Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 6: I Know What You’re Thinking

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I finally managed to capture a living Sectoid. It’s true that the Arc Thrower is a short-ranged, poorly-designed, unwieldy piece of techno-junk, but when it does manage to knock an alien out, the sense of victory it gets you has little equal. The fact that you get free high-tech weapons from capturing aliens doesn’t hurt either.

A mere four days after the return of Team Ketchum, my day is brightened by a transmission from the Council. It’s a progress evaluation report, it turns out, including an arbitrary number grade! Mommy, mommy, I got an A in alien hunting!

Note that Council #47 tells me this is ‘better than expected’, which means they *expected* me to fuck up at least once.

Now, that report up there says ‘Monthly Reward: §455’, but I can immediately tell that’s gross income. Net, I gain the §297 that’s listed after Monthly in the top right corner. Gotta pay them expenses, y’know. The rent on this place can’t be cheap.

I decide to invest this new money right back into the base. First, I construct a Laboratory, because research speed is the tops. It… it is the tops, right? Since I have literally nothing to go on, I’m going to assume XCOM is like other tech-tree games in this regard.

Second, I notice I’m starting to run out of power. As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, base building is actually quite an involved part of XCOM. One of the elements at play is making sure you have enough power to operate your base facilities: it doesn’t seem to be possible to run out, but insufficient power will mean you can’t build anything else. I could build a regular Power Generator for §60, yielding 6 power, but as luck would have had it I have easy access to a Steam tile: this allows me to build a Thermo Generator instead, §200 for 20 power. Yes, they’re both equally cost-efficient, but a) the Thermo Generator takes less space, b) building the Thermo Generator will free me from the burden of ‘worrying about power’ for quite a bit, and c) I want to build a Thermo Generator. So there.

Just look at that ominous cave.

Only two days after I start this construction plan, research into the UFO power source unlocks the highly efficient §275-for-30-power Elerium Generator. I take solace in the fact that I’m incapable of building it yet, though: it requires two UFO power sources to build, and I’m pretty sure I only have one.

So… what’s next? Let’s check the mission objectives real quick.

Yes, I just wanted an excuse to show this screen.

Well, let’s get that done, then. I select the ‘Interrogate Sectoid’ option, and a small cutscene shows the alien inside a secure room, surrounded by… blue heat lamps? As they spring to life, the Sectoid becomes visibly agitated, and a blast door closes on the interrogation room.

I always figured ‘interrogating’ involved ‘being able to talk to your target’, but then what do I know?

Before the ‘interrogation’ can proceed any further, though, warnings go off. A UFO has landed in Germany!

Wait. This base is, conservative Google-Maps-estimate, a little under a thousand miles from Germany. A UFO has just landed right next door.

If that’s not the alien equivalent of an extended middle finger, I don’t know what is.

Mindful of the fact that I need to get more Rookies de-Rookied, I opt to send out Rookies Devlin and Viel. Sergeant Krellen, though not particularly a Rookie, hasn’t had any real combat experience either, so he’s in. Finally, Dima and Jones round out the squad.

You understand why I had them look like this, of course.

We touch down in the ever-scenic Schwarzwald. At least, that’s what I’m assuming it is. Alright, men: time to hustle.

Hop to it, one two, let’s go.

For some reason we’ve been set down in the world’s shallowest brook. It’s filled with rocks and fallen trees, all of which can’t help but feel like Generic Cover Elements a little. I mean, I understand these maps need cover, but it’s usually less obvious in city maps. In here? Not so much.

Seriously, it does break the illusion a little bit.

Because caution is for the weak, I have Krellen Run-n-Gun up to the farthest possible tree trunk. My ‘strategy’ ‘pays off’ as three Sectoids are brought into view. It’s then that I remember Krellen is carrying a shotgun and can’t long-range worth shit. But that’s okay, I’ll just put him in Overwatch: two of the Sectoids have hidden out of view already, and there’s a possibility the third one will want to walk up before doing anything. I bring the rest of the squad over, putting them in various cover places and some of them in Overwatch.

The third Sectoid does not move up, instead comfortably blasting Rookie Viel for four damage. Well, there goes today’s medkit.

More plasma-impact screenshots for everyone to gloat over.

The other two Sectoids stay put, and for good reason: as Krellen moves up again, a psycho-buffed Sectoid opens up reaction fire. Luckily, Krellen’s Lightning Reflexes make every first volley of reaction fire miss him automatically; I can already tell this is going to be a good investment, because I am horrible at remembering Alien Overwatch.


