XCOM: The Blogger Edition

xcom_devilsword

3rd January, 2015

We are not alone.

The first alien device showed up on a perfectly normal day on a perfectly normal street crossing.

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Curious onlookers were drawn to the strange object, glowing with a pulsating light never seen before on this Earth.

This was a mistake.

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Authorities that later arrived on-site found no trace of them, except for traumatized energy signatures that left an indelible silhouette etched into the environment.

The XCOM Project was formed in the light of these new developments. Its goal, to respond decisively to incidents of an extraterrestrial origin, and act as a first and last line of defense against any alien incursion.

Little is known about this secretive global paramilitary organization, save that it is compromised of some of the best military and scientific personnel the member nations have to offer, and that it is known to be based somewhere in Asia.

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The initial baptism of fire for the first batch of XCOM soldiers is Operation Sacred Prophet.

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7 March 2015. 1.52am.

An ongoing alien abduction is in progress in Kano, Nigeria.

All remaining civilians have fled the area, collateral damage is not a concern.

The boots on the ground today are:

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From left to right: Rookie Missy Mojo, Squaddie Izlain, Squaddie Jeromai Wolf, and Rookie Gypsy Syl.

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The drop zone is clear.

The two squaddies move up to check the first building for any signs of extraterrestrial activity, taking care to stay under cover.

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Tensing, they swing the doors open. No movement so far, from their vantage point.

Rk. Mojo fans out to check the left flank. Still quiet.

Rk. Syl heads to the right, and makes contact.

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The tangos are quite a distance away.

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Any further movement closer would be considered ‘dashing,’ which makes firing while on the run impossible.

So Rk. Syl is ordered to fire on the target with a 50% chance of hitting.

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And incredibly, manages to hit. Not enough to kill it outright though.

Sq. Wolf moves up to assist, but misses.

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(As usual, the Commander giving the orders entirely forgot who was carrying a shotgun until the weapon was fired from way too far away. Oops.)

The tough little alien git returns fire, which fortunately misses Rk. Syl.

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On the next turn, Rk. Syl moves in closer, getting a more advantageous 70% to hit, due to being at closer range and having an angle that’s closer to flanking the target.

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It’s a critical hit for 4 points of damage! Splattering bits of alien all over the restaurant’s once clean tiles.

The other alien thinks the better of staying around and books it out of the restaurant and into the nearby alley, where it is later chased down and shot by Rk. Syl in subsequent turns.

In the meantime, Rk. Mojo has been steadily moving up around the back of the two buildings.

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The alien device used for abductions is in sight.

Shortly after, the team disturbs the next group of aliens from… whatever they were doing.

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While the aliens run out of sight and take cover inside the building, the rest of the team (minus Rk. Syl dealing with the previous alien in the other alley) moves up to support each other, also remaining within cover.

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Strange purple energies are seen glowing from the builder’s brick walls as the aliens do some manner of unfathomable mind linkage with each other.

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It’s finally time for the shotgunner, Sq. Wolf, to make the first assault into the building. Taking a deep breath, we take an educated guess via the glow as to where the linked alien is and select a position that will successfully flank it…

…only to curse as Sq. Wolf smashes through the door to surprise a second pair of aliens…

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…who also scramble for cover.

The final situation, Jeromai Wolf, in the middle of three aliens and one more out of sight. *gulp*

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On the bright side, we -did- successfully flank the alien we wanted. (As highlighted in yellow, indicating a much higher chance to hit.)

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At this close range, with a shotgun, we’re talking about a 95% chance to hit and 70% chance to do critical damage.

Sq. Wolf blows alien guts all over the CD albums with a 6 damage critical. Scratch one linked alien. (They get a health buff from 3 to 4 from their Mind Meld skill.)

Three more aliens to go.

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Rk. Mojo is in a good position to get up close and personal with one of them.

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The door slams open, she rushes through, and from a super-close vantage point giving a 78% chance to hit, riddles it through with bullets for 2 damage.

It’s still alive, but we can fix that.

