Join me on a journey through the dark heart of stressful video game playing as, for the second time, I try to survive the game of X-COM 2, on Iron Man, Classic difficulty. Addition pressure is added as all characters in the game are real life friends.
See HERE to find out how my first attempt went.
See HERE to see where we left off.
8th April, I think.
A solid four hours sleep is just what I needed. And apparently it’s all I’m getting. True, my ears are still ringing from the number of explosions on that last mission. Still, we have a robot. With a rocket launcher.
The troops seem quite taken with Sparky (or Spark-001 to give it it’s formal name). They say there’s something very, well, reassuring about fighting next to a 7 foot war robot. And hey, the aliens appear to have SNAKE PEOPLE now. So it’s only fair. On the back of the last operation (which was designated Amber Gods, for fucks sakes Bradshaw), Cal has earned his callsign. Now he’s known as Angel. Crap, now he’ll never shut up about that Overwatch game.
The base is, very slowly, getting up to running speed. We’ve managed to get a power station going, so at least we can make a start on some of the actual stuff we need. You know, once we have the money, and time, and personnel.
12th April, again
A significant breakthrough today. Ghost, who is emerging as a strong frontrunner in our squad, has now got enough field experience that we’ve decided to invest in a bigger squad allowance. Now we can drop in six troops. That’s huge. And means we can bring along the robot.
17th April (I think?)
More missions. Rescuing VIPs and saving civvies. Fly out. Save the day. Try not to die. I’m seeing a lot of ground action these days, at least until Ghost and Aimee Toshney get out of the medbay. So tired. Still not dead though. That’s good, right?
Fuggin ships. Fuggin everything. Getting drunk seemed to work out okay last time, let’s try it again. Don’t all stock-male-leader-type characters have a drinking problem these days? It seems to work out okay for them. Right. I’m loaded, and the troops are loaded up, it’s time to raid that highly suspicious looking base.
Our six strong squad flies in. Ghost and Aimee are back on their feet so they’re a lock, Spark-001, Angel, Slinger and Hellfire (me) round out the troupe.
Standard sneaky stuff. Ghost scouts, Slinger snipes, and everyone else is there to dive in. It’s going well. A few engagements, but we’re all okay. We spot the facility. It looks…ominous.
Oh shit. We climbed on the roof, but didn’t realise there was an enemy squad right below. Several of us get hit in the flurry, as we’re caught entirely with our pants down.Oh shit. Angel is back in the group, but I’ve forgotten to give him his med-equipment. Ciaran still has it, and he’s back at HQ! We have a medic with no medicine. Jesus sodding fuck, the time to discover this is not in the middle of a firefight when you need healing stat.
To say it’s tense is an understatement. We’re exposed, injured, and can’t run away. We need to get inside the base. Why did I drink today!? Aimee has a simple plan, and I follow suit: grenade the shit out of everything.
We gamble it all on this, as both of us leave ourselves in the open, sacrificing safety for a better shot. Between us we manage to destroy every piece of cover they have, shredding the enemy in the process. It’s down to the others now. Ghost steps up, flinging an axe with one hand and shotgunning with the other. Two down. The last one left is the toughie. Spark-001 hypes itself into overdrive, firing off three volleys with wild inaccuracy. Enough of them hit to weaken the enemy war-mech. Slinger tags it down until it’s barely standing. All on you Angel.
He takes the shot.
Fucking hell. Breathing room. The immediate threat dealt with, we promptly run for cover to regroup and reload. As we do so, someone glances through the hole we made in the wall.
What. The. Fuck.
OH COME ON. It’s not enough for the aliens to literally take over the planet. Now they’re doing weird science and dissolving people? What are they, cartoon villains!? These fucking aliens man. These aliens.
On the bright side, at least any possible tiny moral quandaries the squad might have had about mercilessly slaughtering the asshats is now gone.
At the back of the facility we spot something that looks…important. And judging by that, it’s very likely that if we try to touch it, things will go bad. We really, really can’t afford for that to happen. Half of the squad is injured, the other half is essentially suffering from PTSD. We have no medkit. This has to go flawlessly.
The squad check their weapons, and five of us get into holdout positions – places where we have good cover and easy sightlines. Ghost takes the dive (because of course she does).
As soon as she touches the vial, alarms start blaring. We’ve got our evac spot. And the enemy has a reinforcement drop. We prepared for this. Sticking in formation, the squad makes a move – we can’t reach the evac before the enemy respond, so we blow the shit out of them instead. Ghost dashes to the front, vial of what is probably concentrated people in her pocket. The rest of the squad lumbers up and unleashes hell. Aimee practically screams ‘fook’et!’ as she starting blasting away at them through the solid floor. Angel isn’t impressed, but it bloody well works.
The volley is so strong that most of the reinforcements are wiped out in one salvo. The remainder is frozen solid and left behind. The group moves to evac, and we get the hell out of there.
On the end of that mission, some well deserved promotions are handed out (by me). Aimee is dubbed ‘Dynamite’ and our most recent recruit, the warbot, is given the imperious title of ‘Baron’. It’s one of us now. After hugs and high fives, half the squad is in sickbay, and Baron is getting repaired.
I don’t get to lay around like some of these lugs, it’s back to cleaning the base.
Fucks sakes. We’re not at strength, but it’s too good an opportunity to miss out on. And Ghost is in good shape, so at least we’ve got some solid firepower down there. Operation Ice Fist goes well. Even without our core group, Ciaran and me make up for the loss. Baron’s willingness to go on missions even while damaged is a huge boon. Although, since he is becoming the deliberate bullet magnet of our group (e.g. the one everyone else hides behind for cover), it’s a calculated risk.
