Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 5: Smash And Grab

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I got a man killed. Rookie Tyler Clark, wide-eyed and innocent, cut down in the prime of his life by superheated globs of sizzling green death. Did he even know what he was getting into? Does XCOM sucker its soldiers in with propaganda, promising heroic fights against the alien invaders while obscuring the terrifying chance of death at every turn? I guess we’ll never know.

I take small solace in the fact that Clark died in his homeland of Australia: it will not take us long to bury him in his ancestral soil. Farewell, Tyler: may there be a shrimp on your barbie forever.

The mood in XCOM HQ is understandably grim. Everyone involved knows the stakes in this war, of course, but… for a moment there, for a brief, brief spell, we looked invincible. We went out to fight the aliens, three times, and sure every time someone’d scrape by by the skin of their teeth, but in the end everyone would come home with scars to show off and stories to tell. Not the fourth time, though: the men who came home from that mission bore only grim silence.

Sadly, mourning is not a luxury we can afford. We’re still at war with the alien invaders, here. And for the sake of all mankind, all we can do is grit our teeth, buckle up and return to the arena. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.

Research into the alien menace continues; perhaps a tad more vindictive, this time. The Sectoid autopsy is completed in a matter of day. From it, dr. Vahlen tells us the alien looks genetically engineered, with a abnormally large brain and lots of cybernetic implants. Even though we already knew it at some level, the notion that these aliens are so much more advanced than us in every way is a little chilling.

These creatures are basically war-clones, is the implication.

Importantly, dr. Shen’s team has developed a way to use the Sectoid’s implants to boost the effectiveness of our Interceptors… somehow. The long and the short of it is that we can now produce single-use modules to temporarily increase air-to-air accuracy. It’s like a potion for fighter planes, made from ground-up alien corpses.

I’m going to assume you didn’t even think I was kidding.

I hop over to Shen’s place and buy one of these Uplink Targeting modules, as well as a S.C.O.P.E. and a few Arc Throwers. Dr. Vahlen gets to slicing up the Thin Man in the meantime: it’ll take three days to autopsy, but what could ever happen in the space of three days?

Nothing. It’s… it’s nothing. Sorry, guys, that was a perfect cliffhanger, but it really just went by in a flash. Here, this is what we learn from the Thin Man corpse:

‘Poison bad’.

Interestingly, there’s no direct benefit this time. There’s something in the lore on medkits, but a quick second stop at Shen’s stuff-o-rama reveals nothing. Maybe it unlocks new research down the line?

With the alien corpses all studied out, I tell dr. Vahlen to investigate the UFO Power Source that we brought back two missions ago. Then, with nothing better to do, I wait a couple of days… and sure enough:

The aliens hit the fan.

Three options this time, all Moderate missions in one-panic countries. Nigeria promises Engineers (four of them), Mexico waves a fat stack of bills around (two-hundred, the seeming standard) and Japan tempts me with a new recruit: a Sergeant-level Assault. They all sound pretty good, even if I’m still not entirely sure what Engineers are good for, but as you can see, I opt for the Assault: I’m going to need a substitute for days like these, when Corporal Loween is still hospital-bound.

Still a little on the cautious side, I bring old hands Dima, Tovik (who has a nickname, incidentally — ‘Garotte’, because that’s a word you associate with a long-range killing machine) and Smash. Squaddie DeHaan gets a second deployment as well. For the fifth slot, I select Rookie Loa Vecre. Let’s hope I can keep you from dying a little longer. I equip Dima and Tovik with Nano-fiber Vests, Smash with a Medkit, and DeHaan and Vecre with Arc Throwers, because I’m curious to see how these things perform.

I like putting these mugshots in here. They’re like little action movie posters.

And we’re off!

You *can* actually decide to bail at the very last moment with every mission. Not that there’s usually a reason for that.

Disembarking the Skyranger, the squad finds itself… actually, what is this place? I think I see a train up ahead, or…

A few cautious steps and a flash of light make everything a little clearer: we’re in a train station of sorts. Subway, going by how we’re in Japan.

This does beg the question of how we managed to get here via Skyranger, but whatever.

The first turn is spent slowly moving up, Overwatching, and admiring the pretty shapes the Dash Range lines make on the floor.

They’re quite hypnotic, sometimes.

The second turn triggers two Sectoids, who immediately run through the windows and hide in a nearby subway car, out of sight.

“Oh god, it’s 8 AM, I’m going to be late for work!”

The fact that I can’t see them anymore annoys me. Now, a reasonable Commander would have put his troops into various degrees of cover and Overwatch, waiting for the aliens to come at him. I on the other, decide that the best way to flush these aliens out of cover would be to blast them out of cover.

And luckily, I’ve brought two Heavies on this mission. And Squaddie DeHaan hasn’t moved yet.

I make a reasonable guess as to where the Sectoids might be hiding, take aim, and have DeHaan blast a hole straight in the side of the subway car.


It doesn’t actually work, of course, and now I feel foolish for doing it. I move Dima and Tovik in the front of the car, hoping to catch sight of the aliens, but no luck.