Oh, and this forward rush also triggers three new Sectoids, who immediately disappear into the UFO. Great.

Well, no sense in moping. Dima’s rocket and Viel’s bullets take out two Sectoids immediately. The third outside-Sectoid flees to the east, while two of the indoors-Sectoids run outside and pointedly don’t actually shoot anyone. Over the course of two turns, Viel takes them both out.

Seriously, though, Sectoid: you’re not even in cover. It’s like you’re not even *trying*.

Also, saliently, Jones has his triggered-by-enemy-fire Overwatch triggered for the first time (in the turn between Viel-kills), and immediately reveals a significant problem with the whole concept: enemies comfortable enough to open fire will likely be in cover at the time. Like so:

Looking at it this way really illustrates why I probably should have picked Sprinter instead.

But hey, stuff works: four Sectoids go down with a minimum of fuss. Now I only have to deal with the Sectoid In The East, the Sectoid that ran into the UFO, and any and all alien groups I haven’t triggered yet.

For reasons that probably made sense at the time, I decide to have Krellen and Devlin flank around the UFO’s east side, while the rest of the squad deals with the west entrance. They do find the missing Sectoid, only to watch it run into the UFO’s interior… and while I’m pretty reckless at times, I don’t really feel comfortable sending a Assault Sergeant and a Rookie into a UFO without any backup. So back to rejoin the squad they go. It takes several turns of only-movement, it’s boring as hell, and you don’t want to see it. Moving on.

Inside the UFO, three more Sectoids wake up. A few turns are spent trading fire and missing, from both sides. The Sectoids do a lot of that Psycho-Buffout trick, to the point where I just don’t understand it: sure, it gives them extra health, and probably some bonuses as well, but it only lasts one turn and the acting Sectoids loses its turn. Couldn’t they inflict way more damage just by shooting? Plus, on occasion, they hilariously give away each other’s positions:

They’re not great at surprise parties, is what I’m saying.

At one point, Dima’s up. He shoots, he misses, no big deal. Then I notice his turn’s not actually ending like I expected… hey, that’s the first time I see his Bullet Swarm passive ability take effect. Cool. Dima has a whole range of options open before him now: he could Move, or Reload, or Hunker Down, or go to college or start a family or of course I’m making him shoot again. The second shot misses again, but it does annihilate most of the UFO entrance.

“FUCK YOU, WALL.” — Dima

Not that the aliens aren’t as bad at this:


Of course, that’s nothing compared to what Viel can pull off. Noticing he’s in-range but his gun is out, I (Future Jarenth’s note: FINALLY) have him switch to his pistol. Everyone who’s not a Heavy has one, switching to and from a pistol does not count as an action, and they have infinite ammo. They do deal less damage, though, but I guess that’s to be expected. Additionally, in the hands of Rookie Josh Viel, they become hilarious glitching machines:

Really, I expected this to happen.

Over the course of several turns, I have Jones flank around the UFO — which, on reflection, is a terrible move, given that there could be infinity aliens over in the dark woods — while the rest of the squad slowly takes out the aliens inside. There’s four Sectoids, now, plus one of those energy-crystal aliens. Remember how we deal with those?

One frag at a time.

And, well, it turns cleanup after that. Dima is hit twice and critically injured, so I have him Hunker Down behind some rocks, while Krellen, Viel and Jones invade the UFO. In the end, however, it’s actually Devlin who takes out all but one of the Sectoids: from a cover spot just outside the UFO, he pegs each of them, long-distance, right between the eyes.

While making this face.

I mean, seriously: four kills in your first mission is nothing to scoff at. Devlin is awarded Sniper-status accordingly, while Viel’s three kills turn him… Support? I… wow. I want to make a few in-jokes, here, but those won’t age well; if you know what I mean, you know what I mean.

The joke here is that Josh Viel as Support makes about as much sense as a Sniper called Stevie Wonder.

Back in XCOM HQ, two things happen almost simultaneously. First, Mexico sends a request for a satellite, promising two hundred credits in return. I’d love to comply, but as I don’t actually have any satellites, I try to build one… only to find out constructing a satellite takes twenty days. In contrast: building an alien containment lab took like ten days, and crafting a nano-technology protection vest is instant. The request from Mexico times out in exactly twenty days as well, so I’m thinking I probably won’t be able to fulfill this one.

