Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 7: Rocket Surgery

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, ‘interrogating’ our captive Sectoid revealed that the strange crystalline Outsider aliens (for that is what they’re called, apparently) seem to serve as an important link in the alien command and communication hierarchies. Our next goal is clear: capture one of these Outsiders. But given that they only hang around crashed UFOs, and given that — so far — I’ve exclusively dealt with them by way of frag grenade, that might take a little while.

First things first, however: before we can go alien-hunting, there’s base-upkeep to do. The first thing that happens, almost immediately, is the completion of the Thermo Generator I commissioned last episode.

You can tell it’s a Thermo Generator because of the steam coming out of the sides.

I’d love to use this new-found Power to build more things, but I’m fresh out of money. And there’s nothing I feel very comfortable flogging on the Grey Market, because what if I need it later.

Second, I successfully complete the Beam Weapons Research program, granting me access to Laser Pistols and Laser Rifles. And unlocking two additional projects: ‘Heavy Lasers’ and ‘Precision’ Lasers. I… I would have thought all lasers are precise. Not particularly heavy, too, given light’s inherent lack of mass. But whatever, we’ll roll with it, yo: Heavy Lasers, show me what you got.

To give you an idea of the time scales involved in the Let’s Play, I offer exhibit Toasty Virus: by the time this episode was being recorded, the Introduction hadn’t gone online yet.

This Heavy Laser research is pretty fast, too. In case you forgot, that’s because the Sectoid Interrogation I did earlier had an additional effect — or maybe the plot advancement could be considered the ‘additional effect’ — of granting me a Beam Weapons Research Credit. Like so:

I’m not entirely sure what Sectoids have to do with laser weapons either.

Further increasing my research prowess is the new Laboratory, which increases the speed of all research by 20%. See, now that’s my kind of facility. I briefly debate building another one, but decide against it for now. We’ll see how the program goes with this boost.

Hey, aliens! Damnit, it’s abductions: no chance to grab an Outsider here. Still, it’s action, so I rush to the challenge.

Lille, France: one panic, Medium, four scientists. Tokyo, Japan: one panic, difficult, four engineers. Ottawa, Canada: two panic, Very Difficult, a Sniper Sergeant. I’m largely ambivalent to most of these rewards, so I’ll go with the high-panic, high-challenge Canada.

(Future Jarenth’s note: To those of you who’ve told me in the past I need to look at continent-level Panic: I’m sorry, but past me just didn’t *do* that. It’ll be a while before he catches up.)

Now, this mission is listed as very difficult, so no Rookies today: I’ll bring the highest-ranking team I can assemble. Dima, Krellen and Viel are still recovering, so it comes down to Smash, Jones, Loween, Tovik and DeHaan. Make me proud.

Old style.

According to the mission briefing, the aliens are assaulting… a gas station and truck stop? Is that right?

It certainly *looks* right.

On touchdown, it becomes clear relatively quickly that yes, this is a truck stop, on account of how there’s trucks all over the place. Most of them are just your average container-wielding cargo trucks, but a few of them are open-topped and filled with an ascending set of stacked packages. This looks like a terrible way to move cargo, but gameplay-wise it’s an excellent place to put some soldiers. John ‘Damn Good Ground is totally a worthwhile trait choice’ Tovik, you’re up!

Tovik, just kind of huddling in the corner here.

While the top layer of the truck is a pretty cool place, though, the bottom is terrible: I have Smash take up position in a second, identical truck — triggering some Sectoids along the way — but from his position, he can’t see shit and he’s not in cover. How’s that for height-ism?

No, seriously, he’s not considered to be ‘in cover’ here. He can’t see any aliens, either.

Two Sectoids take up position behind the truck cabs. Loween and DeHaan take down one, while the other narrowly avoids death by Overwatch and decides to hide… right underneath the truck Tovik and Loween are standing on. It doesn’t actually shoot anyone, despite having a clear line of fire to Jones, but its movement does somehow trigger three more Sectoids. I… I guess maybe that Sectoid was blocking my line of sight, somehow?

Well, whatever. Tovik and Smash take out two Sectoids from their high positions, with Tovik scoring a devastating 10-damage critical hit on a 3-health Sectoid. DeHaan, being the assigned Arc Thrower carrier, pulls a repeat of his earlier stunt and stuns the full-health Sectoid hiding near my truck. The fourth and final Sectoid… well, this is how it ends its turn:

Damnit, Sectoid, it’s like you’re not even trying anymore.

The Sectoids taken care of, I push forward to the gas pumps. It’s there that I meet a new alien race:

These motherfuckers.

Dr. Vahlen and dr. Shen are joking about how ugly these aliens look, but I’m understandably apprehensive. I mean, I don’t know what these things are capable of. They certainly look tougher than the Sectoids and Thin Men I’ve faced so far, if only because they have more health and are partially made of jet engines.

