(I admit, guys, I cheated a bit. The next mission was a devastating failure and everybody died. Since it was massively anticlimactic, I started a new game and played the first two missions before customizing everyone, so now we have at least a bit of experience under our belts. We pick up where we left off, with some changes–Alex is not wounded and is a Russian sniper, Cesar is Mexican support with badass shades, and Blane and I are still useless rookies. Onward!)
Our satellite has spotted a UFO buzzing across Central Europe! Fortunately we have the infrastructure in place to deal with it. Scramble the interceptors!
Our jet doggedly pursues the alien craft, and a few air-to-air missiles see it shot down over Germany. As the imagery from the crash site comes into focus, however, it seems the UFO is still intact…send in the squad!
The squad advances into the fog, eyes sharp. Rookie Faciane, on point, hears something almost immediately, and four sectoids burst from the undergrowth directly in front of us. We dive for cover as they fire off a hail of plasma.
“Hey, isn’t someone supposed to check if the squad’s all accounted for?”
“Of course, Faciane, that’s the CO’s job–wait a minute.”
“Squaddie Pina? Sir, do you copy? Sir!”
“Oh, what the fuck.”
In a thundering rampage of bullshit, one of the sectoids has lined up some sort of impossible trick shot and hit Cesar, despite the fact that there was twenty inches of tree trunk in the way. In addition, the little bastard scored a critical, and Squaddie Pina now sports a baseball-sized hole in his chest and is very, very dead. OFF TO A GOOD START!
As the only other trooper with any sort of rank, Alex vows to keep his rookies alive and takes to the high ground, scanning the area as Blane and I move in. Blane, determined to avenge his fallen friend, hurls a grenade at the nearest sectoid. “EAT THIS YOU SON OF A BITCH.” (Yes, he said that in-game).
A direct hit and the alien is shredded by fragments. The others retreat back towards the crashed ship, just now coming into view through the fog and darkness. Alex covers us as we pursue them, suddenly forced to hit the dirt as a sectoid sprays plasma in our direction.
Alex sees the flash of green and lines up his shot. The sectoid falls with a heavy-caliber round in its center of mass. As it turns out, that sectoid was psychically buffing another, and the mental shock of the death of the first also killed the second. Two down with one shot. Not bad, Squaddie Yip. Not bad at all. Blane and I attempt to follow up and take out the last one, but he’s too nimble and our bullets go wide. However, it remains in place, pinned down, and Blane’s second salvo kills it. We’re done!
Wait, no! A flash of energy from inside the ship heralds the appearance of a mysterious Outsider, apparently waiting for us to get close. It is…much tougher than the sectoids. It charges out of the UFO, plasma rifle at the ready.
Now that we have a corporal, we can start choosing upgrades. Alex gets Squadsight, meaning he can basically just sit at the drop zone and pop shots off from the other side of the map. It’s the best. Blane’s first ability is Run and Gun, which lets him sprint twice as far and still get a shot off in the same turn. I forsee him invading the personal space of many an ET in the future.
I still can’t believe Cesar Mother Fucking Czar Stark Pina died on his first-ish deployment. Surely, there is something that can be done…we must resort to cloning! (Seriously, everyone gets to survive three missions at least. I will break the game if I have to).
A couple weeks go by. We launch a satellite over Japan so that they add to our monthly salary, and our scientists and engineers are busily researching and developing. Alex receives a prototype scope that should increase his uncanny accuracy even further, and the science team has determined we need to capture a live alien for further study–but before that, we need to develop some way of stunning them. An ET tazer is on the agenda.
Suddenly, we get a mission from the Global Council. Apparently the Triads want a word with us, so it’s off to Shanghai to see what they have to offer. (This mission is part of a mini-expansion that I literally bought today, so this is my first time playing it. I have no idea what to expect!)
We meet our contact, a guy named Zhang, in a cemetery…
He offers us a mysterious piece of technology in return for his safe extraction from the city, and away from the Triads, who will be none too happy he’s peddling their secrets. So now we just have to get him back to the Skyranger in one piece. It wouldn’t be difficult, but the aliens are closing in…
Alex checks the corners, keeping Rookie CloneCzar safe as Blane takes point, dashing down amongst the tombstones. I watch Zhang’s back as we cautiously head towards the exit.
Almost immediately, we receive enemy contact. Thin Men! These spindly infiltrators have been waiting, watching, and have just made themselves known. The first drops out of the tree in the middle of the courtyard, but four guns blast away and it’s shredded before it has a chance to react, exploding into a cloud of toxins we’d best keep away from. Unfortunately for us, more stream out of the shadows behind us. We’ve been outflanked.
We hunker down as plasma fire spews in from all directions. Miraculously, no one is seriously hurt, and I dispatch one Thin Man immediately. Another still threatens Alex and Czar, but Cpl. Yip thinks quickly and whips out his pistol.
Squaddie Faciane, meanwhile, darts between the obstacles in the darkness of the cemetary, stealthily approaching a sectoid advancing over the graves. At near point-blank range, his buckshot is devastating.
Our rookie clone scores his first kill–a Thin Man patrolling near the wall. With the cemetery clear, we move up, Zhang sticking close behind me. We’re nearing the exit, and doing quite well so far…
Oh shit. Shit shit shit. We aren’t supposed to be seeing these guys yet. A Chrysalid–a hulking mass of slavering mandibles and scything claws, and that’s not even the worst thing that can happen if it gets close enough. It scuttles through the cemetery gate, directly towards CloneCzar. This does not bode well. If it gets a chance to swing those claws, our plucky Hispanic genetic experiment will suffer a fate far worse than death.
Alex puts around through the hideous creature’s skull as it prepares to strike. It stumbles back, buying the squad a split second of time, but is somehow still alive. It regains its balance…
Squaddie Faciane, like an extremely loud and heavily-armed ghost, cocks his shotgun from the shadows and destroys the wounded Chrysalid. It never saw him coming. CloneCzar (and everyone else) is safe! Just a little further, people, we’re almost out of here.
A solitary sectoid takes a potshot at Zhang from the street outside. It misses, but considering what a close call we just had, I decide not to take any chances.
Operation Blinding Flame, our toughest deployment thus far, was a stunning success. We receive congratulations from HQ for suffering no casualties, and promotions across the board. Sergeant Yip even has a callsign now–you may refer to him as Cyclops. Because laser-eyed precision or something. HQ must not have read the debrief very thoroughly, because they saw CloneCzar’s questionable accuracy and remarkable ability to draw attention to himself, and promptly handed him a sniper rifle. So now we have two snipers, support, and assault. Not the most balanced crew.
But look! Shaojie Zhang has dropped his classy suit and picked up the biggest goddamn gun he can find. We now have his lightning reaction time at our disposal, should we ever need a heavy weapons guy. He also somehow outranks us all, despite being the newest member of XCOM. Point being, he’s kind of a badass. No word on the tech he brought back with him, but the science team is unpacking it and will report as soon as possible.
Things are looking up, for the moment. Let’s hope our two crack shot Chinese guys, our spectacularly unsubtle phantom, our unassuming Jewish grenadier and our mustachioed clone can survive the coming war with all their important bits intact.