In the last episode of Jarenth Plays XCOM, I was confronted with the first real proof that my overthrow of the alien base has had any influence on the alien command hierarchy: the UFO I shot down was commanded not by the crystalline Outsider alien I expected to find, but by a pair of Sectoid Commanders. I managed to salvage the craft without too much difficulty, however, even taking the opportunity to capture one of these Sectoid Commanders for interrogation. Combat experience was gained, alien materials were harvested, and all in all, the mission was a complete success above and beyond reasonable expectations.
And if the aliens keep up their current tactics and troop composition, everything will probably remain fine forever.
Okay, so remember that Abduction mission that popped up at the end of the last episode? It wasn’t very interesting. I went to Egypt, for money, Very Difficult, you know the drill. In fact, I can summarize everything you’d want to know about that mission in seven screenshots:
Par for the course, sadly. Could have done without the needless death, but that was really mostly my own fault.
Not two days after that mission, something happens that’s much more interesting than a generic Abduction mission: the Psionics Laboratory becomes operational.
The Psi-Lab works like this: I can admit up to three soldiers at a time for testing. ‘Testing’ means they are taken out of commission for no less than ten days. After that amount of time has passed… something happens, I guess. I learn whether or not they have psionic potential.
For the first round of testing, I admit Loween, Tovik and DeHaan. Let’s see if any of you guys have mental powers to go with your combat prowess.
I also finish research on the regular Plasma Rifle, which is to Light Plasma Rifles what Light Plasma Rifles are to Assault Rifles. Which is to say, a whole new ball-game. I commission the Titan Armor research project next, then scrape up all my money and resources and buy one of these weapons. Yes, one. They’re quite expensive.
As is custom, the boys at the lab demonstrate how well this weapon performs against cardboard aliens. Cardboard Mutons, this time, which I at least appreciate for its relevance.
It’s a development right on time, too, because no sooner do I restart the advance of time towards Titan Armor and Psychic Training than this happens:
Goodie. On the one hand, I’d been hoping for one of these: doing them correctly lowers Panic continent-wide. On the other hand, just because that first Terror mission was relatively easy doesn’t mean I’m stupid: I understand full well they’re supposed to be really hard. And three of my best soldiers are currently undergoing psi-training.
As before, I assemble the strongest squad I can find for this mission. It’s not the strongest squad I could get in theory, but it’ll have to do. Lasers for the Heavy and the Sniper, a Plasma Rifle for the squad leader, and as many Plasma Pistols as I can spare. Three medkits on three Supports. Let’s do this.
Random in-Skyranger screenshot:
We touch down in front of what appears to be a burning court building. Civilians are standing around dazed and scared, plasma impacts litter the ground, and did I mention the fire?
First things first: quick rescue actions. Krellen and Smash swerve to the left to pick up some in-range stragglers, while the rest of the squad gathers up near an ominous door not far from our landing spot. I don’t intend on actually opening the door, but then one of the civilians I ‘rescue’ decides to just run through it anyway. Revealing the three Chryssalids on the other side.
The Chryssalids don’t seem to have noticed me yet, but I’m afraid that as soon as I move any of my soldiers they will. I do this, and I’m proven right: literally the first step Lieutenant Malfeasant takes causes the alien bugs to come out of the woodwork. Luckily, most of them decide to run away from the heavily armored soldiers.
Civilians die off-screen during the alien turn, as expected. Lieutenant Malfeasant attempts to finish off the injured Chryssalid, but fails…
…but it dies to Sergeant Vecre soon enough.
Meanwhile, I have Krellen move further left-ward, in an attempt to tag some more civilians. This proves to be something of a dumb idea, as the civilian in question is lounging in front of some large windows. Which gives me line of sight onto some more angry Chryssalids.
Chryssalids, and something else.
W…whoops? Most of the Chryssalids skitter off-screen, but the floating alien disc — a Cyberdisc, I take it — flies straight at Krellen. Like, three squares away from his position, un-covered. This looks like I might have made a tactical blunder here.
I have Smash throw a smoke grenade at Krellen’s position, in vain hopes of making it miss whatever attack it’s about to undertake from point-blank range. The rest of the team groups up at various cover-places nearby, hoping that what comes next is a counter-attack instead of a vengeance out-lash. Lieutenant Viel uses his Skeleton Suit to climb the nearby roof, saving a civilian in the process.
It’s now the aliens’ turn. The wobbling disk seems to gather itself, then turns into a giant floating robotic scorpion. Jesus Christ. It turns to Krellen, takes aim, and fires several bolts of glowing yellow energy at him.