I briefly entertain the notion of just having DeHaan fire a rocket straight into the pumps, but decide to dismiss that notion — for now. I have him take a low-probability shot instead, and happily learn two things: a) these aliens are called ‘Floaters’ and b) whatever their powers are, they’re definitely not bulletproof.

Probability is nice and all, but sometimes you just have to take a shot.

That leaves just one Floater alive. And with that, a bold idea:

What if I try to capture this alien too?

Woops. I must’ve said that out loud, because this is what the Floater does on its turn:

Now you see it…

…now you don’t.

I cautiously advance through the gas station, flanks covered. I’m hesitant to move past the pumps, because I’m not the only one who can make things explode. Slow and steady for today, I hope.

Little mood-setting screenshot for you.

I spot the Floater once, but it retreats into a nearby diner immediately. When I follow, I find to my dismay that the place is crawling with Sectoids.

“‘Three Sectoids and a Floater’, coming soon to cinemas near you!”

Well, that’s it for plan Capture That Floater. I suppose I could try exchanging fire for several turns, but that would be needlessly long and complicated and endanger the lives of my squad for uncertain gain. Plus, that Floater is clearly packing something bigger than the Sectoids, so my first priority should be to take it out. And DeHaan is close by, just having dodged some plasma fire; putting it all together, I really have no better option than just rocketing the place.

Yup, that’s what I’ll do. It’s a real shame rockets are so indiscriminate: there’s no way to just have it selectively murder all the Sectoids and leave the Floater unharmed.

…isn’t there?

Looks like there *might* be.

The Sectoids are all behind the counter, while the Floater is in front of it. I can’t see it one-hundred percent clearly, but it’s looking like I could aim the rocket a little farther back, taking out only the Sectoids. It would be utterly ridiculous if this worked, so obviously I have to try it.

And don’tcha know?

It totally works.

If this Let’s Play were an action movie, that scene would be in the trailer.

The troops move up, confident in their impending victory. Loween uses her trusty grenade to lower the Floater to one health, maximizing our chances of capturing it — remember that grenades always deal three damage, all the time, and never miss — and everyone starts clustering up behind the cars outside the diner. Hunkering Down, every last one of them, so no rogue Overwatch fire ruins this plan. Unless it runs away again, DeHaan is in range to zap it next turn. What will the Floater do?

What the Floater does, apparently, is rev up the jet engines that make up its body and charge Loween, head-on. The charge itself does nothing, but now that it’s close-by, it easily hits Loween for four damage.

This sequence of events causes Corporal Loween to understandibly freak the hell out.

Really, can you blame her? She just got bum-rushed by a jet bike with a face.

Aah, what would an XCOM game be without soldiers panicking? As far as I can tell, Panic causes a soldier to take a random action immediately. Loween, for instance, Hunkers Down again, muttering softly to herself about not wanting to die out here. As a result, she’s completely unresponsive. I let her be, for now.

Every cloud has a silver lining, though: the Floater’s charge has brought it even more in range of DeHaan’s Arc Thrower. He moves up, pulls the trigger on a 90%-chance shot, and the Floater goes down for the count.

“Nighty-night, sunshine.”

Mission over. I won’t mind telling, I’m pretty pleased with this result: met a new alien and captured it immediately, grabbed an extra Sectoid because what if we need another one later, and nobody died. Loween’s going to spend a couple days in the now-familiar burn ward, but it’s really nothing major.

Promotions: Corporal DeHaan, the second Heavy to reach that rank, is probably going to get the opposite of whatever I give Dima, for reasons of curiosity. So Dima got Bullet Swarm, and DeHaan’s getting Holo-Targeting: allies will get a +10 to Aim at any target he shoots at, but doesn’t kill outright. ‘Magic Man’ Smash, meanwhile, makes Sergeant: his new options are either Field Medic (can use every Medkit three times instead of once) or Smoke And Mirrors (can use smoke grenade twice instead of once).

…really? No, really? Wow, haha, that’s literally the easiest choice I’ve ever had to make. I mean, smoke grenades are fun and all, but three medkits for the price of one? There is not enough Hell Yes in the world.

The only possible reason I could think of for preferring the smoke grenade upgrade is if smoke grenades came packed with Cloudkill spells.

Speaking of mission rewards: straight out of Ottowa, Canada, this guy:

I know he doesn’t look anything like his namesake. I don’t actually know why I made him look like this.

I’m giving Sergeant Young the Squad Sight upgrade, just to see how that performs. I still prefer Damn Good Ground over Gunslinger, though.

And that’s pretty much it for today! Between the good results and the new squad member, I like to think I did well. I’d completely forgotten about trying to buy lasers, but that might happen next episode. And let’s not forget that Floater: I’m researching the Heavy Lasers now, so I’ll leave it in its cage for now, but we’ll get to the business of talking to it and/or cutting it to bits next time.