On their turn, one of the Sectoids strolls into view, clearly under the influence of the health-boosting thing the other Sectoid must’ve put on it. Because someone blasted a hole in the subway car just now, it has a relatively straight bead on Smash, hitting him for four damage.

This is what it looks like when someone gets a face full of green inferno death.

Alright, but that’s what Medkits are for: fixing mistakes. And luckily, Smash happens to be holding it himself! Wow, that’s cutting out the middle man.

Fun fact: the animation for using a Medkit has the user spray the target with that blue stuff. If the user targets themself, they just kind of spray the healing goop into the air.

Tovik takes a shot, promising ‘up to five damage’ but dealing only three, which is not enough to take the enhanced Sectoid out. I’m hoping it’ll die on its turn, when the effect dissipates, but no luck: it loses one of the empty health bars instead. Then, the still-hidden Support Sectoid uses the skill again, bringing Assault Sectoid back to four bars — two of which are full.

Wait: so the skill gives a full health bar, but takes an empty one? Man, that it the lamest shit. Let’s just put a stop to that right now: after misses by DeHaan and Tovik and suppressing fire by Dima, a flanking Vecre (down two health from a lucky Sectoid shot) takes Assault Sectoid out.

I start plotting out my move on Support Sectoid (two damage on DeHaan) when I notice something interesting: DeHaan is carrying an Arc Thrower, and within Move distance of the Sectoid. That means I can have him try to capture it alive. The Arc Thrower has two uses per mission, implying there might be some element of failure to it… but I’ll never find out if I don’t try, will I?

Visual representation of how close you need to be.

I order Squaddie DeHaan to move within Arc Thrower range of Support Sectoid.

Straight into the sight lines of four other Sectoids.

Dramatic reenactment.

Balls. This is bad. DeHaan is already injured and out in the open. What do I do? Should I make him run back into cover? I’m not even sure if he can get back, but even if he can, there’s aliens on two sides now: he’ll always be flanked by at least two. Can I get other people up to help? Tovik, maybe…

(Future Jarenth’s note: If you’d given him Squad Sight.)

…but I don’t think the rest of them have a line of sight, or at least a double-digit chance to hit. I… I don’t know how to solve this situation.

Alright, don’t panic. Two of the Sectoids are on the other side of the subway car, so I don’t actually know if they can hit DeHaan. And if they can, that’s gotta count as cover, right? As for the other three… DeHaan may not be able to (plausibly) escape, but the least I can make him do is even the odds a little.

I tell DeHaan to grab his Arc Thrower and aim it at Support Sectoid. A chance-to-hit form comes up — seventy percent? There’s a one-in-three chance this thing won’t do anything?

No, no time for second-guessing. I order DeHaan to open fire, and…


…Support Sectoid goes down. Phew. That’s one alien down: maybe DeHaan’s chances of survival aren’t so grim after all. Or well, that’s what I tell myself, but in the meantime I’m already mentally composing my bad-news speech. I’m sorry, ma’am. Can I come in? I have some news about your husband, Alan…

The first Sectoid takes aim. Fires. Miss! My heart skips a little beat.

The second Sectoid takes aim. Fires. Two damage! DeHaan has three health left.

On the other side of the subway car, the third Sectoid skitters into view… with four health. It’s been boosted by the fourth, which means that Sectoid’s out of the equation for now. The third Sectoid… does nothing. It can’t see DeHaan (or anyone else), can’t hit him, or just plain doesn’t fancy its chances.

Squaddie DeHaan has just stood in the center of an alien crossfire and lived to tell the tale.

“I’m as surprised about this as you are.”

After that, the mission is over rather quickly. The two Sectoids on this side of the car are clumped together, prompting Dima to give DeHaan a battlefield lesson on rocket efficiency…

“No, see, you shoot at where the aliens are *actually hiding*.” “Shut up.”

…while the Sectoids on the other side fall to respectively a shot by Tovik and reaction fire by Smash.

This is how muzzle flashes work in the future.

And with that, victory. No thanks to me, let me tell you.

Promotions for everyone but DeHaan, oddly enough. Rookie Vecre decides to go Support, which I choose to attribute to DeHaan’s ridiculous last stand. Sergeant Dima is to choose between HEAT Ammo (+100% damage versus robots) or Rapid Reaction (if the first Overwatch shot hits, get a second one) — he gets the latter option, because have I even seen any robots? –, Sergeant Tovik gets either Disabling Shot (a shot that disables the target’s main weapon) or Battle Scanner (an item that ‘creates a new source of vision’) — the former sounds more useful — and Corporal Smash must opt, as Corporal Jones before him, between the three-tile movement Sprinter or the OVerwatch-on-enemy-fire Covering Fire; like Jones before him, I pick the latter.

Bringing the Sectoid back alive unlocks some new research: I can ‘interrogate’ the Sectoid or research its Plasma Pistol. As it turns out, the alien weapons are bound such that killing the alien always makes it weapon explode. I thought that was just my bad luck. My scientists have managed to remove the Plasma Pistol from the living Sectoid in one piece, however. We can’t actually use it yet — that’s what the research is for — but this is good to know, regardless.