No, past him.
The Chryssalids skitter up and down, biting Krellen and a civilian both. One of those new Drones flies into view, and hold the phone, is that a zombie?
Whatever. The important thing is that Krellen is not dead yet. I run him back to Captain Jones to get healed and de-poisoned; apparently, Chryssalids are poisonous. Smash suppresses the Cyberdisc, Malfeasant moves into a flanking Overwatch position, Vecre smokes the whole team, and Viel saves some more civilians up on the roof.
The Cyberdisc dips its ‘tail’ into the inside of its body, spins around real quickly and throws an Alien Grenade straight into my team.
Chryssalids swarm our position, dodging Overwatch fire but not actually attacking, as more and more of the strange Zombies crawl out of the woodwork. There’s aliens everywhere, I don’t know what the Zombies can do yet, and half my team just got grenaded in the proverbial face. I am not in a particularly good position.
Okay, no sense in panicking. What do I do to regain tactical superiority here?
Well, I’m being swarmed by Chryssalids. If I stay in range and fire, and they survive, they’ll strike back and almost certainly kill someone. But if I have everyone fall back, they will likely just follow me. And there’s not a whole lot of heavy cover left, what with that grenade impact. Let’s see…
Let’s just try to take some of them out. I have Krellen fall back and fire. Miss. Smash falls back and attacks a flanking Zombie, but fails to take it out completely; Vecre follows suit and kills it. Viel uses his Plasma Pistol for some guaranteed damage on a nearby Chryssalid, but that too survives. Malfeasant falls back and reloads. That’s five actions, one death.
Okay, this didn’t work out particularly well. Captain Jones is the only one with actions left, and I’m lost for effect for a second. I really want to do something smart here, but I can’t think of something. Anything. How can I stop these Chryssalids from swarming over me and killing everyone?
I can’t think of something smart to do. Therefore, to crib a phrase from Tom Francis, I do whatever is left when I can’t do something smart: I do something stupid. I run Jones into an open corner, right next to the Chryssalid Viel injured, and have him finish it off. He’s now out in the open, but in a cloud of protective smoke: maybe, just maybe, the aliens will attempt to attack him and miss, Krellen-style.
The Cyberdisc does take the bait. It’s just too bad that the smoke cloud dissipates at the end of my turn, leaving Jones completely uncovered. The Disc fires again, yellow energy flashes, and Ranneko Jones goes down.
But wait! Jones is down, but not out. He’s not dead, just ‘Critically Injured’: if I get someone with a medkit to him within three turns, he can be stabilized and will survive the mission… assuming we win. Luckily, I have two medkit-wielders still around. There’s hope yet.
One Chryssalid climbs up to the roof — it can do that? — runs straight past Viel, and drops down at the other end. Erm?
Okay, whatever. I can saves Captain Jones, but it’s going to take precision, planning and luck. The Cyberdisc is floating right next to him, and while I can’t see the Chryssalids right now I know they’re around here somewhere. But gruesome though the plan might have been, it’s worked: the rest of the team is in prime position to strike back. Three turns is all I have, but three turns is plenty. Let’s make it happen.
Step one: eliminate the immediate threat of the Cyberdisc. On the one hand, it looks very intimidating and deadly; on the other, I haven’t actually ever shot at it yet. I have Lieutenant Malfeasant hit it with her Shredder Rocket, which brings it to twelve out of sixteen hitpoints. My plan is to slowly grind down its HP by a series of damage-boosted attacks, but that plan proves fruitless when Lieutenant Viel (at the roof’s edge) looks over the edge, aims his sniper rifle straight down, and flat-out kills the Cyberdisc in a single shot. It explodes in a bright yellow bloom, and correspondingly my day just got a little brighter.
Well, that went well! Glad I’ll never have to worry about that Cyberdisc ever again.
Okay, no pressure still. I enact step two: take up position around the fallen Ranneko Jones and get him stabilized. Vecre does the honours, while Viel and Malfeasant take potshots at the various aliens that crawled out of the burning entrance. Is that… Christ, there’s five Chryssalids there now.
Okay, so maybe clumping up around Jones wasn’t my best ever idea. This notion is reinforced when several Chryssalids rush out and attack the now-clearly-in-melee-range soldiers. Krellen gets one, but another runs up to Smash and kills him in a single hit.
And just like that we’re in a bad spot again. I’m just glad the Disc decides to sit this turn out.