In the meantime, it can serve as impromptu entertainment for the scientists.

Next episode: The aliens step up their game, in an attempt to terrify me. It doesn’t go over very well.


  1. Regarding Floaters: how did you restrain yourself from making at least one poop-joke?

    Regarding blowing-things-up: cool story – I had one lad (actually lass, if memory serves) on a huge van, cause hey, Damn Good Ground! And then, one of the aliens damaged it to the point of near-kaboom. I couldn’t get her out of there in time since she had spent her turn. I thought for sure she’d take at least some damage when the van explodes, but it apparently did nothing. The thing just exploded right underneath her and she was unscathed. Curious thing. I’m not sure if it’s a full-time bug or I just got lucky, but I never tried it again. Either way, neat trick if it works.

    Regarding smoke grenades: you’re not gonna get any Cloudkill spells, but you’ll get the option to make the smoke rich in Cat’s Grace and Fox’s Cunning spells, if memory serves (that would be crit chance and respectively aim, I guess? I guess). Or you could choose the lame defensive smoke, which is actually pretty good (more defense and the smoke is bigger, I believe), but hey – who cares about defense? Those aliens aren’t gonna kill themselves because they got too frustrated with not being able to hit your squad.

    1. I actually use both kinds of smoke. I’ve been given to understand that defensive smoke is ‘better’? Regardless, no amount of smoke upgrades outweighs ‘triple medkit’ in any situation.

      To be honest, I’ve had the toilet-humor ‘floater’ connection pop into my head only once. This makes it real easy to ignore any low-hanging-fruit jokes.

    2. The big problem with smoke grenades, even though I like using them, is that they mostly serve as a giant “THROW GRENADES AND CLUSTER BOMBS HERE” sign. And that’s the wost kind of sign in this game.

      Also, I believe the stimulant smoke you speak of gives an aim and will boost, not critical chance.

    3. It’s Cat’s Grace and Owl’s Wisdom, actually; pretty sure the Combat Stims smoke upgrade is Aim and Will. (I know Will is part of them; it came in really handy against Ethereals that wanted to mind control my troops.)

      1. I stand corrected. Even though dexterity would not increase crit chance in D&D, but hey, I guess we all played WoW-like games.

      2. Though Dex would increase Aim, so yeah, I see where you’re coming from. I’m slow this evening.

  2. Fine work on that mission, commander – two captures and no squad deaths is about as good as it gets. I’m looking forward to seeing what Shamus can do for you with Squad Sight – he’ll be able to pick apart problems in the design of aliens pretty much anywhere on the map. Then shoot them.

  3. Damn, capturing an alien before the scientists tell you to? That kind of thinking could get you commendations! You might get your fourth star for this.

    (If only commanders could get a promotion for really well done gameplay)

  4. Today on “Nit & Picker: Comments on the Run!”:

    – It could be that Smash was standing slightly away from the edge, instead of against it. The cover system in this game is fiddly like that.

    – A Floater that *moved* all across that distance instead of using their “I teleport across the map to flank you” move? The A.I. really doesn’t know how to use that properly.

    – I like this level, especially once you have a grappling hook to get a sniper on the billboard walkway.

    – Finally, squad sight on a sniper! Even if you didn’t pick it yourself. I think the game’s giving you a pretty big hint there.

    – I remember you talking on Twitter about the next one. Next time, I won’t be doing my title parody shtick. Instead, it’ll be “Chrisss the Chrissalid teaches how to not fuck up terror attacks 101”

    1. No, I did pick Squad Sight myself: the game doesn’t actually auto-fill reward recruits. I just wanted to see what it did.

      You’ll enjoy the next episode, but not for the reasons you think.

  5. Awww, why couldn’t Shamus be a heavy from Canada? Then he could be all like “THIS IS NO ORDINARY BULLET STORM!!!” (Reference)

    But really, how could anyone be anything but a badass if they were raised in such an environment…?

    1. God damnit, Abnaxis.

      God damnit.

      EDIT: I could fix your link so it properly points to Shamus’ piece, instead of to a hidden thumbnail version of one of my images.

      I could do this.

      1. Wait, what?

        Okay, I even tested that link after I posted, and it worked before. There are some shenanigans going on behind the curtain. I blame the pirates.

        Link originally went to:


        EDIT: Wait I see, because I didn’t put in the leading “http://”, it turned my link into a relative one. And that…somehow redirects to one of your invisible imported images?

        The internet is weird

  6. “It doesn’t actually shoot anyone, despite having a clear line of fire to Jones, but its movement does somehow trigger three more Sectoids. I… I guess maybe that Sectoid was blocking my line of sight, somehow?”

    More likely is that the three-pack moved into sight during their move. ;)

    Let’s see when you get to read this.

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