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Sq. Izlain casually leans in through the doorway, and executes it.

Unfortunately, there’s two of them still alive and they retaliate.

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Missy Mojo is covered with 3 bars worth of plasma burns from the alien hiding behind the display cases that merely contain mundane technological gadgets. Its plasma pistol is far more advanced.

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The alien that originated the mind meld is hiding in the corner way over there and has Sq. Jeromai Wolf flanked. It shoots him in the backside for 2 damage. (Ow.)

Even more annoying, it sends him into a panicked state. Ignoring any orders from the Commander on high, he decides of his own accord to duck and cover in between two display cases.

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Cool as a cucumber, Sq. Izlain waltzes up to the pillar where he takes aim, having an 80% chance to hit…

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…and critical hits the alien for 6 damage. Tango down.

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In the meantime, Rk. Syl has finally managed to rejoin the rest of the squad after the little diversion taking care of the alien who ran off.

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Though she’s coming up on the alien from another direction, the alien is behind hard cover and there’s only a 30% chance to hit with an assault rifle.

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She is, however, carrying a frag grenade.

Which coincidentally can do 3 points of damage and affect everything in its area of effect.

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Rookie Syl earns a promotion to Squaddie with that kill, ending the mission with a bang. That was the last alien on site.

9.52pm. Operation Sacred Prophet comes to a close.

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6 aliens killed.

0 XCOM Operatives lost.

1 of 2 canisters of a nano-substance called Meld were recovered.

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Scientists and engineers are still working on analyzing its properties, but initial reports suggest that it may eventually be possible to create genetically modified augmented soldiers or cybernetic warriors linked to combat armor chassis using Meld.

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The after action report. Rk. Syl has been promoted to Squaddie and assigned an Assault class.

Wounds will take Rk. Mojo out of action for a week, and Sq. Wolf is down for the count for 9 days. (Sheesh. Where the hell did that alien hit him?)

So, thus ends the first battle of my new XCOM campaign. 🙂

I’m playing on Normal difficulty this time around, up from Easy, so I fully expect some casualties will happen down the road.

I also decided to turn on Ironman mode, which means one save file, period. No save scumming, no take-backs. If I screw up, well, the mistake will be baked in, probably as part of someone’s tombstone. :p

I tweaked a bunch of settings to be different from the vanilla game this time around, turning on some options from the Second Wave DLC.

Not Created Equally and Hidden Potential are on, meaning that each soldier starts with different stats and stats will increase randomly when they’re promoted. I thought this might increase the realism factor a little, some soldiers may have better Aim than others, while others will have higher Will scores (important for resisting and using Psionics later in the game.)

Aiming Angles from the Enemy Within expansion is also on: “Units receive an aim bonus the closer to flanking an enemy they are.” Which I like, as it seems to reward taking the trouble to perform flanking movements.

There is, by the way, no way I could figure out to customise which countries the soldiers come from, though you can name them and do a heck load of customisation of their looks and armor. So as much as I would have loved to change the flags to more closely represent the origins of several bloggers, after a while of struggling, I gave up. I don’t have unlimited money to keep hiring soldiers looking for the right nationalities…

Next up:

Two new rookies replace the wounded Mojo and Wolf in Operation Vengeful Jester!

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This Summer’s Steam Sale Haul and Quick Reviews/Impressions

Whee!

The whole of last week has been a singleplayer Steam sale extravaganza indulgence.

This time, as some other bloggers have also resolved, I don’t intend to just buy and then promptly forget about them and never play them.

I’ve been buying a little more consciously, asking the question “Will I play and install this now, or at least sometime between now and December?”

(Considering my hard disk has only 10GB space left after installing a bunch of the latest haul, this does actually make a difference. I decided to put off Dishonored, fer instance, until the GOTY edition hits 75% off, probably during Winter sale or a daily deal, since it’s 9GB and hasn’t gone down as far as it could go.)

