An Ode To X-Com: Enemy Unknown

It’s 2am, my breath catches in my throat as Squaddie Hudson stomped towards the outside of the alien craft, I clutch nervously at my mouse as if my 11 year old twitch reflexes might save me if I make the wrong choice.

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He’s one step away from the safe metal wall when the dreaded warning flashes “Not Enough Time Units”. I can feel Hudson looking at me accusingly as I click on next turn, crossing my fingers that the three men with full TU will get off a decent reaction shot if an alien powers through the doorway.

The door stays closed, and the sound of doors cycling indoors tells me someone or something is crawling around inside there. Nothing I’ve discovered so far can even scratch the hull so if I want to go inside I’ll have to walk straight in.

Sadly, that’s where it ends; I never got to find out what happened to Hudson, as I’d forgotten to save since starting the game a few hours back and so I lost all of my progress. This, and several other infractions just like it were the reason my PC got moved into the kitchen downstairs so my usage could be monitored, and as a result only served to impress stories like these further into my memory.

I didn’t really understand X-com back then, regularly I’d finish missions with just two or three barely standing soldiers left on the map, my usual room clearing strategy involved an alien grenade primed in the agents hand so that when he was gunned down, he’d drop the grenade and hopefully kill the alien that bagged him.

It worked. Sometimes.

I didn’t really leave the house much as a child, so the little flat-topped soldiers stomping down the ramp of the skyranger were pretty damn close to friends, and so after a while I started to learn the value of risk and  found new ways to keep my people alive.

I learnt that strapped a det-pack to every soldiers leg in case they got “surrounded” was no longer necessary (although still awesome) and slowly, over time, I got a bit better – the percentages started to slide in my favour. This wasn’t just a case of running through a tutorial though, I spent hours and hours working out the best way to approach every situation, from Mutons assaulting my hanger to Chryssalid’s jumping a 4 man squad in a 2 storey apartment building [Nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure. Fuck ‘lids]

I’ve had an X-Com game running in my downtime for several years, but since discovering mind control and plasma tanks, I rarely lose a soldier.

Sadly, that’s what ended up killing my infatuation with the game. I’ve dabbled in Xenonauts, finished the remake a few times [not enough maps] and to keep the challenge up even tried playing Terror From The Deep [Fuck Lobstermen] but nothing ever really recaptured that horrific dread I had as a young kid.

Interestingly, now I play a whole ton of Jagged Alliance 2 to get my squad based strategy fix, but I’ll always credit X-com with teaching you the value of risk and reward; using what you’ve got to your advantage and work with it, and if you don’t manage that? Well, you quickly find yourself subjected to a long slow failstate, being overpowered by the aliens time and time again as you try to hold on. Arguably, that’s when X-com is at it’s best. For being the game that kept me glued to a keyboard for most of my teenage years, I thank you, X-Com: Enemy Unknown.

[This was produced for the Level Up Blogfest. Check it out!]

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