Though I lost a hero in the last mission, I found a new one in Agooda, so spirits where still high back at X-Com HQ.
Missions aren’t the only thing to take care of in X-Com. You have to run your entire subterranean base of operations. This means managing a budget, assigning staff, choosing research and engineering projects to undertake and juggling the expectations of your clients: the nations of Earth. There a couple of competing currencies in X-Com. The obvious one is money, which you use to undertake projects, buy equipment and so on and the second is panic. National governments fund the X-Com project with money and expect results in return – measured by the panic level of their nation. If the alien invasion is left unchecked, missions are failed and so on, panic increases and eventually you risk losing financial support from governments. When you lose the support of 8 of the 16 governments, X-Com is shut down. Game over. There is also a blackmarket in alien artifacts and bodies which can be used to raise cash, though these items are also needed to undertake research and build certain technologies.
This is what your base looks like. You can expand it horizontally and vertically, filling the spaces with new facilities, factories, laboratories, training rooms and so on. There is a nice piece of details here where you can zoom into each facility and watch your staff go about their business; soldiers relax at the bar or exercise, scientists monitor equipment. It doesn’t add anything to gameplay but is a nice immersive touch.
Research is perhaps the most critical non-combat task that you’ll need to manage. With research comes better weapons, tactics and armour, all of which will count just as much as good tactical decision making when out on a mission. This is especially apparent in Ironman mode where soldiers are often killed with a single shot if they’re not equipped with appropriate protection.
While the good doctor is dissecting some corpses the X-Com team are alerted to an alien bomb that has been planted in a London railway station. The team kits up and heads out to defuse it. This is a new kind of mission and seems to be triggered as a particular milestone is reached. Operation Enduring Vanguard is underway.
The team is dropped off at the entrance to the station. It is good to be back in an urban environment. I’ve found so far that shooting up a gas station, office block or railway station is far more interesting than storming a downed UFO in a forest. The greater familiarity of the urban space makes the alien presence feel a little more threatening, especially when you’re blowing shit up.
Now, hyper-intelligent intergalatic spacefarers they may be, but sensible bomb makers they are not. For reasons unknown the alien bomb maker has designed a device which has a built in “easy to defuse” mechanism. The bomb receives external power from these green glowly things which when individually disarmed adds time to the countdown. If the power levels reach over 9000 it will explode! It gives a great sense of urgency, but I would have thought a global counter would do the same job without the making no sense part? Anyway, the mission gets off to a good start. With my heavy gunner moving down the left side of the train while the other three move down the more open right side, getting an early jump on some Thin Men (Men in Black).
And also some Sectoids. These are quickly taken care of, with the troops outflanking the enemy easily. On the left hand side of the train the heavy gunner takes out two more sectoids with a rocket. At this point in time the mission is looking to be in good shape.
All soldiers are intact when I reach the bomb. I figure there will be a second wave of enemies so set up the troops in defensive positions. Once the bomb is deactivated Thin Men drop out of the ceiling all over the place. Although I was expected a rush of enemies, I didn’t think they’d be randomly dropping out of the god damn walls. In the shot below Agooda, who defused the bomb, finds her cover compromised (her cover shield is now yellow, which means “yellow about to get fucked!”.
Fortunately, Agooda gets a shot off first and takes out the first Thin Man. And that is about where the operation went from booyeah to fubar in about two turns. While Agooda was knocking off this chap, the rest of the Thin Men started covering the team in delicious juicy balls of skin melting plasma.
With two of the team flanked and vunerable, I send my sniper, who had been providing overwatch down the middle of the station across to give support to Agooda and Ignatyev. I was hoping that by moving my sniper into a flanking position the remaining Thin Men would choose to reposition before taking shots at my team. This didn’t work. The sniper was ambushed just as she made cover. The Heavy Gunner tried to move into the train and give covering fire to Agooda and co, but he was taken by surprise and hit the cold steel of the train floor.
Although the bomb would be re-armed if the mission was aborted, with two of the four person team down I make the decision to withdraw. Either everyone dies and the bomb goes off, or half the team comes back to fight another day, and the bomb goes off. Agooda makes a break for it back to the dropshop (in the distance ont he left).
She makes it to the location her fallen comrade had tried to take cover at. Not only does cover have multiple levels of protection, it has multiple levels of resistance. That is, a garden bed might offer half the protection of a thin wall, but the wall is more likely to be destroyed. The sniper went down behind a garden and though the lockers in the above shot would have afforded more immediate protection, a single hit would have likely destroyed them, leaving her out in the open. The tragedy of it all is that she got whacked anyway, and they died together only moments apart.
It was my first mission failure, and an alien bomb going off in central London didn’t do the confidence of the British or European governments. Panic rose not only on the islands, but across the continent. To make it even worse, everyone died, so any experience gained in previous missions is also lost. Ironman hits you hard this way. It is back to rookies for the next mission, but hopefully by then they might have some decent body armour.