Then as Aywren in the link above mentioned, I proceed to install and at least play for long enough to give the game a fair shake. I’m a little less concerned about cleaving strictly to at least an hour and so on, probably because I don’t really dismiss games I choose to buy. -Something- about the game interested me to begin with, so I’m already motivated to give it a shot.

Should something start to turn me off from the game, I can usually put a finger on the specifics of why quite quickly and then make a decision to play on or “leave for another time.” That’s me. I have the opposite problem of not being able to throw away games.

Here’s the haul so far:

Monaco – Played 51 minutes – $1.49

A cute colorful top-down game with a unique style and flair, one takes on the roles of various crooks and criminals (such as a locksmith who picks locks, a mole-like digger of tunnels) and runs around interacting with objects related to the heist theme (locks to be picked, computers to be hacked, terminals to turn off laser motion detectors, bushes to hide and take cover in, etc.) There are guards to be evaded or slaughtered, depending on your preference and availability of any handy weapons, and generally some rather varied ‘flavor’ objectives (eg. one mission will have you escape a prison, another rescue someone, yet another retrieve a valuable object, etc.)

One couldn’t help but get the feeling that one was losing a distinct element of the fun by only playing it single-player. There does look to be a moderately intriguing overlapping storyline of some kind where various crooks tell their side of the story/heist, and also the possibility of beating your own time by accomplishing speed runs, but I just can’t shake the impression that this would be a lot richer played co-op. Dungeon Defenders is another game that felt like that, and to a lesser extent, Magicka also. This sort of deflated me from attempting the game further, because a) I can never seem to find people on at the right time to play these things with, and b) if I played it singleplayer now, wouldn’t I be spoiling my multiplayer experience on the off chance that I do?

Oh well. Filed for “Perhaps another day, with friends or when I finally get bored enough to see what the story is about by myself.”

State of Decay – Played 2 hours – $4.99

A purported zombie sandbox game I’d been keeping an eye on for a while, it popped up on consoles first, before finally making its way over to the PC.

I wanted to like it, but my first overwhelming impression was “OH GOD SO ORANGE.”

Someone made a stylistic choice of overwhelming the aesthetic with an orange tint, and for whatever reason, it doesn’t sit very well with me. It makes everything much harder to see, and I confess I almost look forward to night time when it just gets dark and shadowy and cooler in color temperature. I even Googled to see if there was a way to mod the awful orange out, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a simple fix, though it may be possible to manually edit some of the engine’s configuration settings or something like that.

Not willing to delve into the innards of the xml files just yet, I gritted my teeth through the orange to be dismayed yet again by the poorly animated models. I think I’ve gotten spoiled animation-wise after playing a sequence of games which, regardless of whatever faults one may think they have, are undeniably polished animation-wise: GW2, Dark Souls, Wildstar, XCOM, A Wolf Among Us and so on.

In State of Decay, one swings hopefully at the air with a melee weapon, assuming that one is doing damage to the zombies very near to you and seeing them recoil somewhat, despite never actually making contact.  Conversely, they come up near you and take swings at the air, which you -think- they’ve missed, but it turns out in the next second that the game will show you a lovingly animated sequence of the zombies grabbing and immobilizing you. *sigh*

Or I guess you shoot guns, which at least seem to work like how all FPSes work, but then there’s the worry of limited ammo supplies and all the noise you’re making. Or I guess you can creep slowly in slow motion everywhere, and we’ll see how long your patience lasts with doing that.

If one can get past these annoyances, there’s -some- potential in State of Decay. You get to gather a group of survivors, apparently characterised by an assortment of traits like “Team Mom” and “Cop” and “Liked Gardening” and so on. You can apparently work on befriending them enough to switch into their point of view and play them as your current protagonist. They have sufficient AI to accompany you and do a decent job defending you (and it’s a lot safer to let AI attack AI, given the cruddy animations.)

Much of the gameplay involves sneaking around and going to various houses and structures to search for supplies to fortify up your home base (wherever you’ve chosen to set it up) – a very standard zombie trope, and doing your best to make the surrounding areas safer by clearing out zombie infestations, etc.

