In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I witnessed the meteoric rise and fall of THUNDER-2, the Super Heavy Infantry Vehicle with nothing to lose. It broke, though, and I can’t fix it. Right now it’s displayed in a corner of my office: an eternal reminder of the cost of vigilance. And a neat coat-rack.
Oh, and a UFO showed up. That might be important too, come to think of it.
Now, what we have here is your typical alien scout vessel. Medium size, as much as that means anything. They’re fairly easy to take down for our run-of-the-mill fighters, so I won’t even waste the Floater-corpse Dodge module I have handy. A few seconds of trading missiles and plasma bolts later, the UFO crashes down in eastern Kansas. Yes, Kansas again.
The last UFO run, which I chose to not report on at the time, went really well with half a team of Rookies. With this in mind, I decide to make full use of this excellent training opportunity: Rookie Alexandra the First and Squaddies (Jaipaku) Hatsu and (Brandon) Jonely are accompanied by Sergeants Jones and Vecre and Corporal Sanderson. It’s a low-ranking team, but that’s the whole idea.
Two things of note happen before we set out. First, I try out the new Skeleton Suit armor, and actually have the presence of mind to capture some images of the little cutscene that plays whenever new armor is first equipped. Here, Corporal Sanderson (who ends up wearing the first armor, with Rookie Hatsu wearing the second) is showing off his best Batman impression:
The Skeleton Suit, you see, is a little less powerful than the Carapace Armor — 3 health instead of 4 — but compensates for that by containing a built-in grappling hook. I’m not entirely sure just how useful that will be in a mission in rural Kansas, but we’ll see.
Let’s just get on with the mission. Quickly.
You can tell how far we’ve come just from the in-Skyranger briefing movie. Where we were once four regular soldiers, with Kevlar vests and assault rifles, a quick glance now reveals six super-humans wrapped in alien steel and bright glowing super-weapons.
The crash site is, well, a crash site. Trees, rocks, fire, you know the drill.
The very first thing I do is try out Rookie Hatsu’s grappling hook. Really, can you blame me? Using it ‘counts as one move’ and highlights a number of higher-ground squares in the direct vicinity. I click one, a zipline flies, and Hatsu bravely climbs a two-meter rock face not ten steps from the easy access ramp.
Okay, joking aside, this could be quite useful in city missions. In this open forest, however, I’ll probably get little use out of it. But the armor’s strong enough that the loss of Carapace armor isn’t felt too keenly. Just as long as neither of them dies on one hit point.
It only takes one turn of boring, careful scouting before the Mutons show up.
Forgetting the lessons from the past for a bit, I instinctively attempt to clump up around the few pockets of full cover I can see. Can you guess how Mutons react to crowds of people?
Luckily, two can play at that game:
Jonely takes some plasma for his troubles, too, but after that the Mutons fall quickly; Jonely himself doing the honours of stunning the second one. Onwards!
The entrance to the alien ship actually manages to surprise me, because I find it crewed by the one type of alien I honestly thought I’d never see again:
Yeah, really, just regular old Sectoids. They weren’t particularly scary when I first encountered them, but now I’m packing technology that far outpaces their stagnant health pools and Plasma Pistols. Sure, they have that psychic boosting trick, but I’m looking into that, as well. Frankly, I don’t see how these Sectoids could ever pose a threat to this operation.
The frontmost Sectoid hits Rookie the First for four damage. This causes her to panic.
Okay, fair enough: this is the First’s first combat outing, and first actual alien contact. It’s easy for us, battle-hardened soldiers, to forget how utterly vile these aliens are the first time you see them. I question the logistics of the First being fine with Mutons but scared of Sectoids, but it could be a pop culture influence thing. ‘Little grey men’, that sort of stuff. Plus, her panic takes the form of desperately trying to gun the offending alien down, so I’m okay with it.
Watching Rookie the First panic causes Squaddie Hatsu to panic. She hunkers down behind a tree trunk, muttering to herself.
O…kay. I guess since Hatsu can’t actually see the Sectoids, she has no idea what the First spotted in that UFO entrance. And watching another human being freak out can be hard on the best of us. I guess curling into a ball and crying is a… let’s say natural response when you can’t actually shoot wildly at any aliens.
