Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Omega Company Pt.2: Field Training

When last we left the XCOM Omega Company, the squad was engaged on their first true combat mission. The eyes of the world were watching to judge whether this project was really going to be the saviour they were hoping for but frankly, the soldiers on the ground, and the commander giving the orders, weren't doing so well...

With one woman down, and the Heavy severely wounded, it was up to the two remaining rookies to creep forward step by step in search of the remaining aliens. Our Heavy brought up the rear, staying well down in cover at every step, since any stray bullet would be enough to finish him off.

Contact! Two more Sectoids, who immediately turn tail and flee inside a building. One of them is out of sight, but the one that I can see goes into Overwatch. The soldiers edge their way carefully forward, needing to get close enough to engage, but not wanting to step in sight and get shot at themselves. I'm pretty nervous at this point, since if I take another casualty, it feels like the mission would be pretty much failed. I have no idea what's still waiting beyond these two Sectoids, so I decide to do something I probably should have done earlier, and start using up some of my limited resources. The Heavy can't see the aliens themselves from his position (I was keeping him well back), but he can see the ground just in front of the building they're in. He unslings his rocket launcher, takes aim, and lets loose a missile that causes a huge explosion, blowing up the wall of the building, and both aliens along with it.

Using explosive weapons is always a trade-off. For a start, they're a limited resource per mission, so you have to be careful they're not wasted. But secondly, inflicting such devastation has a number of negative consequences. One, it destroys cover, so if your soldiers are going to have to move through that area, it will be more open and thus more dangerous. Two, it obliterates the aliens and their technology, leaving nothing behind for you to study or sell to the Council governments. In this case, it's a price I'm more than willing to pay; Bradford calls the mission as a success, and the three surviving soldiers swing on home.

My Heavy, whose name I finally notice is Alejandro Gonzalez, needs to rest up for 2 full weeks before he'll be fit for active duty again. Fortunately, remember that rookie who avenged RK. Andersen? He's Brad Mason, and has earned himself a promotion for that action,being equipped as an Assault. Assault-class soldiers get a little extra health, a shotgun as their primary weapon, and begin with an ability called 'Run and Gun'. This ability is a wonderful little gem. You can activate it any time before you use your second action, and it basically gives you a third action that you can use on firing. This allows you to move>move>fire, move>move>overwatch, OR (I think, but I haven't confirmed yet) move>fire>move. After you use it, it spends two turns on cooldown before you can use it again.

A few days run past with no action, and a lot of paperwork. Our improved weapons are ready, we can now build small targeting computers called S.C.O.P.E.s (I didn't ask them what it stood for, they seemed so pleased with the pun that I didn't have the heart to force them to reveal what awkward words they had chosen to force it). Now that the tutorial has opened up Engineering to me, I also build a couple of Medkits. While these wouldn't have saved Andersen, a medkit could have healed up Gonzalez and made the latter half of the mission much less tense. Either of these items can be equipped by any of the soldiers, although doing so replaces the default grenade that they carry into battle. Vahlen (and the tutorial) are insistent that we spend our scientists' time on dissecting the four Sectoid corpses  that we now have. She's a little scarily enthusiastic about it, but I figure now is not the time to be berating people for wanting to inflict violence on aliens. Have at it, scary german lady.

Meanwhile the Council wants to talk to me, and so I go to our lovely new Situation Room to speak to them, as well as monitor the status of the planet as a whole. The first thing I see are ratings depicting the panic levels of all major Council countries. Most of the world is sitting at a fairly stable 1 or 2, but panic levels across Asia rose sharply because I chose to save the USA over China. As such, both China and India have their populace sitting at 3 panic points. Urk. The Council are nonetheless supportive of my efforts, agreeing that they trust the choice I made. They also have information for me; they believe that an alien abductee has managed to break out from one of their bases. If I can find her and rescue her, she may be a jackpot of valuable information. The mission is India, which as an extra bonus gives me an opportunity to reduce the panic there, so I bundle up my new Squaddie Assault and 3 Rookies, equip them with a couple of SCOPEs and a medkit, and pack them off.

In the interests of catching up a little, I'm not going to keep going with an exact play-by-play of every mission, not to mention that it will get boring to describe the same motions sooner rather than later. However, there were still a couple of touch-and-go moments here.

Firstly, the squad encounters a new breed of alien. These ones look almost human in their apperance, albeit very tall and with spindly, spider-like arms and legs. Dressed up in dark blue suits and black sunglasses, there's no scientific classification for them; they're immediately nicknamed 'Thin Men'. The Thin Man in question quickly shows his non-human side by breathing out a cloud of poison onto one of the rookies, and follows up with a headshot to finish him off a couple of turns later. It's a tragic casualty, but not one that I feel quite so stupid for this time.

The medkit-wielding rookie panics on seeing his comrade die, screaming and firing off a burst of bullets in the Thin Man's direction. It's left to the remaining two squad members to work together and take the alien out, at which point the makeshift medic calms down, and the squad manages to find and secure the VIP without further incident. Oh, they kill quite a lot of aliens, and Emily Wallace, the non-medic rookie, does herself proud in particular, but nothing bad happens.

It's promotions all around back at base, as Emily decides she likes being in the thick of things and becomes a Support. She gains the ability to throw a smoke grenade once per mission, with a promise of more 'utility' type things to come. Our panicky friend? He's the South African Emeka Dambuza, and he decides he's going to stay as far away from the front line as possible by becoming a Sniper.

The Council offers a hearty congratulations, and donates a satellite to the cause. Satellites are vital to the long term health of the planet. Although countries will send distress signals, and the Council makes requests for special missions, the fact of the matter is that the aliens can be attacking all over the place, and I wouldn't even know about it. Good satellite coverage gives me a better chance of uncovering alien activity when I 'fast forward' days and scan for missions. When I place it over a country, it also means that this country feels a little more protected by me. Their panic will immediately reduce by 2, they will start donating a monthly amount of credits to the cause, and there's usually a scientist or engineer given once a month as well. In addition to all that, there's bonuses for completely covering a 'region' of the world, identical to the bonus that you can earn for situating your HQ in that area. So if I get satellites in the skies above the USA, Canada, and Mexico, this will give the North American bonus of cheaper Interceptors.

My successful mission in India has reduced its panic level back down to 1, but China is still sitting up on 3. Since it's the only country on 3, and it's one of the larger countries (donating 100 credits a month), it's an easy choice to place the satellite there. The computer does warn me, however, that I don't have any Interceptors in the region, and so I won't be able to respond if the satellite comes under attack.

Ah-ha. Apparently I do have 2 Interceptors, but both of them are currently stationed here in Europe. I transfer one across to Asia; it, along with all its maintenance staff and equipment, should arrive and be up and running in a few days.

As if on cue (ahem, tutorial) there's alien activity right by my first satellite, in Germany.

...It's not on the ground. It's a UFO, up in the air. Scramble Interceptor! There's a tense moment with nothing to do but watch the radar and the wireframe models play out the interceptor's attack... It takes a light hit from the UFO, but then nails it with a solid barrage of missiles. It's going down, crash landing in a lush European forest.

There's a celebration in Mission Control. For the first time, we've turned the tables on the attackers and forced them to dance to our tune. But it's all too quickly back to business. We need to secure whatever tech we can salvage from that downed flyer...and the scans are picking up movement at the crash site...

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