I can’t help but get the impression that there are a lot of potential building blocks for someone to pick up and generate a decent emergent narrative out of, but that it’s still lacking a little something to make it happen more organically. One has to work at it quite a bit to craft some semblance of narrative.

So far, I got my survivors out of the tutorial area and to the initial home base of a church, meeting other survivors and am working to retrieve sufficient food, medicine and building materials to expand. We found other survivors and added them to our number, which was helpful for getting more hands and runners to take supplies back to home base without me having to haul each one back. I got a less melee-adept NPC killed by having her wander out alone at night looking for supplies when my more combat-oriented one was taking a break to rest off his fatigue. Oops? I wish I could say this was some kind of tragedy but honestly, I had no connection with her beyond being a controllable avatar/tool I could use to do what I wanted to do, and my only worry is that I’m down to two controllable characters from three.

Maybe if I got adept enough at the game that I could actually roleplay them differently, but frankly, survival needs all force them to behave the same anyway. I need supplies to expand, so -everyone’s- got to go out and search for them and bring them back. I only have so many guns and ammo, I can’t just keep shooting willy nilly so everybody better get used to sprinting a lot and meleeing to level up your fighting/survival skills. Who knows, maybe it’s different later on. Maybe not.

The last aspect of State of Decay that was intriguing was that the game supposedly goes on without you and your input. Your survivors will continue to do things or whatever. So far, the second time I logged in after 12 hours, there wasn’t much change. So I’m leaving it for a longer period and seeing what happens after a week or so. We’ll call it a mourning period for the NPC I managed to run into a roomful of zombies. (Well, duh, one has to open doors and walk into rooms to look for supplies, right?) If they all end up starving to death, I can’t say I’d be terribly crushed, or further motivated to keep playing.

“One more try, then possibly shelved until further notice.”

Shadowrun: Dragonfall DLC & Don’t Starve: Reign of Giants DLC – Played: Not yet – $9.98

I’m intending to get around to Shadowrun soon.

I’ve been putting off Don’t Starve because I’m kind of scared of the increased seasonal difficulty, to be honest. My last Don’t Starve game has me relatively set-up aboveground, but I still haven’t mastered safe cave exploration by any means (Depth Worm attacks past Day 100 are something I’m still struggling to solve) and have never ever gotten to the Ruins level yet. The thought of making aboveground not-safe-anymore with the Reign of Giants DLC is frightening. I just picked it up now because I’m sure within these six months between now and winter sale, I’d want to be playing Don’t Starve again and might eventually progress to the point of being able to take on the DLC.

XCOM: Complete – Played 27 hours – $16.49

In my book of 75% off deals, I paid for it too soon because $16.50 does not, by any means, resemble $7.49 or $10.19 type of sale prices.

I also don’t give a shit about sticking to my miserly ways after playing the demo and LOVING this game. It’s a miracle I managed to wait as long as I did, I think.

I missed the XCOM classics during their original era, but gave them a try during a Steam sale or other. I remember being utterly bamboozled by the arcane interface and lack of any explanation whatsoever (Ah, those good old DOS days when you just get thrown into the deep end and/or have to read manuals as thick as a flight simulator’s to play ’em), struggled to do anything, struggled with DOS/Windows incompatibilities and crashes, and got half of my squad or more massacred in the first fight because one had very little clue on how and where to even begin playing.

The updated XCOM does away with all that, providing a touch more modern graphics, a slicker (if console-like) interface, a lot more handy in-the-moment tutorials and pop-up tooltips and explanations. It also provides a relatively interesting beginning, middle, end narrative to overlay over the actual gameplay of mission to mission randomized map turn-based combat.

I enjoyed this game so much I managed to complete an entire campaign (just the base game, on the easiest setting, since I’m a beginner to XCOM and a wuss after the ‘classic’ experience) this week, and have just started a new one with the expansion options and a more normal difficulty setting. I intend to cover this more in a separate post, so I’ll stop here.

