Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 9: The Plot Thickens

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I successfully repelled an alien Terror Attack on the city of Chongqing, China, more than adequately making up for the fact that I totally left them to their devices at the start of this campaign. I met the oft-dreaded Chryssalids, completely failed to see what the big deal was with them, and just generally all-around saved the day in the most spectacular fashion.

With that bit of nonsense all squared away, it’s time to refocus on our actual progression goals. What was I doing again?

Let’s see what’s on the global agenda today.

Not be confused with the *game* Global Agenda, which wasn’t really about aliens at all.

Lessee… cut up a dead Chryssalid, build a satellite, probably fail in getting that satellite to Mexico in time… hang on, is that a UFO?

UFOs? On *my* agenda?

This Medium-sized UFO is menacing the United States, which you’ll remember as the only other place I have satellite coverage on. Luckily, following either Steve’s or dr. Shen’s advice, I transferred one of my Interceptors to our airbase there. It takes off in a rush…

At this point I’m just trying to get at least one screenshot of every repeated movie into this Let’s Play.

…and after a short battle, takes down the UFO with a minimum of damage. This might have been, in part, because I used the Aim Uplink Module that I made from ground-up Sectoid corpses, which as it turns out makes the Interceptor’s next two shots an automatic hit. It does burn out after one use, but I feel good about this decision regardless.

The UI for these modules is pretty decent, too.

With the UFO crashing down in… Kansas, if my map-reading skills haven’t atrophied at this point, I suddenly remember that my plot-mandated goal is to capture one of the crystalline Outsider aliens we keep finding in crashed UFOs. Has an opportunity to advance our understanding of the alien hierarchy been delivered straight into our hands?

Just to be sure, I bring Corporal DeHaan, alien-catcher supreme, and his trusty Arc Thrower. Corporal Jones and Sergeant Young are brought for saving lives and ending lives, respectively. Finally, mindful of the fact that I need to get more soldiers into shape, I select Rookies David Frederick and Jane McNutcase for their first-ever combat outing. Make us proud, ladies.

See, I use ‘ladies’ as an insult of sorts, because that’s a thing we coaches do. I… don’t know well it’ll work on McNutcase, here.

Only an hour after impact, the Skyranger (that thing flies fast) touches down in rural Kansas. Even from our starting point, the crashed UFO is a clear, immediate, imposing sight.

I guess we… *are* in Kansas right now, actually.

Three turns of cautious advance bring us ever-closer to the UFO. There do not appear to be any aliens outside the craft this time, so I slowly creep up to the forcefield-protected entrance. Odd noises are heard from the inside, unsettling the rookies a little bit.

The fact that I make them take point almost solo might contribute to that a bit too.

Finally, the end of the fourth turn reveals the dim outlines of three skittering Sectoids inside the wreckage. Their walking by the entrance triggers a hail of Overwatch fire, and Rookie McNutcase actually manages to bag one before it can respond.

“Welcome to earth, bugeyes.”

I slowly move in, trading both regular and Overwatch fire with the Sectoids guarding the entrance. Frederick and Jones each take some stray plasma fire for their trouble, but we kill one Sectoid and drive off the other. I actually see DeHaan’s Holo-Targeting be put to good use in this fight: the combination of forcefields and me-inflicted smoke makes for low to-hit chances all around, and the Holo-Targeting system helps alleviate some of those low odds.

I’m not *entirely* sure how a regular gun shooting regular bullets can suddenly perform holographic magic, but hey.

Jones heals to full, leaving Frederick with two damage and the team out of medkits — not an ideal situation, but we’ll make do — and I proceed further into the UFO. In the distance, three more Sectoids are spotted, while the most cowardly of the original three is quickly hunted down and killed.

“I think XCOM would really benefit from a functioning physics system.” — the single smartest developer at Firaxis.

I swing around the left side of the UFO, trying to find those Sectoids-in-the-mist that are now on the loose, and ever-wary of the Outsider hiding somewhere. The former are found, battle-ready but luckily sans Overwatch, in one of the reactor rooms.

Just sorta hanging around.

I move up and trade fire, but the corridor I’m in is low on cover opportunities. I kill one Sectoid and wound another, but poor visual acuity on my end means I accidentally leave the already-wounded Rookie Frederick completely out in the open. The Sectoids capitalize on my mistake, and Frederick goes down in a hail of plasma fire.

