LIKE WHAT I’VE DONE WITH THE PLACE?
After the mission debrief, I’m deposited back at the base management screen, a 3D model cross-section of my HQ with its various departments (including a bar and memorial for my soldiers) available for scrutiny, that is even populated by my troops and some randoms. The cross-section also reveals a core number of areas that, although currently unusable, can be cleared and turned into facilities of my choosing depending on available resources.
The base screen is often referred to as the ‘ant-farm’ view but I like to think of it as more of a diorama, an analogy that lends itself to the game as a whole as your viewpoint is often quite far removed but the game doesn’t skimp on any details making you relish those close up action shots in the combat stages.
The base AI directs me to the research lab where the somewhat suspicious Dr Tygen (the game plays up to this with random NPC chatter and, honestly, I’ll be surprised if he’s not responsible for an assault on my base later in the game), announces that he’s made a startling discovery regarding the chip that was implanted in the commander’s, er, my brain – it has been accessing and recording tactical data based on memories of the first alien war. This analysis is then used to provide tactical information to enemy troops in the field. A very B-movie twist but also a nice way of bigging up the player, setting them up before the game takes their legs out from under them. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, Firaxis!
Tygen requests a further analysis of the chip to see if he can learn anything further and we’re introduced to one of the management aspects of the game. Various activities will yield not only currency and troop XP but also alien items that can be investigated and re-purposed for use by the insurgency. Researching a particular project will then unlock the ability to manufacture related items within the engineering department.
Speaking of which, going to see Lilly Shen after assigning Tygen to study the brain chip kicks off another cut scene where the alien doo-hicky my squad appropriated during the last mission is fitted to the base and it takes off because video games. Actually, it’s more of a nod to the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier but that’s a whole other lawsuit. The base is really an alien carrier that the X-Com remnants managed to appropriate and convert to their use.
I’D LOVE TO SAVE THE WORLD
This then kicks off a further gameplay reveal, taking the player to the operations room on the base, which we’re now calling the ‘Avenger’ (really milking that homage, huh?), the camera dissolves seamlessly into a holographic representation of the planet and we’re given a few geographical waypoints we can navigate to with our newly mobile base. This is actually a bigger deal than I’m allowing for as it breaks tradition with previous iterations of the game and really lends itself to the idea of X-Com on the run but we’ve a lot to get through so bear with me.
The Avenger is currently docked at the main X-Com outpost pretty much in the middle of the US and features a handy communications array for contacting other rebels but it has limited range. Researching a comms upgrade that’s recently been made available will extend this range but I’m already researching a project so that will have to wait. Two of the revealed locations are rumoured insurgent factions that if contacted will increase your resources and help you to contact other such camps. Pretty straightforward decision, huh?
Suddenly, a seemingly anonymous video transmission re-unites me with the shadowy X-Com council overseer from the first game. He’s naturally overjoyed that I’m back from the dead (in a stoic, reserved kind of way, of course) and has caught you just in time to tell you that the aliens have engineered some mysterious master plan called the ‘avatar’ project. He can’t tell you much else but it’s a sure bet it isn’t a particularly rabid bunch of James Cameron fans writing petitions for even more sequels about life on Pandora.
The silhouetted but elegant bald gentleman (Agent 47 anyone?) further discloses that whatever this initiative is, it will be ready soon and successful alien endeavours around the globe will speed up its progress even further.
WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?
Essentially, I’ve been told that I can’t just spend my time upgrading my base and troops until I’m ready to face whatever ‘big bad’ the avatar project turns out to be. There will be missions that I have to take regardless of readiness in order to slow the advance of the avatar project. These missions will appear in multiples and I’ll have to choose the lesser of whatever evils the game offers. Enter the time-sensitive Doomsday Clock I spoke about the other week.
Even more intel (has this guy just been sitting on all this info waiting for his dramatic entrance?!) has revealed the location of an Advent ‘black site’ in the southern US that must be dealt with as quickly as possible to learn more about the avatar project. Of course, there’s no real information on what a black site is or what it does but let’s just assume the worse and get the foreplay out of the way.
Now, even though I’ve been told that the black site must be investigated ASAP, I’m going to hold off for the moment. Having played that mission on a previous attempt, I know that it has some new enemy troops in it that my squishy little guys will just not survive an encounter with. I’m not going to lose troops and throw the mission as well. That’s just a waste and a potential game-ender.
Instead, I use some of my funds to buy an engineer plus a soldier from the current outpost and steer the Avenger towards the East Asia rebel outpost . I’m trying to plan ahead a little as the engineer can help clear the debris from unusable rooms on the carrier, speed up build time and can even be placed in facilities to maximise their performance, so they’re definitely worth the investment.
The carrier docks at the East Asia outpost and I’m informed that making contact with this rebel faction will take five days but increase my overall resources (cash). The time involved is a further facet of the global map as time can be sped up from here. Waiting on research to complete, facilities to be built or just a soldier being able to return to active duty? Go to the map and scan an area.
But, being X-Com, even passing time can be a tension fraught endeavour as, just like in the tactical game phase, the aliens are moving behind the scenes as well. Sure enough, 3 mission alerts pop up after a few days of scanning and I have to start making the tough choices.
NEXT WEEK: OPERATION PURPLE MISERY?!