It’s another Goddamn Monday, but I’ve been thinking… for a feature whose title is based on frustration, there has been relatively little frustration. We’ve played a couple of games that weren’t that great, sure… but how about we play a great game that will make me want to smash something?
XCOM: Enemy Unknown on ironman? Yeah, that sounds good to me. Per a certain definition of “good.”
For the unaware, XCOM is a turn based tactics game that sees you commanding the XCOM project, a secret team of Men in Black-esque alien hunters. “First and last line of defense” and all that. It is an unforgiving game on normal settings, but ironman is not normal. On ironman, you don’t get to save- the game saves for you, any time you do anything. No reverting saves when you make mistakes, you just have to keep going. I’ve played a normal playthrough before that I failed, but hopefully that experience will guide me safely through ironman.
Our first mission is textbook. Four aliens, of the Sectoid variety- classic big-eyed Roswell aliens. All exterminated with no complications- no injuries on the part of my team. Clean job. We get back to HQ, and now I’ve got an opportunity to give my squad names. I had been planning for this. All our new recruits are gonna be named after voice actors.
We need four to have a squad, so I’m choosing Nolan North, the hardest working man in video games; Reuben Langdon, the voice of Devil May Cry’s Dante and Street Fighter’s Ken; Johnny Yong Bosch, the Black Power Ranger and Zero from Mega Man; and Tara Strong, the lady of Twilight Sparkle (My Little Pony), Raven (Teen Titans), and Rikku (Final Fantasy X). With this team of killers, we’re ready to take on our first alien abduction in China.
It’s a train yard, seemingly empty save for the green goo remains of vaporized civilians. The squad advances carefully, bit by bit… until Nolan North encounters aliens. The two Sectoids panic, and run to the left… into a perfect flanking position against Bosch. Both take the opportunity to fire at him… and both hit.
My turn again. Nolan takes one of the aliens down, and whether Bosch will survive is all up to whether the sniper can make this one shot. He’s got 55% odds. I hold my breath.
When the shot goes wide, I close my eyes. He’s a dead man.
On the other side of the battlefield, Tara Strong and Reuben Langdon are taking on their own two aliens. They’re solidly in cover, but they’re also doing their best stormtrooper impressions, missing their shots several turns in a row. At least they’re not getting hit.
Reuben finally loses his temper, and busts out his rocket launcher. The explosion is glorious- a viking funeral for the little alien bastard. About fifty yards away, Nolan takes a glancing shot from his remaining target, and furiously runs to point blank, and puts the barrel of his assault rifle to the alien’s temple. 100% hit chance. Little guy never stood a chance.
Two more run into Tara and Reuben, and they manage to take them down with very little fuss. With six hostiles killed, the mission is a success… despite the demise of Johnny Yong Bosch.
Rest in peace, brother. I’m sure there will be more bodies to follow.
A little work in HQ doing research and engineering, and we shoot down our first UFO. Tara Strong and Reuben Langdon are still injured and out of action, so it’s time for fresh faces to take on this UFO. Say hello to David Hayter, the man behind Solid Snake; Steve Blum, the voice of Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop) and Wolverine; and Travis Willingham, Street Fighter’s Guile himself. Nolan North comes along to lend a voice of experience.
The fight is as clean as it comes. No deaths, no injuries. Just four Sectoids and one ethereal Outsider alien- glowy humanoid mass of energy- down.
So that was Operation Empty Pyre, but now it’s time for a special mission assigned from the Council that funds XCOM. Operation Crystal Jester– we are to go in and extract a survivor of an alien abduction. Candy from a baby. Nolan, Tara, David, Travis- let’s roll.
This mission, we’re dealing with Thin Men. Spindly slenderman-looking muthafuckas who pop like balloons when shot. Everything proceeds like clockwork until we secure the VIP, and start heading toward the extraction point. Suddenly, a Thin Man leaps onto the battlefield from nowhere, directly between my VIP and the objective. The civilian tries to scramble for cover, but this triggers the alien’s reaction shot, and in one perfect shot, he blows the woman’s brains out.
All hell breaks loose. Nolan North flips out as he sees their VIP’s head explode, and panics, firing a burst into his teammate Tara Strong. This causes Travis Willingham to lose his shit, who then shoots Nolan. While Nolan and Travis go bonkers, David Hayter and Tara Strong clean up the alien, and then everyone extracts.
When we get back, the Council calls to let us know (in surprisingly polite language) what a complete fucked up shitshow that was. Morale is low, but we truck on.
The next mission went completely smoothly, and then the Council gave us our report for the month. To my astonishment, they gave me an “A” rating- they claimed to be extremely impressed with my results. I was not so impressed myself, but hey, if they’re happy, I’m happy. Time for another mission. Operation Crystal Flame- an abduction in Germany.
Here’s where it gets bad.
The newly christened Nolan “Rogue” North (he got a nickname as a reward for leveling) leads a team of Travis Willingham, Steve Blum, and Reuben Langdon to a quick two Sectoid kills, and then we encounter something new- Floaters. Aliens with plasma rifles and jetpacks- depending on your luck, they’re either a cake walk or a complete bitch. Two guesses as to the kind of luck I had.
Immediately, everyone starts shooting, and except for Steve Blum with his little pistol, everyone misses. One Floater uses his jetpack to flank us, and the other two return fire. One of them pins down Blum with suppressive fire, the other one fires at Travis. Critical hit- Travis is DOWN.
Nolan North is a medic, so he can patch Travis right up, but right now he’s busy trying to deal with the flanking Floater. He wounds it, but it returns the favor, giving him a chest full of plasma that he barely survives. Langdon guns down one of the other two floaters, and Blum fires a few shots, which go wide. Travis leaks a little more blood onto the floor, sliding rapidly closer to the grave.
My medic North decides he can’t fuck around with this Floater anymore, and bolts for Travis. He reaches him, but doesn’t have an action left to heal him- that will have to happen next turn. Langdon drops another Floater, now there’s just one left. Steve Blum tries to clean him up, fails. Which is a shame, because that surviving Floater then vaporizes Nolan North.
Travis, having no medic to help him, bleeds out. Half the squad is dead. Langdon loses his patience, and throws a frag grenade at the flanking Floater. It blows him to smithereens. It’s a shame, because it means I won’t get any loot from the Floater’s body, but at least the mission is finally over.
…Wait. It’s still going. The mission is not over. We’re two men down and we’re not done yet. Goddammit. Langdon moves forward- Blum is wounded, so he’ll have to hang back and try to cover Reuben. Two more Sectoids appear, and Langdon nails one, but the gunfire draws three more into the fray. Langdon, out of ammo, turns to run away, and is viciously gunned down.
Steve Blum is now alone and wounded against at least four aliens. The creatures advance boldly… perhaps too boldly. A grenade from Steve takes out another two. But it’s not enough. A blast of energy turns his brainstem to ash.
Everyone is dead. My troop transport runs back to base with its tail between its legs.
Germany, of course, loses its shit in response to my team’s failure, panicking and withdrawing their support of XCOM. So does Nigeria, who I left unattended while they were facing an alien invasion of their own. It’s a month and a half into the XCOM project. Two countries have pulled out, I’ve failed two missions, and I’ve had five deaths on my team- six if you count the civilian we were supposed to rescue.
The XCOM project… has failed. Shut it down.