Will this lead me to stun every alien I can find, obsessively, without regard for my soldiers’ safety? Maybe.

As for my reward, I get the promised Japanese Assault Sergeant. I think it’s a little strange that he doesn’t look, sound or act Japanese in any discernible way, but I guess the ways of the Orient are as manifold as they are mysterious.

I suppose we should be grateful he’s an adult, and not carrying a sword or something.

Sergeant Krellen comes free with the Sergeant tier of Assault skills: Lightning Reflexes (causes the first reaction fire shot of every turn on this soldier to miss automatically) or Close And Personal (+30% crit chance when next to an enemy, diminishes with range). Given my track record with enemy reaction fire… yeah, this is not a hard choice. I give him Tactical Sense for the Corporal Tier, same as Loween.

Panic has increased in North America and Africa, but the XCOM project has been strengthened with new recruits and we’ll soon have new insights in the aliens and their weaponry. I call this a good day, all in all.

Next episode: if you think *that* was a good day, wait until you get a load of this one.


  1. Aw yeah, me and my apparently red hair enter the fray!

    And now, as promised, an early screening of “Nitpick 2012: Enter the Counterpoint”:


    – You shouldn’t be looking at the panic level in the country, but the region instead when selecting abduction missions.

    – I’m jealous that you got that subway station level. I’ve only been there once, and that was for a bomb defusing, so I couldn’t really see the sights.

    – The last Sectoid that didn’t do anything had probably used both moves.

    – Judging from the screenshots, your first rocket actually came up short.

    – I believe Thin Men autopsies let your medkits function as antidotes as well.

    – Out of the interceptor modules, the dodge module is really the only one you need.

    – Good thing you caught that Sectoid, because they’re the only species that unlocks Plasma Pistol research, something I learned the hard way.

    1. The one thing I know Thin Man autopsies do is unlock the Enhanced Medkit project at the Forge a place I don’t know about yet. I think Medkits are always poison-proof.

      1. This is totally a wild guess but Foundry. Hey, I’m here for the nitpicking, and this is the best I could do for this episode. Deal with it.

        Also; this was a really good episode.

        Medkits always function as antidotes, even without the autopsy. I’ve come to… prioritise more pressing research subjects (read; postpone stuff I know is currently pointless).

        I’ve had to use one of those chasey modules once. *gasp*
        It’s goot to keep 1 on hand regardless, in my opinion. They get you more buttons in the intercept diceroll! :D

    1. Oh god, I read over that. I made that same mistake during my first playthrough one time. Then I met the robots.

  2. Oh sure, no promotion. I just stay out of cover to get shot at and capture an alien alive. Not useful at all.

    My theory on Sectoid Autopsies improving plane aim is that they learned how to make cybernetic implants for the pilots so they merge with the plane in a way.

    1. The aim and dodge modules are explained in-game as coming from a satelitte, though. Somehow. Space magic!
      Don’t know about the chasey module because I tl;dr’ed that.

  3. So, let me explain:

    See, I was visiting Japan, and then these alien attacks happened. I threw a rock at one and got lucky, hitting it in the eye, so Japan decided to draft me even though I wasn’t a citizen.

    I specifically requested transfer to XCOM because I thought an American serving in the Japanese military was silly. At least with an international force I sort of fit in.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    1. “He was an unlikely hero… far from home, he rose against the alien invaders when no-one else would. His courage, exemplary; his prowess, impeccable. It’s considered a tremendous honour to be allowed into the XCOM Program… they sought him out.”

      That’s going to be the trailer voiceover for the movie about your life. ‘Based on true events’.

      EDIT: Yeah, what krellen said. Sounds nicer, too.

  4. I see you’re still fighting sectoids and such. Heh. Can’t wait for the beefier ones!

    Also, “Sadly, mourning is not a luxury we can avoid.” I think you meant to type “afford”?

  5. I hope you’ve learned after these events, but before reading this comment, that you can change the unit you’re controlling after moving without losing the rest of the turn for that unit. (Unless the demo is an inaccurate depiction of the game in this regard.)

    So you could’ve checked if anyone else could even attempt to take on any Sectoids before gambling with the numpad equipped electro-spray.

    1. Oh, no, I did try that out first. Sorry if that’s unclear.

      One of the most common mistakes I’ll be making is having all but one soldier finish their move, then Dash the last soldier into the fog of war. That’s more or less what happened now: I think Tovik might have had a turn left, but everyone else was completely tapped out.

      1. “Everyone else was completely tapped out.”

        So, Overwatch is the XCOM equivalent of keeping mana open?

        1. I think I would find your comment funnier if I knew anything about the rules or play of Magic: The Gathering.

          Actually I’m not completely certain if you’re making a MtG reference. I think I’m being bad at being a nerd.

          1. It is. You’re just enough of a nerd to recognise MtG. Congratulations :)

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