Okay, plan. I can fall back again. The Chryssalids are clumped up now, which makes them prime Regular Rocket fodder. Lieutenant Malfeasant is in range. Krellen runs, Vecre runs, Viel is still on his roof, and Smash will never run again. Which leaves…
I… I’m sorry, Ranneko. I really am. You came so close to surviving this terrible mission. And I wish I could just leave you lying there, but… I can’t attempt to take these Chryssalids one at a time. They’re grouped up now. I have to take this opportunity.
With steady hands and iron heart, I order Lieutenant Malfeasant to fire her remaining rocket straight at the group of Chryssalids currently skittering around the unconscious form of Ranneko Jones. The resulting explosion harms the alien monsters significantly, but kills Captain Jones outright.
It’s a tactically sound decision, and Vecre, Viel and Krellen make short work of the three Chryssalids. But I think I’ll have to schedule extensive therapy time for Malfeasant after this. And for myself, maybe.
No Chryssalids on the alien turn, but the Cyberdisc does approach. I try more falling back, but Lieutenant Malfeasant panics. Her wild shooting isn’t enough to keep the Disc at bay, and…
And now Krellen panics. I can’t blame him, but I’m down three soldiers now; my chances of victory are slimmer than ever. And just how many Chryssalids are out there?
No, I can’t think this way. Focus on the now. This Cyberdisc, like the previous one, is now in the open. And this Cyberdisc, like the previous one, is about to learn what happens if you cross the Viel clan. Especially when they have the high ground, and laser rifles.
Vecre polishes off the second Disc, Krellen calms down, and for the moment, everything looks fine. Then the Chryssalids appear again.
Two of them climb the roof to Viel, but mercifully, only one of them attacks. Had they both attacked… I pull Viel back down, and consolidate my three remaining soldiers into one defensible position. I’ll let the Chryssalids come, then: they can charge across the open and run themselves down on my plasma fire. If there’s a third Cyberdisc out there, this strategy is sure to kill me… but then again if there’s a third Cyberdisc out there, I’m dead regardless.
Let them come.
The next few turns are a repeating pattern. Shoot the Chryssalids in view, kill one or two of them, then watch them charge up to Krellen and Viel’s position. Most of them don’t get any attacks in, but some do. And there’s no end to them. Were all of these Chryssalids on this map from the start?
No, of course they weren’t. Veterans of the X-COM project already know this, and the research team has hinted at this earlier, but Chryssalids reproduce by killing human beings and implanting their embryos into the corpse. That’s what these Zombies are: walking, gestating Chryssalid babies. Christ, all those civilians I didn’t save… I finally get a face full of this when one zombie ambles into view, falls over, and explodes into bug.
And of course the new-born Chryssalid is immediately capable of running up to Krellen and not attacking. Well, happy birthday, asshole. Guess what I got you?
The plan works, but for how long… oddly, there’s one of the Drones here, too, but it’s not firing at me. It’s firing every turn, that’s for sure, but it seems to be… is it killing the civilians I saved? Yes, that’s exactly what it is doing: every turn, it shoots and kills one of the civilians I told to go take shelter near the Skyranger. As if I don’t feel bad enough about myself already.
One Chryssalid left. Krellen has one hit point, and he’s the only one with a turn. And his weapon is out. I could have him use his pistol, but that’d be a death warrant. Instead, I do something stupid again: I run Krellen down a few squares, reload, and hope to god that the Chryssalid’s dumb instincts make it attack Viel instead. And that Viel actually survives.
I kill the final Chryssalid, but that doesn’t end the mission. The Drone is still alive, for one. Krellen has one hit point left, Viel has one hit point left and is poisoned, and Vecre is out of medkits. And the Drone is fairly far away.
I have three shots to kill this Drone. If I miss, or if there’s any other enemy on the map, Viel will die. And if there’s anything on the map more dangerous than another Drone, I’ll probably lose. I’m at the end of my options, here.
Viel takes the shot.
Christ. Talk about your mixed victory.
The rewards I get are less than hoped: because of my relatively poor performance, only panic in Mexico decreases by two. But that’s okay.
Because while this mission was horrible beyond compare, while we lost a lot of good men and innocent civilians, and while we have relatively little to show for it…
…we were there. We stood up to alien aggression, we repelled alien forces the likes of which the world had never seen before, and we sent a clear signal. No matter how dirty this war will become, no matter the losses, no matter the costs: XCOM will be there.
Finally, I break my nicknaming rules for the second time: because now-Captain Viel was nearly completely responsible for the destruction of the two alien Cyberdics, I give him an old-timey nickname that I feel better reflects this achievement.