allies’ aim by 10 if they fire at the suppressed alien.
      – Either does double damage against robots, or allows a possible second reaction shot if they try to move.
      – Hits and suppresses everything in a 3 tile wide line within range.
      Two Heavies specialized for suppression tactics can effectively pin down entire groups of aliens, allowing your Assaults to close in for the kill, and utterly waste anything at 3 hit points or less.

      1. Interesting. Given that I have a Heavy Surplus right now, given a chance I’ll try to craft some of these Suppression Machines. I was looking into that anyway, but kept getting sidetracked by rockets.

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