So, back in the day I played UFO: Enemy Unknown. I’m not sure what it was, back it never grabbed my attention in the way Jagged Alliance did. Jagged Alliance did have a strange emotional attachment – one day my dad came home and handed me a bunch of games, one of which was Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games. He said it got it for me because it had “RPG” in the description. It felt good that he knew what teenage me liked, even though it wasn’t entirely surprising. He was my only LAN partner for many years – a 20 metre serial cable connecting our two 486s playing Command and Conquer and Red Alert (and before that single screen International Karate+ on Amiga!). This means XCOM: Enemy Unknown is my first real experience of the series. I tried going back to the original before playing this reboot but I just didn’t connect. Which is weird because it has all the elements I enjoy: character progression, tactical combat, strategic planning. I think it might be the art direction (rather than the graphics) that turns me away. Or maybe I just want to admit it is the graphics (but if that is all it is, why can I into Dwarf Fortress so much?!).
I’m playing on “Classic” difficulty, which is recommended for XCOM series veterans and in Ironman mode. I’ve played the tutorial so I’ve got the basics down, and turn based tacticals are something I’m fairly familiar with. Ironman mode means that there is no reloading. When your favourite character is dead, she’s dead! Nooooooo.
First mission is into Nigera. I’ll call it Operation Wet Road. Because it takes place on a goddam wet road. I’m sent to disrupt an alien abduction in progress. I’ve got four grunts to work with.
Each grunt has a name (This guy is called Mike Smith!) a gender an ethnicity and a nationality. These are randomly assigned for each new recruit, though there seems to be a bias towards male rather than female troops. First order of the day is to get to cover. Cover comes in three levels: None, Half and Full. And there is a modifier of some sort which means the target is flanked, basically cover only applies in one direction, as far as I can tell, though it seems like the angle of attack has some modifiers. I’ll figure that out as I go along.
After a few turns leapfrogging up the road I eventually run into a group of sketchy looking Greys (here called Sectoids) hanging around a truck. Naturally, dialogue is dispensed with and violence begins. The movement system, while turn based, actually feels really hectic with the camera sometimes dropping down to follow the soldier from behind with a kind of hand-held effect. In the next couple of turns I move three soldiers up the left hand side, one behind the blue car, another the cop car and a third behind the park bench. The fourth guy heads up the right to try and flank the Sectoids from the right hand truck. As poor Kostya runs to the (surprisingly strong) parkbench, a Sectoid pops out to take a shot, taking 3 of his 5 hit points with some superheated plasma.
Kostya fails to give a fuck and dives behind a park bench. While the alien takes cover behind a newspaper stand. Meanwhile, on the right flank, the Italian Stallion Moletta takes out a Sectoid from behind the cop car. He set up there at the end of his movement turn on oversight, which means he will get a shot at any enemy that moves into his field of view.
After taking out the grey, Moletta sneaks up behind the truck on the right in order to flank the enemy. I’m not certain of the flanking mechanic other than it requires two units to approach the target from separate directions, not sure what level of angle makes it happen. Firing head-to-head the other three, one of which is hiding behind a Vespa (Land of Improbable Cover!), the change to hit is quite low. Once Moletta gets into position shit will hit the fan!
Moletta leaps out from behind the truck, and disgracefully misses the Sectoid from an embarrassingly close range. He is also now stuck out in the open which means the two greys are probably about to fry his pepperoni!
But wait! His pepperoni is spared and he walks away with his salami in hand. His flanking worked, allowing the other three soldiers an opportunity to explode the Sectoids into delicious edible* goo.
*Not actually edible.
And so the mission ends. 4 Sectoids are dead. Two soldiers with moderate wounds and are sent to the infirmary to rest. Three of the four level up, gaining a specialisation (Assault, Sniper and Heavy). Good job fellas!
In part two – Exciting Administration and chaos in downtown San Francisco!