It’ll be done *just* in time for these guys to stop caring.

Second, and much more importantly, the Sectoid Interrogation has finished. In a short cutscene, dr. Vahlen explains what her team did (it’s less ‘interrogation’ and more ‘vivisection-mind-reading’, as far as I understand it), and that they found two strong mental images in the Sectoid’s brain: one of another, slightly different Sectoid — presumably one of the turbo-Sectoids from the first mission — and one of the crystalline alien I’ve encountered only just now. Clearly, this alien is a factor in the invaders’ chain of command somehow; my next goal is to capture one of them.

Which means I’m going to have to re-think my primarily grenade-based approach to these guys.

Oh, and finally: interrogating the Sectoid has a more direct benefit as well, netting me a ‘Beam Weapon Research Credit’. What that means is that from now on, all research that’s tagged as being Beam Weapon Research — like, say, the Beam Weapons research option — has its time requirements cut by fifty percent. Sped up to double speed, essentially. I try this out, and find I can now research Beam Weapons in four days. So hey, let’s do that! Maybe I’ll have laser guns ready in the next episode.

Next episode: No such luck. But laser guns suck, anyway. I wouldn’t even want them if the game gave them to me.


  1. You managed to keep all the countries in the project! Woo! Also, you lost only one soldier in the first month. Man, either you’re playing really, really cautiously, or I played as recklessly as the tutorial forces you to play in that first mission. “Oh, look, he’s got a grenade in his hand and a blank look on his face! Let’s APPROACH him!”

    Hint: If you haven’t found out thus far, you can build as many satellites as you want in 20 days. As in, they’ll be done at the same time, no queuing. That is, if you’ve got the cheese.

  2. All Hail The Glorious Update queue.

    I’m sure the Arc Weapon is what captures those energy aliens, but man…Capturing them should be ridiculously hard. And now I’m picturing the use of tuning crystals. (Damn New Age aliens).

    Also c’mon Mexico. Way to freeload. Just build your own space programme from scratch.

    I like the options on power. Choose low power for relatively low cost, or high power for high. Makes it rather strategic. (Also to spend over 2/3rds of all your monthly moneys in one go…Yikes)

    1. The Update queue is civilization. Y’know what I was doing while it was grinding away at keeping this site current? Sleeping.

      Little future spoiler: it’s more-or-less explicitly stated the Outsider alien is nothing more than the projection of energy through the crystal at its core. ‘Killing it’ amounts to ‘smashing the crystal up’; I’m assuming ‘stunning it’ means ‘disrupting those projection capabilities’. And what better way to disrupt an alien antenna than with a billion volts of nonspecific electricity?

  3. Aha! my bold representative Devlin finally makes his appearance! With four kills to boot!

    Note: I pull that face while doing most things.

  4. “Luckily, Krellen’s Lightning Reflexes make every first volley of reaction fire miss him automatically; I can already tell this is going to be a good investment, because I am horrible at remembering Alien Overwatch.”

    Not only that; it allows you to just charge up to Overwatch dudes and rapid-fire them into oblivion. You can trigger Overwatch fire so another person can get a Flank in for Massive Damage. To get an NPC (who has -100% chance to evade Reaction Fire and zero health) out of a sticky situation. Lightning Reflexes is the worst non-choice in the tree, really.

    “A few turns are spent trading fire and missing, from both sides. The Sectoids do a lot of that Psycho-Buffout trick, to the point where I just don’t understand it”

    Since you have an Assault, it’s also the perfect time for a d-d-d-double kiiillllll. It also counts as such when it comes to experience, so it ranks up soldiers quite effectively.
    It also grants them a little Crit Chance. Not positive it does anything beyond that.

    “Next episode: No such luck. But laser guns suck, anyway. I wouldn’t even want them if the game gave them to me.”

    Laser guns are the best way to not get murdered. The next tier costs a *ton* more for a fairly marginal increase over Lasers.

    1. Plasma guns only cost a ton if you don’t religiously capture and and all aliens. I found this out the ‘hard’ way, which is in reality the easy way.

      1. I’m sorry, I can’t see any aliens through all these lasers my squad is firing off into the distance.

        (I will concede on Light Plasma Rifles though)

  5. Hide your flaws, protect your strategies! Lovecrafter is back in: “The Judgmentalist”

    – The rocks, broken trees and slightly flooded landscape represent the area where the UFO slid across the ground before coming to a halt. Aliens are some of the worst pilots in the universe.

