Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 8: Fearless

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I met and managed to capture a new species of alien, the Floater, which — and I never get tired of pointing this out — looks like a pair of jet engines stapled to arms and a face. Nabbed a second Sectoid, too, because what if the first one gets lonely? I’m really glad the game abstracts the notion of ‘living alien storage space’, because it’d be pretty crowded in that small container by now otherwise.

Now, the appearance of the Floater does signal one important thing: the aliens have started ramping up their invasion. The Sectoids were only a scouting force, and the Thin Men failed infiltrators, but the Floaters are the first sign of an actual offensive vanguard. This means I’d better step up my game, too; no telling what the aliens have in store for me next.

Before we get to that, however, look at this room first:

I sorta stumbled on it while scrolling around the base.

Weird, huh? I found it next to the alien containment unit. According to the Facilities view, it’s the Officer school, which I guess makes sense. Do those banners represent the upgrades, maybe? That would make the ‘different’ banners the two upgrades I already unlocked. I like this idea; let’s run with it regardless of objective truth.

Back on track, a few days are spent dicking around the base. I remember to look for lasers, but I can’t afford any of them yet. I also take a look at the Situation Room: panic levels in Asia are climbing quite a bit. I… I’m not entirely sure how to deal with this, outside of the occasional mission there. Have we discussed ways of reducing Panic yet?

(Future Jarenth’s note: saving you the trouble of reading back, no, we haven’t. I know what you’re yelling at the screen right now, but unless you can somehow warp the space-time continuum, I’d suggest saving your breath.)

I can’t help but feel this situation is sub-optimal, but I don’t know of any good way to combat it.

Soon, I research Heavy Lasers, which I can’t afford either. The next two days are spent cutting up the dead Floater that I caught…

I’m assuming they needed, like, at least a blow torch to get this done.

…the two after that, interrogating the living one.

I *honestly* don’t expect what dr. Vahlen hopes to learn from a species with *no mouth*, but I assume she’ll find something.

The Floater carcass inspires the boys and girls down in Engineering to create another Interceptor boost: the Dodge module, which integrates Floater cybernetics into our satellite network to allow our Interceptors to dodge the next few attacks. The living Floater continues the trend its Sectoid friend started by granting me a Research Credit: Basic Armor, this time. I decide to make full use of this development by researching Carapace Armor.

Before this can get underway, however, the entire command staff is assembled into the Situation Room. The aliens, it would seem, have stepped up their game in response to mine.

In the aliens’ case, though, ‘stepping up their game’ means ‘bombing every major city on Earth’.

A far cry from their usual invade-and-abduct schema, the aliens’ goal with these attacks is simply to cause as much damage, chaos and death as possible: a message, claims dr. Shen, proclaiming their unstoppable might to the world. These are terror attacks, and these are Terror Missions; veterans of the old X-COM tremble at their mention.

I have absolutely no idea what the fuss is all about. But what I do know is that this can’t go unanswered.

The alien terror strikes are taking place all over the world, but we can only respond to one incident: the biggest incident, the ‘main’ attack, where the bulk of the alien forces is committed. Driving them back here will break the power of their message of fear and rally local defenders the world over. And this terror hotspot is…

…wait, are you serious? Chongqing again? That’s the place I chose to ignore in favour of Miami way back in the beginning. Man, the aliens have it out for this city.

On the ‘plus’ side, this is my chance to make up for ignoring this city earlier.

Now, I may not know what all the fuss is about with these Terror Missions, but there’s undeniably fuss. As such, I gear up my Alpha Squad. Absolutely no low-level soldiers this time.

If you’re wondering where Ranneko Jones is: with the recent addition of Krellen, he’s technically my sixth-highest ranking officer.

On our way over in the Skyranger, Steve highlights the mission parameters. Where Abduction missions are simple kill-’em-all deals, and Council missions are whatever the Council wants them to be — so far, only extraction — Terror missions are about saving civilians. We’re to go in and get as many people out alive as we can: a message of our own, to the aliens, that we can put a stop to anything they plan.