Man down!


Alright, deep breaths. It’s true what they say: it does get easier. Nevertheless, I’m still disappointed in myself for such a preventable death. Because of the valuable, volatile alien reactor in this room, I can’t send Rookie Frederick off like I did Rookie Tyler, but just straight-up charging the Sectoids proves remarkably effective and cathartic.

“This is for David, you son of a bitch.”

Of course, you know what they say about anger and judgement:

Why did I leave DeHaan completely out of cover, here? I… I can’t remember.

An blurry McNutcase ends the third Sectoid, too, earning herself a promotion. It’s almost poetic: two Rookies enter, no Rookies leave.

This screenshot really just shows off the magic of Fraps’ auto-screenshot mode.

We consolidate in the reactor room. What more does this UFO have in store for us? I know for a fact there’s still an Outsider here, somewhere: I heard it. And with Frederick’s death and DeHaan’s preventable injuries, I’m more determined than ever to capture it for the cause.

Opening the door into the central hallway reveals the now-familiar floating crystal, just kind of hanging around. It’s not until I move in to engage that it’s activated, and the Outsider takes shape.

Until then, it just kind of hangs around.

Now, I have to be exceptionally careful here. Both the Outsider and the Arc-Thrower-wielding DeHaan are highly vulnerable, and the death of either will put us right back where we started, with nothing to show for our efforts but a dead Rookie and some alien artifacts. This cannot happen. At the same time, I can’t simply put DeHaan into hiding, as he needs to be close to the Outsider to work his magic.

I opt for the waiting game: I retreat back to the reactor room, put everyone in varying degrees of cover, and let the alien advance. I’m a little worried he might try to kill DeHaan, but find — to my relief — that it favours the half-cover Young over the full-cover DeHaan. It misses, too, just to drive the point of my luck home.

If you see that yellow circle appear beneath your feet, *keep your head down*.

Jones moves in, fires with his pistol. Up to two damage, 50% chance to crit… one damage! That’s as much as I’m willing to risk. DeHaan moves up, aims, pulls the trigger on an 80% chance to stun, and…


And that’s the end of the mission. Time to come home, soldiers.

A cutscene plays, immediately. Steve and dr. Vahlen are discussing the strange Outsider shard, unsure of what to make of it: it’s organic, and it resonates, but is it alive at all? This, as it turns out, is dr. Shen’s time to shine: he immediately recognizes the shard as a functional-yet-alien antenna, an item we can use to trace the alien communications back to the source.

Getting gentle-burned by Shen must *hurt*.

Dr. Vahlen goes to work on decrypting the alien signal, while dr. Shen sets out to construct an interface between our satellite network and the alien crystal. Or, well, they will whenever I tell them to: in practical turns, I get the option to research the Outsider Shard, which will set this plan in motion.

Promotions, you say?


Like Devlin before her, Rookie McNutcase’s unerring accuracy marks her as a natural Sniper. Sergeant ‘Romeo’ Jones picks up the triple-medkit skill like Sergeant Smash. Finally, Sergeant DeHaan deviates from Dima again, picking the Shredder Rocket instead of the Suppression option.

Now, as a final note: I know I said I’d roll with game-assigned nicknames unless I had reasons to change them. The game has assigned DeHaan the nickname ‘Arcade’. And… well, I see where you’re coming from, game, and it’s not bad, but I can do you one better. DeHaan has scored four live captures out of four attempts so far; what he needs is a nickname that more accurately reflects his incredibly prowess in nabbing aliens.

Tell me I didn’t make the right decision here.

And with that, today ends. It’s a terrible shame that Rookie Frederick didn’t make it, but I’m comfortable knowing that, one way or another, his death lead to our current victory. His name is appended to the XCOM Memorial Wall with full honours.

I dislike how the Memorial Wall only tracks ‘Missions’ and ‘Kills’. There’s more ways than one a soldier can be effective.

Next episode: I have a stern word with HR. Who was in charge of hiring Engineers in this place, again?


  1. Woo! Sergeant AND A nickname.

    Also, the fact that in every mission I’m in you leave me out of cover … I’m just really glad you’re wayyyyy over in Europe. I’m starting to fear for my life.