Our scavenger mission was a success, and with the resources we stole, I decide to start seriously investing in some better hardware. Baron gets a new gun, as does Ghost. She also gets some new armour.
Apparently she’s gotten a tattoo as well.
Operation Doom Killer
For god’s sake Bradshaw. Doom Killer? Really? Every time I bring these op names up with him, he gets very sarcastic at me. I’d fire him, but, well, he is kind of important. The operation itself goes flawlessly. Not a single one of our group gets hit. The new hardware is working well. The squad is really starting to adhere now, to work as a single unit. If Ghost is the leader of the troop, then Dynamite is the heart. Hearing her joyous Scottish voice exhulting over the sound of her massive chaingun is a notable moral booster, even to us from the ship’s relay comms. Angel keeps everyone covered and alive. Slinger takes out anything that moves. Baron is just fucking scary.
Not five minutes in the door, and the squad gets sent out again. They’re tired, but the recent victory seems to spur them on. I have a quiet word with Bradshaw about the mission names. He does not seem impressed.
Operation Patient Moan
OH COME ON! Bradshaw is now openly fucking with me. I decide to round out the squad, if only to get away from Bradshaw’s superior little smirk.
There’s a level of recklessness to the group. The new weapons, and Ghost’s borderline irresponsible habit of sneaking to a five foot range for ambushes is gifting the group with a disregard for normal caution. Even more worryingly, the disregard appears to work. At least Ghost isn’t making little comments about it. Still, this mission is a little protracted, as we need to route the enemy but cover is extremely limited. The squad is reckless, not stupid. In the fury of combat adrenaline, I find myself hunkered down with Dynamite. I think it’s the first time we’ve actually managed to speak since I recruited her. Almost inevitably, given the fire of combat and the ego-inflating bravado of fear, me and Aimee start a ‘who’s got the more badass callsign’ competition. I think my chaingun gives me the edge as Hellfire. Dynamite swears by her grenade launcher. Over the chaos of gunfire, explosions and alien murder, we start to shout our achievements to each other. Even Ghost seems a little surprised. I don’t think the squad has seen this side of me before.
I like it.
Only Slinger remains unmoved by the firefight banter, although that could well be because he has a new rifle. It was slightly unnerving to watch him lovingly clean it in the skyranger. But bloody hell, I can’t fault it’s effectiveness. Mission success.
A few of us took a scrape in that last outing, but as soon as we’re all healed up, I make the executive decision to investigate the abandoned science lab in North America. Bradshaw mentioned it a while back, but after the robot-factory-AI furore, I was understandably cautious about poking my head out like that again. Unexpectedly, Bradshaw insists on coming along.
Operation Regal Beast
Well, on the Skyranger comms I over hear something that clears up a minor mystery for me. His name isn’t Bradshaw. It’s Bradford. Apparently I’ve been getting it wrong ever since he rescued me back in early February. Oops. Another minor mystery is solved as well. I’ve heard the mess-hall rumour, but I think it’s fair to say that Bradford is outing himself on this mission. He looks fucking fabulous.
Not that anyone cares, soldiers just like to gossip.
What is this place? An abandoned experimentation lab? One of our abandoned labs, from the first war I gather. I guarantee this will not end well.
I was fucking right. Jesus sodding jones, we get a little way in and we are in the viper’s fucking nest right now. As soon as we get deep enough into the cave, they start coming. Dropping from the ceiling, climbing up from the depths, even from under the platform Slinger is standing on. Sweet jimmeny crickets, there must be twenty of them, or more.
Bradford swiftly puts paid to any suspicions that he might not be a good field operative. That motherfucker unsheathes his machete and does some kind of macabre ballet with it. I mean it, he runs in and cuts down seven of them before anyone else can even move. I think he’s working out some serious frustration. I might be to blame for some of that.
Dynamite does what she does best, says hello with explosives. The rest of the squad join in on the fun and soon it’s like the 4th of July, but with shrapnel. It’s not enough to take them all out however, and Baron takes a fair beating. I’m suddenly very glad he doesn’t have any pain receptors, because it looks likes it hurt.
The focus on Baron’s big metal arse however means that the rest of the squad (me included) feel better about moving in and mopping up. It’s a bloody fight, but not a long one. Ghost makes what is becoming her signature move – the the Shotgun Smile. She runs right up to the target, puts the shotgun practically between their teeth, and pulls away. It is terrifyingly effective. In the resulting fight, only two of us get injured before the smoke clears. We regroup, stepping over mounds of snake corpses.
We still don’t know what’s in this place, so we take a couple of minutes to check ourselves. We might not get out of another ambush like that. The cave ahead is completely covered in ice. We’re north, but not that far north. Something’s not right.
We spot the source of the transmission that Bradford found – a frozen corpse. But as we approach, who turns up but a fucking genetically altered Viper King.
Fuck you, rogue scientists, fuck you a lot. I told this would end badly didn’t I. This guy insane. He’s so fast that anytime any of the squad do anything, he reacts to it immediately. We can’t lay down volleys of fire, or any kind of co-ordinated effort, because he will just fucking move.
Dynamite keeps her head though, and freezes the bastard solid. It gives us just enough breathing room for the squad to shred some of the King’s armour. As soon as it breaks free from the frost, the group has set up to shoot the shit out of it when it moves. It gets off a few rounds at us and no one has even had the time to move, so Slinger and Ghost get hit. Dynamite rewards such behaviour with another cooling cryo grenade to the face. The half-second of time it grabs us is enough for Baron to overload it’s systems and lay waste to the helpless king’s body. Ghost gets pissed and does what she does best: throws axes and then blows it’s bloody head off.
Holy shit. Holy shit. Did we kill it? We did! I can’t believe we did that! We take what we can from the lab, and limp home, dragging the dead viper king’s horrible body along with us.