It’s interesting, having ‘murder’ not be the main objective for once.

This notion is reinforced by a new UI element in play during this mission: a bar on the top of the screen, mapping the number of civilians on this map. As a wild guess, I’m going to say that the blue number is probably ‘number of civilians left’, green is ‘number of civilians saved’ and red is ‘number of civilians killed’.

Call it a hunch.

I think, in fact, I can see some of those civilians over near the crumbling building. I have Krellen Move to cover behind a close-by car, and find myself surprised when the aliens he triggers this way are goddamn zerglings.

Zerglings that are somehow spiky and purple, but I’ll roll with it.

No, not zerglings: Chryssalids. Oh, I’ve heard stories about these creatures. They’re supposedly terrifying murdering machines, fearless and lethal and all-around something-else. The two Chryssalids I encounter don’t skitter into cover when triggered, no: they rush Krellen head-on.

You see why I mistook them for zerglings earlier, yes?

They have twice the health of Floaters, too. It’s going to take some concentrated fire to bring th–oh, Tovik just wasted one in a single shot.

“Yeah, it wasn’t really a thing.”

So that’s one of the monsters down already. Krellen and Loween bring the other one down to one health, at which point I enjoy a devious thought: wouldn’t it be great if I could capture this new alien species during its first appearance too? The only downside to this plan is that Krellen, who’s already acted, is carrying the Arc Thrower. But that’s alright: surely one turn in close combat with the terrifying purple scythe-armed bug monsters won’t kill him?

Bad news for you foreshadowing fans: it didn’t. The Chryssalid does deal an impressive five damage, though, so that’s good to know. Equally good to know is that you apparently can’t stun Chryssalids, for whatever arcane reason, rendering this entire sequence a pointless exercise in trying-to-get-Krellen killed. Luckily, Smash and his triple medkit are on the case.

Worse, in the alien turn I basically wasted, two civilians got murdered off-screen. Gotta remember I’m on the clock, here.

“*Damn*, these things are ugly up close.”

Saving civilians is as easy as getting a soldier close enough: every civilian projects a little circle around them, about medkit-range, and getting a soldier into that circle causes them to… verbally admonish the civilian, I guess? Whatever my guys do, it’s enough to get the civvies to leg it to the Skyranger.

Moving further up reveals that two Floaters were responsible for last turn’s killings.

Both new elements in one screenshot, for your convenience.

Floaters are no much for Loween’s long-distance shotgun, though. One of them explodes instantly, and the other makes like a leaf and flies the hell away.

Only to get murdered the turn after regardless.

While Loween, Dima and Smash sweep the lower buildings, Krellen and Tovik climb up the roof of the shop I started out next to. There’s a surprising amount of civilians hiding on this no-way-to-access-except-climb-six-meters-of-drain-pipe roof, but I guess fear does generate a lot of adrenaline.

“No, but seriously: *how* did you get up here, again?”

Ground Team doesn’t encounter any resistance of note over the next few turns, but one of Roof Team’s turns ends with… well, with what I can only describe as a visual indicator of noise:

I’ll let you make your own ‘Must’ve been the wind’-type joke here.

“What’s that noise?” asks either Krellen or Tovik, I can’t tell which one because all voice packs in this game are identical. It’s a wasted question anyway, because not three seconds later two Floaters rocket onto the roof.

I guess *that* was that noise.

The first Floater is almost immediately shotgunned into jet engine residue. Over the course of the next few turns, I attempt to capture the second one — gotta justify bringing that Arc Thrower — but it’s a bit of a rough ride: Tovik only manages to bring the Floater down to three health, and Krellen performs the first-ever failed attempt-to-stun right afterwards. I guess I got too used to DeHaan’s crazy success rate to consider that a 70% chance to hit is still about a one in three chance to miss.

I mean, missing with a massive wave of surging electricity is still pretty damn impressive. But *technically*, it’s one in three.

Of course, every Arc Thrower has two shots.

You miss some, you stun some.

And no sooner does that Floater go down than I complete the mission. Six alien kills, no losses, and fifteen out of eighteen civilians saved: Excellent results all across the board. Great job, Alpha Squad!

