Through some quirk of the game engine, February always seems to be a quiet month in X-Com, for me anyway. Many of the detected UFOs appear at sea before either escaping my patrols or getting shot down directly into the ocean, meaning they are un-salvageable. This isn’t all a bad thing however. Having free time on my hands lets me advance the game clock more quickly, letting me whiz through my research and I quickly develop Personal Armour. Personal Armour is the first available protection for your troops, and although it pales in comparison to the later armours, it’s still really handy for surviving the occasional stray shot, a must in the brutal world of anti alien warfare. It also accentuates the musculature of your X-Com agents, making them each a tiny spandex clad, eighties haired Adonis.
It’s worth pointing out at this point that armour is equipped differently from regular equipment. Instead of dropping it into the Sky-Ranger and equipping it at the start of a mission each armour is assigned to an agent personally (Why two completely different systems? Because back then games didn’t have to justify that kind of thing). You can do this either from their stats on the ‘soldier’ screen or via the Sky-Ranger load-out by pressing ‘armour’ instead of ‘equipment’ or ‘soldiers’.
While all this is going on I decide to experiment a bit with expansion. In previous games I’ve set up a second European base when I’m well established, I still plan to do that, but first off I set-up another base… at the North Pole. Hear me out a second: whenever I play X-Com I hit a bit of a problem, there’s a lot of stuff to put in a base as the game goes on, radars, defences, psy labs, alien containment… after a while this can get crowded, especially when you factor in all the workshops, laboratories, living quarters and general stores needed to do research and manufacturing. Previously my main response to this had been to split science and manufacturing between two main bases, but this time I intend to go about things differently. By building a base at the North Pole I keep it well away from prying alien eyes and thus don’t have to defend it (plus the start up cost is cheap). I build a workshop, a living quarters and a general store and move my engineers over there, creating a production and storage facility (this can also solve an annoying problem to do with having lots of items in your main base when being attacked). Eventually it’ll house two workshops, two living quarters, a hangar for building aircraft and as many general stores as I need to hold everything. I’m considering a South Pole base for the scientists, but that might not be necessary.
I call it ‘The Grotto’.
Other than that there really isn’t that much exciting news, one or two of the UFOs I spot land or crash on the ground, but with their new Laser Rifles and Personal Armour, small and very small UFOs just aren’t that challenging for the team. Most encounters proceed simply, I land, I dismount the Sky-Ranger and I… hang on, what’s this?
You may remember me mentioning before that there were actually several alien races in X-Com, well so far we’d only met the Sectiods, but now a new race has made themselves known, the Floaters (insert turd joke here), which makes this as good a time as any to talk about alien races.
Each alien race in X-Com has a distinct appearance and stats, they also each have a different ‘Terror Unit’ which only appears in Terror Attacks and on the largest of ships. Aliens can also have roles like ‘medic’, ‘navigator’, ‘leader’ and ‘commander’. Most of these don’t make a difference, but leaders and commanders will have better stats and equipment than the rank and file. Strangely all the alien races use exactly the same technology.
Sectoids – The aliens we’ve been fighting up until now (Sectoids always appear first), they look like the classic ‘greys’ from Close Encounters, they have fairly weak stats and rely mostly an having better weapons than you in the early stages. They can however continue to be a threat in the late game, as Sectoid Leaders and Commanders have psychic powers, which can cause havoc in your squad.
Their Terror Unit is the Cyberdisc, while is much like X-Com’s tanks: mobile, armoured and carrying heavy firepower. Watch out for its suicide explosion!
Floaters – Purple aliens who look like they’re wearing some sort of cape. Like the Sectoids the floaters have poor stats. Instead of psychic leaders however, each and every floater has the ability to hover (hence the name). While generally less threatening than Sectoids, this can make them a pain in the arse to fight as they hide on roofs and try to ambush your squad.
Their Terror Unit is the Reaper. Which has extremely high HP and attacks in melee, but really isn’t that much to write home about otherwise. Floaters are generally considered the weakest alien race.
Snakemen – Look, appropriately enough, like Snake Men. Are slightly tougher than Floaters and Sectoids, but still no great shakes when it comes to regular combat, on Terror Missions however, they’re another, far scarier story…
Their Terror Unit is the much feared Chryssalid. The Chryssalid is a fast, tough unit that attacks in melee. If that were the whole story they’d still be a formidable foe, but sadly it is not. When a Chryssalid kills a unit in melee they become a zombie, when that zombie is killed they become another Chryssalid. On Terror Missions especially, when there are tons of vulnerable civilians to infect, this can become a nightmare as every man you lose bolsters the enemy numbers. Shoot it with rockets. From a long, long way away.
Mutons – When you see Mutons, you know things are getting serious. These big purple skinned green armoured brutes can absorb serious firepower before going down. On the plus side they don’t have leaders with flashy powers (and often lack advanced weaponry due to this) but having each individual soldier being so tough gives them an edge over most other races. They are physically the most imposing regular aliens in the game.
Interestingly the Mutons have two Terror Units, the Cetalid has a accurate and damaging long range spit attack and the Silacoid, which is tough melee attackers which is so slow moving you can easily avoid it without danger.
Ethereals – These guys resemble empty red robes and are the scariest race in X-Com, hands down. They’ve got good physical stats (although not as good as Mutons) but you probably won’t care about that. Why? Because every single Ethereal can fly and use mind control. Think about that for a second. Even a single mind controlling alien can destroy an unprepared squad of x-com agents, and their hovering ability means that they’ll move around freely and hide on roofs to evade you. If you see an Ethereal and haven’t yet researched mind control yourself, your best advice is to either run for it or try and stun one, then grab his unconscious body and run for it.
Their Terror Unit is the Sectopod, a fearsome plasma firing walker that is absurdly over armoured, requiring sustained fire from a whole squad to take down. It is, however, quite vulnerable to lasers and a smart commander can use that to his advantage.
Unsurprisingly we make short work of the Floaters, who equit themselves very poorly. I wish I could bring you more exciting battle reports, but honestly this was a quiet week for me. Hopefully things will hot up next time when I can promise more equipment, more alien races and the merry peril of actually trying to capture aliens alive!