    – You can use the fog of war to estimate quite accurately where the UFO is located, as well as its size and shape. Look for where no trees stick out of the fog.

    – Laser weapons are relatively cheap and are also the first weapon type that can reliably break cover. Hand them out to soldiers with the Suppression skill, so you can easily expose cowardly aliens.

    – If you think Josh was glitching there, wait until you see a sniper nailing an alien from Overwatch, through several concrete walls.

    – I’m pretty sure that if you start constructing a satellite the moment you get the request, it will be finished in time.

    – Thermo Generators are by far the best way to power your base, since the Elerium Generators use up valuable materials that can be put to better use elsewhere.

    – Should’ve built a Workshop or an Uplink instead of the Lab. Scientists already increase your research speed, and you will be getting them much easier than Engineers or Satellite slots.

    1. The thing with laser weapons is that while I’m going to get quite some use out of Heavy Lasers and Laser Sniper Rifles, I sorta completely skip Laser Rifles in favour of Light Plasma. You’ll see it when it happens.

      The satellite thing is moot, anyway, because I have no uplink capacity. I will learn this later.

      In fairness to the aliens, I did shoot down their UFO. With missiles. From low-orbit altitudes. To paraphrase dr. Vahlen, the mere fact it’s still UFO-shaped instead of just a giant burning pile of garbage is telling. EDIT: Nope, wait , they landed this one. Never mind. Aliens are terrible drivers.

      1. And that’s why the Lab should’ve been an Uplink, clearly.

        I gotta say, I enjoy seeing you ignore all Steve’s heavy hinting towards Satellites and their Uplinks, instead spending money on the least worthwhile building.

      1. I found this LP too late and just sort of gave up hope of seeing an Abnaxis-shaped avatar. Aah well, still fun to watch even without skin in the game…

        Speaking of being late to the party, is there an RSS feed around here I’m just missing, or what?

        1. I’m afraid you weren’t on the list, no. But thanks for reading anyway!

          If it’s any consolation, you won’t die a horrible, plasma-burned death. Unlike some other people I could name.

          I have heard there are RSS feeds around, yes, but I’ve never gotten around to jiggering them myself. I mostly use the Twitters — both my own and this website’s — to keep people up to date. How about you, Other Commenters?

          1. I set Firefox to remember open tabs, and refresh whenever I have five minutes to spare. Probably the most caveman-like option, but it works.

            Top right of the page has the RSS icon, if I rememeber correctly. Or maybe it’s for the radio broadcast.

          2. I see the radio icon up there, but it fortunately doesn’t do much for me, other than blithely ignore my clicks.

            Alas, I am not too big into twitter. I suppose I can live with just opening the homepage and looking to see if there’s anything new periodically…

          3. Well. either I use my memory. Your announcements, or I follow you on Blogger and Blogger tells me occasionally.

          4. I use the RSS feed, although I don’t know how I found it, as I don’t see a handy link on the site now. I’ll generally check the site at least once per day anyway, to see the latest comments.

            EDIT – it seems the feed URL is http://www.bluescreenofawesome.com/feed/ – the feed currently has six subscribers.

          5. There used to be an RRS link, but it got lost during the Great Website Upheavel. I looked for it just now, but the hyperlinks I used are dead. Care to post yours here?

            EDIT: Also, I’ve been considering adding a ‘newest comments’ feature to the side-bar. Would that be useful?

            DOUBLE EDIT: No, wait, the old link does totally still work, just not in Chrome for some reason. I’ll add that to the side bar as well.

          6. I’m not sure how much use I’d personally get from a ‘Latest Comments’ section – there’s generally only one or two articles with active conversations at any given time, so I just check them individually.

            EDIT – re: Chrome and RSS. I’ve don’t think Chrome supports RSS without add-ons. I always had difficulty with it, anyway, so I’m back on Firefox at the moment.

          7. Well, I’ve added both an RSS Feed and a Latest Comments section anyway. We’ll see if people complain, cheer or react in any other fashion.

        2. Mondays: Indie Wonderland. Thursday & Sunday: X-Com. Occasionally a Ninja Blues post at some other day. But basically M T and S are the days to check.

          1. In a nutshell. I’m trying to revive the group-review that was Review Corner on Saturday, but you’ll see that if and when it happens.

            Maybe you’ll see it Saturday next week.

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