In fact, that was such a great job, everyone’s getting promoted!

YOU get promoted! And YOU get promoted!

Let’s just bullet-point these upgrades:

  • Captain Dima: either Grenadier (can use equipped grenades twice) or Danger Zone (increases area-of-effect on Rockets and Suppression by 2). Given that Dima is no Loween, and doesn’t even use grenades, this one’s rather easy. I didn’t even know Suppression had an area component.
  • Captain Tovik: either Executioner (+10 Aim against targets with half health or less) or Opportunist (Overwatch loses its Aim penalty and can critically hit). I pick Executioner, because I figure I might as well start preparing for the inevitable heavy-hitters.
  • Lieutenant Krellen: either Flush (easy-to-hit, low-damage shot that forces target to move) or Rapid Fire (low-aim double attack). Both sound good, so I’m going for the first (utility) one. Being able to force enemies out of cover sounds fairly useful.
  • Sergeant Loween: We’ve seen this before, actually. It’s either dodging alien Overwatch every turn or ‘increased crit chance when close’, and the former is so much better than the latter it’s really no contest. Loween also earns her nickname: ‘All In’, which I think is now in competition with Dima’s ‘Collateral’ for Best-Fitting Nickname.

Succeeding at stopping the alien terror attacks has major positive repercussions: Panic in China is reduced by three points, and panic all across Asia by one. Panic across the rest of the world stays the same, but I suppose that — after a global campaign of intimidation and terror — that’s easily the best I could ask for.

Yes, that was a major lucky break. No, I don’t feel guilty at all.

Finally, with the Carapace Armor completed, I immediately order the good doctor to autopsy this new Chryssalid.

Mo’ like ‘Derpalid’, am I right?

And with that, we’re done for today. I guess I still don’t understand why everyone’s quaking in their little booties at the sound of Terror missions: between the relatively low opposition and the continent-wide Panic reduction bonus, I could really go for another one of these.

(Future Jarenth’s note: alright, before you all go off in the comments, let me just say here that I am well aware how ridiculously lucky I was here. I mean, only two Chryssalids? I let one get a free hit in on Krellen, for Pete’s sake! I had absolutely no right to get as free a ride as I did, here; if you’re hoping to see my eventual comeuppance, I suggest you keep reading.)

Next episode: I get another opportunity to move the plot along, and break my own nicknaming rules. I think you’ll find it was for the best.



    Hi everybody, I’m Chriss the Chrissalid, and I’m here to tell you about Terror Attacks. Specifically, how to not screw up like you did last time!

    Let’s take a look at the recording:

    Exhibit A: http://bluescreenofawesome.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/XCOM-Ep8-ChryssaCharge.png
    So, a heavily armed group of XCOM soldiers waltzes into view, and you ordered them to rush at them, head-on. If we look closely, we can, in fact, see a civilian standing on the rooftop above, with most of that rooftop out of their field of vision. In this case, the better tactic would’ve been to run north and jump up the building. That way, the XCOM troops won’t see them going up and you’ll be able to snack on those delicious civilians undisturbed.

    Exhibit B: http://bluescreenofawesome.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/XCOM-Ep8-CivilianSavedTwoFloaters.png
    The human known as Loween runs inside the building to rescue a few people. Notice how he’s well within striking range, if there was a Chrissalid hiding around the corner, on the opposite side of the highlighted civilian. Also notice that there’s two Floaters hiding in the back. Those should’ve been on the front line, harassing that commander Jarenth’s troops and buying more time for the Chrissalids to do their thing.

    The less said about the rest of the video, the better. This was a flagrant display of incompetence, and Command is so disappointed with our performance that they’re sending the Muton squads to whip us into shape. I, for one, do *not* welcome these guys lording over us again.


    (Frankly, Chrissalids in this game have received something of a nerf. It used to be the case that even killing the zombies would spawn a fresh ‘Lid, while these days it actually prevents the spawn. Also, credit where credit’s due, Chrissalids do occasionally set themselves up in such a way that giving chase is a good way to get your squad killed, but it doesn’t happen often. The A.I. in this game can use a little practice.)

