I had heard many great things about XCOM: Enemy Unknown over the past several months, but I did not think that it would be my type of game. Turn-based strategy has never generated much of a blip on my gaming radar. But they hype made me curious. I tried the demo on Steam one day. Soon, I was playing the full game for about two weeks straight, agonizing over every single move. Scrambling to bring down the world panic levels while working to build up my stations resources. The game was a revelation. I know that it does not compare to the 'classic' XCOM experience (I have yet to play the older games in the series) but the sci-fi and the strategy and the emotion that comes about from bringing a squad together and taking on the global threat was compelling to me.
Death is a subject that is unavoidable in the game. It's going to happen. It can happen very fast. One wrong step and it can be a domino of disasters waiting to happen. In many games you just shake it off and move on. In XCOM, those decisions stick with you. You wonder if you could have made a better decision to keep someone from getting killed. Every wrong decision is going to mean a new name on the memorial. I have a long standing character that has survived far longer than I thought he would. As I kept playing, I started thinking about how a person in his position would think and respond to the events around him, in a war like none other. So on a stream of consciousness and little sleep, here is my take on a memory from that soldier, Brian Ross. If you have a favorite XCOM story, feel free to share it as well.
I can't forget her name: Julie. Julie Rose. "Combo". It seemed like she just gotten called up but before you knew it she had been to hell and came back chomping on roasted marshmallows . Hard-nosed. Fearless. She was born to be on the front lines. On her first mission under my watch, she took down three of those skinny fucks all while pinned down behind a burned out car on a broken highway in Kansas City. Some of the other rooks come in and you know from their eyes that you'll need to pack a diaper in with the med kits. Combo came in ready to do some damage and save the world. We gave her the Archangel like it was a second skin. The Commander didn't think twice and gave her the nod.
We got a distress call from Nigeria. Argentina was in trouble too. Rio would have been an easy extraction. Africa was in a panic and we needed the scientists to help expand our facilities and figure out how to stop these damned things once and for all. The call wasn't easy but the Commander knew what was best. We trusted him. He trusted us. Nigeria wasn't going to be easy. We had most of our 'A' squad in the infirmary so I had to take a bunch of kids down there. But there was no way in hell we were backing down. I got fitted with a Titan suit. Vahlen and Shen are crazy as hell but they can do amazing work underground. I think Bradford wants to put a boot up their asses but he stays cool. The plasma sniper rifles had just come from the lab. They were one of the scariest things I ever had on my shoulder, but I sure kissed it after I used it to take down a Muton in France.
We dropped in near a service station. I could smell gas leaking from the pumps. The sun had set but the fires in the distance gave the sky an odd, red-orange glow. The aliens were noisy. Confident. They had slaughtered half a dozen people. By know I knew their sounds, their movements. Sectoids. Cyberdiscs. I knew if we were smart we could take them down and get everybody home.
I sent Rose off to my right to camp in a safe spot so she could keep the assault team under cover and give meds if they were needed. I set up deep, taking cover behind a beat-up van and watching over the battlefield. Evans (another sniper) took a similar spot forty feet to the left of my position. Gonazlez dropped behind a a sedan and settled in with her heavy artillery. Combo and the rest of the group went forward. She looked back at me and smiled.
I took out the the first ET with a shot between its huge eyes. It never saw it coming. They hit is with a few good return shots. We took a few wounds but gave it back even harder. Combo camped beneath the broken store window and blew away another big-eyed freak with a laser assault rifle. Everything was going according to plan. The Commander came on the line and told us to make one last push into the store to finish off the hostiles. I stayed in my spot and watched over the front group. Evans kept an eye out to make sure nothing was going to approach from our flank or from behind. Combo's job was to finish the sweep of the service station's store. Down my sight everything looked clear. She hopped over a counter, turned in my direction and gave me a nod. Nothing had be said.
But the trouble wasn't over. A Muton blasted through a back storage area and caught us off guard. Combo was right in its line of vision and the Muton wanted to tear her apart. It began to charge right at her. I quickly lined up my rifle to give her cover fire. I had the Muton dead to rights. It couldn't see me, but I had its ass in my cross hair. I used my left forearm to stabilize the gun. I took a deep breath. I fired my weapon.
I put a burning hole in the wall. The Muton didn't flinch. Combo put a couple of plasma rifle rounds into the things gut, but it barely flinched. Before we could reload, The Muton jumped on her and pounded the girl relentlessly for several seconds. Evans got off two lethal shots which crippled the Muton and we cleaned up the rest with some plasma. I felt my shoulders drop as I brought my sight up again. Combo was on the ground. Broken. Lifeless. She was on my watch. I was supposed to bring every one of them back alive. The Commander was encouraging, and the support was nice, I guess. But the death of a squad member, no matter who it is or how old they are or how different they are from you, it hurts like hell. Every. Single. Damn. Time.
I have two days left in the infirmary. I took some shrapnel from an exploding gas pump and the docs want me to patch up and heal before I get back out in the field. Evans has been killing it the last few missions as the lead. She's a machine out there. When the boots hit the ground she takes over and doesn't let up. She's exactly who and what we need out there. Bradford says that the Nigerians were grateful for our help and the scientists will be here soon. Vahlen is putting feelers out about some mind control shit. I don't know what she's up to, and sometimes she scares me, but I know her work is part of why we even have a chance right now. They are also thinking about sending drones out with us, too. We're fighting a war. We're fighting the skies and the stars and darkness. I'm confident that we're going to win this. Too much is at stake to let it all fall apart now.
They put Combo's name up on the board today. The memorial. It's too damn long now. Every operation and mission. Every hard fight. Every life lost. If I end up on this list, I hope I got on it by going down fighting, with my team fighting just as hard beside me. I owe them that much. I owe Combo that much.
Because I know I'm DAMN sure not going to miss that shot again.
Captain Brian Ross, XCOM