Jarenth Plays XCOM: Enemy Unknown — Episode 12: A Dish Best Served Cold

In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I met a new alien species and was promptly beaten into a bloody pulp like the scrawniest kid at boxing class. I had to abort the mission and flee, tail-between-the-legs, losing three relatively new squad members and Captain Dima in the process. France and Russia are throwing a hissy fit, I didn’t get the resources I wanted nor the resources I settled for, and I still don’t have nearly enough Engineers to create the advanced weapons and armor I’d need to properly face this new threat.

Yeah. I… I don’t rightly now how I’m going to salvage this situation, here.

The mood at XCOM HQ is grimmer than ever. While we’ve lost good men before, every mission before this one was at least something of a success. We could say we’d won, even if the invaders got some painful shots in. This time… no such luck. There was a clear victor here, and it wasn’t the side that fled the battlefield at one-third original strength.

Never forget.

Our research into the strange alien element Elerium finishes. There don’t appear to be any direct tactical benefits associated with this: only the warning that Elerium is not synthesizable, and that our stocks will forever be dependent on what we can scavenge from the aliens. Why did I authorize research of this conceptual level, again? With a clear equipment-mandated loss fresh in my mind, it almost seems trivial.

I look over my research list again. Something to help us fight the invaders, something to help… wait! An idea forms.

This is the idea.

I’ve been capturing aliens left and right, and by now I’ve assembled a decent stockpile of intact alien weapons. So far we’ve been unable to use them, because these weapons are built for alien physiology: the heat buildup from a single shot is enough to seriously injure any human who tries to fire it. But dr. Vahlen believes that some minor alterations would allow us to put these weapons to direct use.

I might not be able to build more advanced weaponry, but we humans didn’t start off as hunters and scavengers for nothing.

The downside to this plan is that this research is going to take a while. It’s marked as SLOW, because we’re dealing with technology beyond our comprehension of the universe here, and the examples we have for study have to stay intact throughout. Fifteen days is the estimate I’m given. Let’s hope we can survive that long.

Over two weeks with no alien activity. Could we get that lucky?

A few days in, I complete the Foundry. As it turns out, the Foundry allows me to requisition upgrades to existing equipment. Improving the accuracy and efficiency of our pistols, enhancing the healing power of our medkits… that sort of thing.

I can’t actually do most of these things right now, because… well, see if you can guess.

Grinding up Thin Man corpses is *hard work*.

One project I can initiate, though, and the one that immediately draws my attention, is the development of something called a Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle. From what I gather, it’s an unmanned robot I can send out on missions, taking the place of a regular XCOM soldier. I’m not entirely sure why this project can be found in the Foundry instead of in Research, but it’s relatively cheap, it requires only a few Engineers, and it might be useful in preventing Rookie deaths down the line. I order this project into production, along with an upgrade that should increase the critical accuracy of all of our pistol-type sidearms.

I like how we already know that this attachment will work for the untested laser and plasma pistols.

Speaking of rookies:

I recruited a bunch of them at Steve’s request.

And with that, we’re back to letting time pass, hoping against hope that the aliens will lay off long enough for us to adapt their plasma rifles to our own use.

Of course it doesn’t take.

For those of you keeping score, that’s three abductions in a row.

Money in Mexico, Scientists in India, or Engineers in the United Kingdom. This time, my wishes and the world’s wishes overlap: panic is at near-maximum in the UK, and the rest of Europe isn’t looking to good either, while both Asia and America are doing relatively fine. The abduction in Leeds is Very Difficult, though. But I have no choice.

I bring the toughest squad I can assemble. This mission is do-or-die: if I fail here, I might as well pack in and go home.

The fate of the world might be in your hands, crew.

The Skyranger flies its short trip to Leeds. I won’t claim the mood aboard is usually jolly, but the silence this time is almost palpable. Everyone here knows what’s at stake. Everyone here knows what they’re likely flying in to meet. They’ve heard the stories. They can see Krellen fidgeting.