    1. Congratulations, that triggered my spam filter for previously-approved commenters. That’s a first!

      I’m well-aware of how lucky I was in this mission, as I said earlier. If you want to see an example of Terror Missions gone ‘right’, Episode 17 is the one to look out for.

      In-character, I don’t know what Mutons are, yet.

      1. Yay, a first thing! Must’ve been the links or something.

        I know you’re aware of your luck, but as someone who likes using Chrissalids in the multiplayer, I still needed to point out how idiotic the A.I. was acting here.

        In character knowledge aside, I needed some way to end that post and I’m pretty sure Mutons start showing up soon after the first Terror mission.

        1. Another major reason Chryssalid aren’t as lethal now as in the original, is because there’s a Normal Mode option in the first place ;)

          When the Chryssalid score a kill without being ‘triggered’, they also don’t reproduce. In this case it wouldn’t have mattered, naturally, but still.

          (I too think the first Terror mission is the Muton trigger)

          1. Fun out-of-narrative fact: I’ve done the first Terror mission on my current Classic playthrough recently. It was equally easy.

            Chryssalids are no match for concentrated Squadsight-sniper Overwatch fire.

          2. Squad Sight and Rapid Fire are probably the strongest skills in the game. :)
            I usually get nine shots on one guy and nothing on the rest of the group though. Not much of an issue if they all fired at the same time, but snipers take like ten seconds longer. Why don’t they just, you know, not shoot the long-gone alien? Aaaaa.

          3. Actually, the first game had difficulty levels as well, but a bug locked it into the easiest setting, no matter what you selected. That was why TftD was so unforgiving: Unaware of this bug, players complained it was too easy on the hardest setting, so the developers (who were also unaware) cranked up the difficulty of the sequel.
            These days, the bug’s been patched, though.

            I did not know Chrissalids didn’t reproduce before the trigger. That’s a major flaw in my book.

          4. I literally don’t recall the difficulty settings for the original o-o The things you remember, huh?

  2. Yeah Krellen, I don’t play Queen, you don’t capture aliens! Jeez, the nerve.

    Wow you got lucky. I mean I’ve never played X-Com and *I* am aware of how lucky you got. Question I have though. On Successful terror missions is it common for everyone to get Ca–Promotions? Because that would be nice, actually.

  3. I remember my first terror mission. It was awesome. And I remember my second terror mission. I wish I didn’t.

    But seriously, only 4 aliens? Huh, that’s weird. Also, hope we get to see some new blood soon! *insert blood-and-gore-related joke here*

    1. Technically six: two Chryssalids and four Floaters. You might have missed the first two because Sergeant Loween wasted them off-screen.

      EDIT: I also remember my second Terror Mission. You will too, soon.

      1. Terror missions have a much higher than normal chance to be a wipe for me. Also snipers aren’t as valuable against chryssalids because it’s actually significantly harder to hit at close ranges. But everyone else gets a free shot. Firepower becomes the issue, and if a terror mission STARTS going badly… It gets worse. Quickly.

    2. I remember my second terror mission. That’s the one where I panicked and accidentally aborted the mission, leaving my entire squad behind.

      I have never restarted a game so hard.

  4. Question for future Jarenth: Is it really impossible to capture Chryssalids or were you doing it wrong?

    1. It’s 100% impossible. Do you see that little blue circle around the Floater? When you mouse over the Arc Thrower icon, that circle shows up around every alien you can capture (to indicate minimum distance). There is no such circle around Chryssalids, nor is there one around the various robotic enemies you meet later.

      It’s a little odd that this is never explained away later, but at least the game is being up-front about it. The alternative — me zapping them, only for dr. Vahlen or dr. Shen to pop up and go impossible — would have been even more annoying.

  5. Really enjoying the gameplay narration. I’ve experienced XCOM only vicariously, but extensively. Your addition to the corporate body of shared experience is well worth the reading time. Poked around the rest of the site as well. Will be back! Thanks!

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