Conclusion: “So worth it. Playing the shit out of it. XCOM adds a ton more rep to Firaxis’ awesomeness, as befits the company that made Alpha Centauri.”

Epic Battle Fantasy 4 – Played: Not yet on Steam, Probably a couple hours on Kongregate – $2.99

Here’s an interesting one. It’s a free flash game that I tried for the hell of it when I was bored waiting for a boss to spawn in Guild Wars 2 and needed something on the side to keep me going. It’s not going to win any super-professional graphics awards, but it’s not ugly and has a relatively consistent anime-ish look to it.

It follows a lot of the standard JRPG tropes. You move an avatar around, fight a bunch of monsters, leveling up in experience, items and gold with each encounter. Combat is turn-based Final Fantasy-eseque, you have your skills and spells that you select to do damage to monsters, they do the same to you, there are elemental resistances and susceptibilities and so on to keep in mind and exploit.

If you presented it to me right off and asked me to pay for it sight unseen, I probably wouldn’t. But because I had nothing else to do and wanted some nostalgic but quick-firing spurts of JRPG style action, I ended up playing it and getting sucked into its basic storyline (retrieve magical plot devices of some kind, meet a host of characters to join up with you along the way, etc.) and rather habitually cranking it up every time I had to wait for Teq or Wurm to spawn and enjoying the wait time where I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I unfortunately fell out of the habit after losing interest chasing Teq/Wurm daily (plus the wait times got more streamlined and the TTS leaders started to demand more un-AFK attention for shorter periods of time, so there was less opportunity to play a JRPG in the other screen uninterrupted)  and stopped playing Epic Battle Fantasy 4 as a result. It left me with a favorable impression though, and when it got to an affordable amount on sale, I decided to pick it up to show my support and thanks to the developer for entertaining me when I needed it.

“I may get around to playing it later, maybe figure out to transfer my Kongregate save to Steam, or not. But not at this moment. Still, it’s definitely worth trying out for free.”

Sleeping Dogs DLC Collection – Played: Not yet – $6.99

As mentioned in an earlier sequence of posts, I did quite enjoy Sleeping Dogs and was intending to get the DLC.

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll find the time to play it, but I’m sure an opportunity will crop up between now and the winter sale. At 80% off, it was a steal anyway, and worth feeding back a little money into the developer’s pockets (minus Steam’s cut, of course) for some hope of a sequel.

The Wolf Among Us – Played: 9 hours – $8.49

Another slightly overpriced from 75% off game that I don’t bloody care about sticking to my rules because it’s SO BLOODY GOOD.

It -says- I played it for 9 hours, but it feels like a lifetime. It’s THAT rich and atmospheric and densely packed with story. I played it in one continuous marathon sequence because it was impossible to put down.

It’s a Telltale Game. You know how they go by now. A mix of the adventure-ish and their own unique dialogue/meaningful choice genres that add up to some kind of self-constructed self-tailored narrative assembled out of a couple of branching storyline possibilities.

Personally, I liked it a TON more than the Walking Dead that catapulted Telltale Games to fame. The Walking Dead was *sigh* zombies, mixed with a dose of ordinary people in a hopeless setting. Bleak, apocalyptic, full of no-win scenarios that posit the despairing theme of all the ways people will sacrifice their humanity in order to survive in the new dog-eat-dog nihilistic world, or die. How one doesn’t end up feeling depressed, is beyond me.

The Wolf Among Us very faithfully recreates the Vertigo Comics brand – a name which is synonymous to me with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Mike Carey’s Lucifer, and of course, Bill Willingham’s Fables, which it draws from. Vertigo Comics, to me, is about adult/mature (but not necessarily pornographic) themes. They veer a little or a lot darker than what you might expect from the word ‘comics’ in a superhero sense, and tend to mix in a dose of fantasy or the supernatural, but they’re not necessarily depressing. A number of them follow a more epic heroic or superheroic story arc structure too.

It mixes in a dose of the very noir Sin City, with its stylish graphical flair and dark urban underworld, but gives it color and brings to life a series I’d previously never followed. (Which I’m now correcting by going through a bunch of Fables comics and enjoying them too.)