You can’t see it very well, but take it from me that fidgeting happened.

Touchdown. Focus. Go-time.

Shoot first, ask questions never.

We seem to be at… I’m guessing it’s some sort of research facility. A three-story building dominates the landscape, with a massive telescope and a spacious walkway on the third floor; I make a mental note to have Sergeant Young take up position here later.

Let’s see what that Squad Sight can do.

I’m not the only one who thought so, however, as two Floaters have taken up position here. A third one can be seen around the corner on the ground. I slowly approach the building, specifically the ladder, in order to minimize early damage. I attempt to use Overwatch to catch the Floaters in a bad position, but again the aliens copy me preemptively.

Can I sue them for this?

Over the next few turns, I take the Floaters out. They get a few hits in, partially because of good accuracy and partially because I misjudge some Overwatch sight lines. I have six medkit uses, though, so it’s all good.

The roof-level Floaters actually descend to join the ground-level fighting, which puts them in a prime rocket position. I actually remember after firing that I probably should have been saving that rocket, but the pretty explosion helps take my mind off it.

I think we can all agree it’s a really pretty explosion.

Four additional Floaters show up after this. They really kinda replaced Sectoids as the invaders’ go-to soldiers, haven’t they? No matter: Floaters, I can deal with. Like this:

Little DeHaan action shot for all you DeHaan fans out there.

Or like this:

“Shotgun!”

And just when I hope against hope that this is it; that with gun, and grenade, and rocket, all I’m expected to do today is clear out a Floater infestation…

Check out the steely gaze of the terrifying alien monster on the left.

Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck what do I do?

I’ll tell you what I need to do: Calm. Down. Last time, we fought these monsters under terrible conditions, with half the squad dead before the initial engagement. Last time, I brought Rookies; this time, I brought medkits. I can do this. I can do this. I have to be able to do this.

From the third-story balcony, a heavily injured Sergeant Young takes aim and fires. Headshot. It doesn’t kill the monster outright, but he comes damn close.

“Let’s see you guys top *that*!”

Another one of the monsters retaliates, hitting Sergeant Young with nigh-perfect accuracy from nearly fifty meters away.

“Okay.”

Fuck.

Alright, deep breaths. The other monsters respectively miss and perform something called a Blood Call, which is probably way scarier than it sounds. I can’t focus on that right now. I need to kill one of these things.

Krellen moves in, fires his pistol, and fails to kill one. The monster retaliates by Intimidating Krellen, causing him to panic.

In Krellen’s defense, his panic takes the form of trying to shoot the alien again.

Fuck.

Another turn in which three monsters live. DeHaan gets hit, Krellen gets missed yet remains catatonic. We’re not dead yet.

DeHaan might have fired his regular rocket already, but his Shredder Rocket is still an option. I take aim, fire, and audibly hear DeHaan yell “Rocket off-course!” as the rocket visibly veers to the right.

Fuck.

Wait, no, not fuck: the rocket still manages to hit and shred the armor of a single alien. It’s alright: I can win this. They’re not immortal.

It’s not what I was hoping for, but I can still make it work.

And finally, Lieutenant Loween — of course it’s Loween — manages to do the seemingly impossible. The alien — the Muton, it’s called — takes a shotgun blast to a critical area of its weird anatomy, and it slumps over. Dead.

I’d like to point out here that Loween dealt enough damage in that hit to potentially take out a full-health one.

And just like that, the spell is broken. They can die. There’s two of them and five of me, and I’m in a good position. I can win this.

To prove a point of some vague description, Sergeant Jones opts to get all up in the second Muton’s face. The aliens are much less scary when they’re visibly near-death.

“And I thought *Chryssalids* were ugly up close.”