    This has been said by many people, especially in reviews and LPs, but what I really like about X-Com from all I’ve seen is the fact that when you fuck up you can point out how it was your fault more than the games. (Now if only you could choose your character classes. Cause y’know, commanders have no say in how their soldiers are trained in real life)

  2. Up next in “Saving XCOM’s Privates (which you clearly need to work on)”:

    – Wow, that is one messy UFO sweep! I usually treat these things like I’m playing SWAT 4: stack up on the door, Overwatch, breach and clear.

    – Always double-check your cursor position. I may be playing it on the PS3 (where we don’t even see the square grid), but I assume it’s almost equally easy on the PC to accidentally move right next to cover instead of into cover. Very frustrating.

    – If a UFO is shot down, those giant force field rooms tend to have holes all over the place. I prefer to enter via the door, if no aliens show up outside.

    – Still hoping you’ll take on a battleship at some point.

    1. The square grid appears by holding the mouse button down, and due to a glitch that kinda makes it appear. It’s basically a more-obvious version of the squiggly border; pretty good.

      Against (normal mode) Sectoids I so very often pull a DeHaan; get a good shot regardless of cover. You’re not worth the trouble if you can’t instantly kill a god damn Sectoid, soldier!

      “I transferred one of my Interceptors to our airbase there.”
      If you don’t screw up the Gathering of Engineers, I find it much more useful to have two Interceptors everywhere; purchase above transfer. Allows you to take down large scouts by hurling two Interceptors at them should the need arise.

      1. Only a glitch? Man, and here I thought it was a feature.

        The only times I ever move out of cover is to capture/kill the final alien of a mission. Then again, my current Normal run is also a Valkyrie run, so I need to be much more conservative with my troops.

        I second that having two interceptors in each base makes life easier.

        1. The glitch is just one of two ways to make it appear :) As mentioned, holding the button also makes it appear, which is the intended behaviour.
          Jus’ clarifying.

    2. ‘Messy’ is pretty much my modus operandi. I mess up cover assignments a few more times, too, usually with equally great results.

    1. I had that nickname in mind since Episode 7. The fact that he gets it while nabbing an incredibly plot-specific alien is just gravy.

          1. Don’t know about Sectoids, but I’m pretty sure it’ll work on Mutons. Especially Berserkers.

  3. Seeing as how you’ve been throwing biscuits around, I’m gonna straight-up ask – which episode should I look forward to if I wanna see my own little peon in action (and perhaps die horribly)? I’m enjoying each and every episode to a great degree, but this is just obsessing me.

    1. I’m sorry to report your little peon doesn’t actually ever see action. He was part of a group of six soldiers I recruiter with the New Guy upgrade, starting them off as Squaddies, and four of those dudes were Heavies. And when one of those Heavies turned out to be psychic…

      Episode 18, it was. I’ll upload the screenshot of how you turned out at the time, but you never graduate past Barracks Fodder.

      1. Aww man! Welp, that’s what I get for being late to the party. People getting horribly murdered and traumatized and I’m missing all the fun. Sad day.

        1. I’m honestly hoping some good story DLC is released later on — dare I hope for Terror From The Deep? — so I can continue this narrative with the people who haven’t been killed yet.

          1. TFTD was my introduction to the wonderful world of X-COM. If they were to add some underwater DLC to XCOM, I would gobble it up in a second.

  4. Cool stuff! I think the “Holo targeting” is supposed to be some sort of HUD guideline or something, but yeah, it should be there BEFORE he shoots. Oh well.

    I also think it would be neat if your base started off really rough, like bare stone walls with bare lightbulbs hanging from iron hooks or something. Then you could (optionally) improve the decor for a “morale” boost, maybe making the troops panic less often. All it would require is a very few more art assets, and a few more mechanics… Okay, I’ll admit it, I just want it to be Dwarf Fortress.

    1. While I’ve never played Dwarf Fortress for real, ‘I want pretty graphical upgrades that also do something’ is a sentiment I fully share. I never get tired of pointing out that the ‘Power To The People’ weapon upgrade stations were a major determinant in me actually finishing both Bioshocks.

    2. The fact the hologram appears for the Heavy in the first place is strange; it doesn’t even effect him on the first shot! It thematically should appear when other people fire at the alien the Heavy just holo-targetted (and inevitably missed because Heavies).

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