X-COM 2 WAR DIARY 4: PIECES IN OUR TIME

MOOD TIME

Of the three missions available, Operation Purple Misery (no, really) seems to be the best fit, offering funds in exchange for completing an easy mission. This might seem like a cowardly approach (and it completely is) but, this early in the game, I’d rather take an easy win over a potential team wipe and/or mission failure.

The Avenger glides off to Canada and the game transitions to the squad loadout screen. While the X-Com games may not have the budget to spend on an epic score that is as polished and cinematic as something like Destiny, Tim Wynn’s music for this game is still evocative and immersive, none more so than the loadout screen. As my squad of misfit cannon fodder swagger along the deck lift toward the camera, the militaristic music never fails to make them feel a little more badass and put me in the combat mind set.

There’s not a whole lot of changes to be made as these four soldiers represent my best and brightest (with the exception of Kelly, who’s convalescing) aside from designating Bauer as my medic by manufacturing a first aid kit in engineering and equipping it instead of his grenade. The promotion to specialist has bestowed Bauer with a handy gremlin drone that allows him to hack electronic equipment (like Advent security towers, doors and the like) from a distance, provide defensive buffs to team-mates and, if levelled accordingly, administer healing from afar as well. Sniper Lebedeva (whose completely random appearance bears a startling resemblance to Tank Girl thanks to a blonde faux hawk and round sunglasses), grenadier Farisani (Baird) and our latest recruit, a Japanese fighter sporting a face bandana named Kim, round out the team and the mission begins.

Firaxis have done a really great job of presenting a decaying utopia in the cityscape maps.

I’M ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS

The squad rappels from the sky ranger onto the rain-soaked streets of a dystopian cityscape. Blade Runner neon peppers the prefabricated grey single and double storey modular buildings while quasi-futuristic stationary vehicles a la Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall litter the glistening asphalt. The whole thing looks great: sci-fi ambient noise and ominous background noise really selling the idea that this is a metropolis with dark secrets. Peace at a cost.

A brief mission brief informs me that I have to protect a rebel transmission array from enemy attack and, surprise, I only have 8 rounds to find it before the AI takes it’s ball and goes home. As normal, the fog of war prevents me from seeing the parts of the map that aren’t in line of sight but the transmitter location has at least been marked so I know where I’m going, I just need to get there quickly.

The squad has dropped in a small square flanked by single storey shops on the left and right so the first order of business is scouting. I move Lebedeva up onto the roof of the nearest shop as elevation will give her a bonus to aim and it’s a good position to camp from in a firefight. A good portion of the north-west part of the map is revealed, displaying a raised road running horizontally across the width of it as well as several other buildings adjacent to street-level roads but tantalisingly stopping short of showing the transmitter location. As this is stealth phase (remarkable, given a ruddy great drop ship was just hovering none too quietly here), I move everyone else up into high cover where possible and hunker down those in low where applicable.

The alien turn takes place and whatever enemies the AI has to play with take pot shots at the transmitter. While it does have a decent amount of health, it won’t withstand 7 more turns of damage so I need to intervene ASAP.

I elect to break the squad into two fire teams: Kim will accompany Lebedeva and proceed to the overpass where the sniper can hopefully get a good angle on the transmitter location, while Bauer and Farisani will proceed to the site at street-level. I move the grenadier and specialist northward first, hoping to reveal any sweeping patrols along Lebedeva’s route to the overpass. They only encounter a security tower – a lamp post that scans the immediate area for enemies – which Bauer successfully deactivates and earns some intel (another form of currency) in the process.

While the way appears clear, the top of the overpass is actually still fogged over because it’s higher than Lebedeva’s line of sight. I send Kim to investigate, dashing him along the street and up a ladder to the top of the overpass while I hold the sniper in reserve for support action if necessary. Dashing means using both of a soldier’s action points for movement and is not an endeavour taken lightly as it can leave them exposed. So it is that I feel the familiar clutch of anxiety as Kim stops and the map clears. Revealing three advent troops. On the other side of the overpass. Thankfully on ground level.

I breath an explosive sigh of relief and send Lebedeva over to join Kim, putting her in low cover behind a car. The alien turn takes place, the AI moving the advent patrol further down the street toward Farisani and Bauer but oblivious to Kim and Lebedeva. Something damages the transmitter again in what has been revealed to be a shop.

This season, impractical is the new tactical.

DON’T GET COCKY, KID!

Six turns left and I’m within roughly dashing distance of the transmitter.

Unsurprisingly, the Advent patrol is between my troops and the transmitter. While Lebedeva and Kim are in no danger, there’s really no chance of Farisani and Bauer making it to the transmitter before it is destroyed as they would have to go wide and flank the shop from the east to avoid combat. I always start an ambush phase with the lofty ambition of getting through the mission without breaking from stealth but invariably it goes awry. And it would be a shame to waste a good sniper vantage point.

I move Kim and Lebedeva into position on the near side overpass wall overlooking the two troopers and officer. Being a sniper, Lebedeva can’t move and shoot with her rifle but she does have a decent aim percentage with her pistol which is good but won’t do the same damage. Kim, being a rookie, has a soft percentage on all three targets which is next to useless BUT he can reach a trooper and the officer with a grenade. Again, the guaranteed hit of a grenade feels like cheating but I know the pain of high aim percentage misses. Best to break myself in gently.

A sudden twinge of caution reigns in my desire to start the ambush this turn. I should really ensure that all three enemies can be dispatched before alerting the world to my presence. I move Farisani and Bauer closer to the objective but within shot of the patrol and end the turn.

I love it when a convenient convergence of circumstance can be referred to as a ‘plan’.

NEXT WEEK: THAT’S A PADDLING!

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