In preparation for the third Muton, I have Loween, Krellen and Smash group up inside an open semi-trailer. They have good cover there, and…

The Muton reaches into its armor, pulls out a beeping green object, and lobs it into the truck. An alien grenade. It explodes for five damage, harming Smash and Loween and setting the truck on fire.

It also somehow manages to make the grenade loop-de-loop in midair.

Alright, this would be bad if they’d done it sooner. It’s no problem now: the Muton is at close range, it’s my turn, I have plenty of healing left, and its three stupid hitpoints should prove no difficulty for…

…three hitpoints.

Three hitpoints.

Fffffffuck.

This screenshot contains everything you need to understand my current dilemma.

I can go for the capture. I could go for the capture. I don’t want to go for the capture. DeHaan is out of range: I’d have to run him in, close to the Muton, to try it next turn. I have plenty of healing, but only two healing-applicators, meaning DeHaan and Jones won’t survive another direct hit. Hell, even Loween is liable to get killed. It’s a terrible idea, I really shouldn’t risk it, and damnit I’ve already moved DeHaan into position.

Everyone’s in heavy cover, now. If the Muton attacks Jones, he’s dead. If it attacks DeHaan, he’s dead. I’ve put Smash and Loween next to the burning truck cab like an idiot, so if it attacks any of them, the incoming explosion will kill any of them. My only hope for making it out of here unharmed — well, only as harmed as I am right now — is if the Muton decides to attack Krellen.

The Muton decides to attack Krellen.

This… breaking character for a second, this is the single greatest stroke of luck I’ve had so far.

And with that, all stress fades. Krellen retaliates for two damage, leaving the Muton at one health. DeHaan moves in, and… well, you know how this goes.

“You’re coming home with us, gorgeous.”

End of the mission. I honestly can’t believe that went as well as it did.

Loween and Krellen both make Captain, giving both of them a choice between Close Combat Specialist (free reaction fire on any enemy that gets within 4 squares, no Overwatch needed) or Bring ‘Em On (1 extra damage per visible enemy on critical hits). I can see how the latter can be good, but the former is the clear winner for both of their builds. DeHaan makes Lieutenant, gaining him the +100% Against Robots HEAT Ammo. It’s what Dima didn’t do, hence.

This mission was… a great success, really. It’s a shame Sergeant Young had to die, but we’ve obtained a living Muton for interrogation, a few dead ones for autopsy, and an intact version of the Alien Grenades they use. Mexico did hit full Panic, I’m sorry to admit, but it was really either them or the UK.

And let’s not forget my mission reward: the oh-so-crucial Engineers!

Fan-fucking-FINALLY.

I still can’t construct the Skeleton Key, but Carapace Armor and Laser weapons are now within my reach. Building the latter triggers a little cutscene in which the boys from the lab demonstrate the power these weapons have over cardboard Sectoids.

Thanks for the demo, egghead. We’ll call you if there’s an attack at Comicon, alright?

I have a feeling this mission was a real turnaround for me.

Next episode: this mission was a real turnaround for me, but not exactly how I expected it.

25 comments

  1. I went to Leeds once. Some guy who was driving past leaned out of his window and shouted, ‘get your hair cut, you southern poof!’. Frankly, I’d let the the aliens have it.

    Also, that cardboard sectoid in the final shot? If you’d played UFO: Enemy Unknown, you would now be experiencing the warm glow of a reference.

    1. I’m aware of the reference, through the magic of XCOM Let’s Plays. I tried to find a place to work it in, but decided that making fun of silly cutscenes took precedence.

  2. Risky, so risky. I fully expected the Muton to shoot me and die, due to missing the capture attempt. But man, good job on capturing it.

    And finally Engineers!

    Pity about Mexico, but luckily the month is only half over. You might get lucky. (Might have gotten lucky? Which tense do I use for this?!)

    1. I’d suggest treating it like in-character Jarenth, which means future episodes are in the future. Or just laughing heartily, that works too.