Watching Squaddie Hatsu panic causes Squaddie Jonely to panic. He grabs his Heavy Laser minigun, aims it square at Squaddie Hatsu, and through sheer providence manages to only completely obliterate the tree she’s hiding behind.
Christ. With friends like these, who needs aliens? I swear, if this panic chain spreads any further, I’m conceding victory to the aliens. Total victory.
The Sectoids, luckily, don’t actually do much with the pretty-much-free turn they’ve been given. Suck and miss, as usual. Damage control is undertaken, tempers are calmed, and Sectoids are shot. Hatsu and the First redeem themselves by killing a Sectoid and taking point, respectively; Jonely redeems himself by not pulling out his rocket launcher and blowing up the valuable alien power core.
Several turns of slowly exploring the surprisingly mundane UFO follow. I find more Sectoids outside, but come on: they’re Sectoids. It took me less effort to kill them than it’s taking me to write this sentence right now.
Finally, I come to the last unexplored room. If I know my UFO lore, there should be an Outsider inside. Right?
Oh, deary, those are two Sectoid Commanders. Regular Sectoids might have stopped registering, but these guys have actual psychic powers. There’s still only two of them and six (relatively-unharmed) of us, but I’m on my toes rega–
Hey, they’re clumped up. Hey, Jonely hasn’t moved yet. Hey, Jonely’s a Heavy.
Hey, Hatsu’s about to have an even better mission record.
And then there was one Sectoid Commander left. Alone. Severely hurt. Can you guess what happens next?
Sanderson does the preliminaries, bringing the Commander down to 1 health. But now I’m in a little bind: Jonely, the assigned Arc-wielder for today, already did his rocket thing. So that means one turn with an angry, vengeful Sectoid Commander. Jonely’s in the room with it, now, really close by and at full health. But what will it do? Will it attempt mind-control? Will it use its psychic powers for a direct assault? Will it overload the power core, taking us all out in a massive explosion?
Will it take its shitty Plasma Pistol and perform an utterly forgettable generic frontal attack?
Not how I would have spent my last action as a free alien, but hey.
Win. Excellent mission, team!
What’ve we got? Squaddie the First goes Assault. Existing Assault Sergeant ‘Android’ Sanderson gets Lightning Reflexes, because that’s too good to miss. Captain Jones goes for the Combat Drugs smoke upgrade, simply because Captain Smash didn’t: this causes his smoke grenades to grant an additional +20 Will and +10% Critical Chance to ‘all units in the cloud’. Corporal Jonely gains Holo-Targeting. And finally, Corporal Hatsu gets Squadsight.
Not a bad loot haul, either. Lots of Alloys, some Elerium, Weapon Fragments. Three intact UFO Flight Computers and one Power Core, and one damaged version of each. A new Light Plasma Rifle and Alien Grenade from the Muton I nabbed. But the main prize, without a doubt, is the living Sectoid Commander we brought back. I can’t wait to pick this thing’s brains. The free Plasma Pistol it was packing isn’t exactly punishment, either.
After sending some Arc Throwers to Canada as per a request (trading them for Scientists), I advance time again. This leads in the completion of the Hyperwave Beacon project, that… let me just quote a bit of dr. Vahlen here:
As far-fetched as it may seem, several members of the research team have theorized that this device may be capable of transmitting and receiving signals beyond our own dimension. The implications of this possibility affect all areas of known science, and perhaps most alarmingly, indicate that the Sectoid Commander may have been receiving signals or… orders… from a higher authority.
So no, the war’s probably not over yet.
Dr. Vahlen suggests we construct a special facility to house the Hyperwave Beacon, the ‘Hyperwave Relay’, which should hopefully allow us to track these extra-dimensional signals. I note this down for later construction, after I obtain the necessary resources, then turn my attention to interrogating the Sectoid Commander.
It doesn’t take long: for all its psionic power, the Commander’s brain falls before our technology just as easily as any other creature’s. Doing so nets me a Psionic Research Credit.
I decide to turn my attention to researching better Plasma Rifles next. But before I can even get that project underway…
Sigh. It never ends, does it?