You play Bigby Wolf, otherwise known as the Big Bad Wolf of fabled fame, and end up quickly embroiled in a murder mystery that has ramifications for all of Fabletown (the tiny community where the Fables reside in our mundane world.) The game does a good job introducing its settings and characters in an understandable fashion to anyone unfamiliar with the Fables universe, and serves as a rather intriguing prequel to the Fables comics series. (On reading the comics, there are a number of significantly more poignant echoes regarding certain happenings, due to having played the game.)

I really enjoyed the whole thing because it felt like the protagonist The Wolf Among Us had a lot more character than Walking Dead’s protagonist. Maybe it’s just me projecting because I have this thing about wolves *cough* but I do think Bigby Wolf feels more capable and a man of action, with more freedom to go dark and “be bad” as befits the story. In the Walking Dead, the protagonist feels like more of a blank slate, where one is gingerly stepping around trying not to be politically incorrect or racist, and applying one’s own social mores and morals onto a tabula rasa cardboard character to act as an extension of the self. In the Walking Dead, Lee is the everyman, it’s up to you to shape him however you like. In The Wolf Among Us, Bigby Wolf is larger than life, he’s a Fable, and he’ll never let you forget that he’s the Big B. Wolf.

I found choices much easier to make as a result, and was never stuck agonizing over “what is the right decision” as I did in the Walking Dead. After all, you never knew what kind of a horrible unexpected effect and nasty plot twist your trying to be good in Walking Dead would do to you later. In The Wolf Among Us, the right decision was always the one that Bigby Wolf (as -I -conceived him) would do, and damn the consequences, Bigby would be up to dealing with whatever it was that happened after.

The story also flowed a lot more naturally and followed narrative logic and conventions – reflecting a more cause-and-effect style fairy tale – rather than Walking Dead’s unending litany of “hey I just thought of a great moral dilemma to dump these characters into next! Let’s figure out how to join these together with the bare minimum of story, probably by just saying they walk/drive to the next place where this happens!”

My naturally played save game is ready and waiting for Episode 5 with bated breath. In the meantime, plans are underway to re-enjoy the story at a more leisurely pace, probably at least twice more, to see the roads not taken.

Is there any conceivable reason why you shouldn’t get this game? Only if you really don’t like dark, noir, urban fantasy themes and think they’re Satanic or something.

“If you don’t buy this game, I’ll huff-and-puff and blow the money out of your wallet to help you get it.”

Magicka: Dungeons and Gargoyles DLC – Played: Not Yet – $0.99

Continuing in my theme of buying super-micro-sized transactions to support a game I really enjoyed once upon a time and hope to get around to playing again, preferably with other people, but I’ll solo it otherwise.

“SoonTM

 Space Hulk – Played: Not Yet – $2.50

It’s a Warhammer 40k game. It’s SPACE HULK.

Yeah, I understand it’s probably a buggy horrific mess of a WH40K Space Hulk game, which is probably why the price has collapsed so quickly, but for a couple of bucks, it’s worth trying out because it’s SPACE HULK where you get to shoot tyranids in Terminator armor.

“Will share first impressions soon, when I get around to trying it.”

Civilization V: Brave New World DLC – Played: Not Yet – $7.49

Well, Civ V’s a good game. It’s the expansion I don’t yet own, and maybe need to give me a kick in the pants to have another go someday soon.

I’m sure sometime between now and Winter, I’ll have the urge for a game that can create a decent enough emergent narrative, and I’ve found Civ V to be not half-bad at producing these sorts of alternate history stories.

“Be on the lookout for a grand tale of warring nations, maybe sometime this Fall?”

So, in total: $62.40 for 6 games and a lot of DLC for 6 games, some of which are expansions in their own right.

This or a full-retail-price box on launch day?

I’ll take this any day.

*swims around happily in games like Scrooge McDuck swims in coins* (Yes, DuckTales is also on the wishlist. But not this Summer.)