  3. Looking at the pre-mission world visual hologram, it seems that Earth is a really colourful place.

    That’s bad, isn’t it?

  4. “And that’s why I dislike the Scope”
    What, because you failed to put your sniper at a proper distance? Multiple times? :p
    He’s got Squad Sight, he shouldn’t have been in firing range of anyone. When he’s not in firing range, having a Vest or Medkit is pointless.

    “Krellen moves in, fires his pistol,”
    I take it he was out of ammo?

    1. He was. After discovering the pistol, it took me a little while to work out proper reloading moments. So I had a few missions where certain soldiers would just end up pistol-whipping their way to victory.

      If putting a sniper on a high balcony is wrong, I don’t want to be right. It’s not my fault Mutons and Floaters are hyper-accurate. Plus, Snipers with medkits can pull double duty in off-hours.

  5. “prompty beating into” should be “prompyLy beatEN into”

    Finally feeling the pressure huh? Lots of guys going through medical now.
    I wonder how it would affect them between missions. Do the soldiers visit each-other in the infirmary? Is there a “Welcome back from the burn ward!” party? Do the soldiers even live in the medical wing, or do they just show up for daily checkups? It’s not like they’re going to leave the base.
    All non-gameplay stuff of course, but it makes me curious.

  6. And today on “Of Mutons and Men”:

    – The cardboard Sectoid is in fact the design of the Sectoids of the first game.

    – SHIVs! They’re not that good in the final missions, but I got a lot of mileage out of the Alloy version, which can be used as mobile cover.

    – Looking at that loop-de-loop grenade’s path, it also seems to make a turn at some point. That’s one heck of a throwing arm!

    – Finally, we have Carapace Armor. 11 episodes too late, though. Hopefully you’ll get on that Titan Armor research a little faster.

    1. You are suggesting I should have had Carapace Armor in Episode 2? Which, I’ll remind you, takes place about ten days after the start of the game?

      1. Exaggeration on my part. You should’ve had them much, much sooner than now, though.

        1. Still getting it sooner than I did.

          Edit: Sorry, I take that back. Apparently I beat Jarenth to actually having Carapace armour to equip by a week.

    2. A pack of six Hover SHIVs can take just about anything out (whilst making a less-enjoyable metric crapton of noise) :) Lots of fuel to get the high ground, solid damage, great mobility. They’re pretty fun. Alloy SHIVs are also solid options.

      Additionally, with a whole bunch of Workshops, they’re practically free; I got the rebate to such silly levels it’s cheaper to make Hover SHIVs than to recruit soldiers.

        1. Better than a Heavy (same weapon but more accurate. Welp), more damaging than a Support (but naturally no support), worse than Assault and Sniper because they’re the best. ‘course, a Major/Col. rank soldier takes a whole lot more than one dollar, two alloys and one Elerium per squad :P

          1. Yeah, no, that’s the thing: the SHIV takes the place of a soldier who could earn valuable experience (assuming they’d survive). And Shredder Rockets, Triple Medkits, Rapid Fire and Double Tap are all much better in my opinion than built-in flight.

          2. Shredders suck so hard. A regular shot deals more damage, and a regular rocket deals the same. The damage bonus is rounded down and enemies don’t have enough health to make the small, tiny, pointless amounts of damage matter at all. They are only redeemed by two things; the fact Grenades are even worse, and that Rockets are heavily limited (I guess).

            ——-
            SHIVs take the place of soldiers that could be gaining experience — but in trade they don’t need experience to function :) To be honest, in regular gameplay I just don’t use them, but they’re a fun gimmick.
            Also; don’t forget Squad Sight, Run and Gun, and Dense Smoke :P

    1. Given that you were the only one present who knew what was coming, I like to think you just psyched yourself out pretty badly.

    2. I’ve had people make ridiculous shots that save people’s lives – after panicking. I’ve also had them shoot a teammate and ruin the entire mission.

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