With the release of XCOM 2 looming ever closer, it being tomorrow and all, all the traumatic memories I have from its predecessor XCOM: Enemy Unknown have been coming back to mind. As the subject of one of our “In Memorium” posts, Enemy Unknown is very unique thanks to its unpredictable strategy gameplay, permanent team member deaths and the ability to name and characterise your soldiers as you see fit. That last one is my favourite aspect of XCOM as a whole, since all my soldiers could be named and designed after real people from my life, and as such hold a more personal meaning.
And while there were many, many moments of tragic loss in my time playing Enemy Unknown, there was one particular time that has stuck with me in the years since. No spoilers to worry about here guys, this story ain’t a scripted part of the narrative. It’s just a tale of straight up negligence in the line of duty.
Unfortunately, this happened so long ago that I do not have screenshots from the specific battle from which this story emerges, but I shall describe it for you as best I can. Some context for those of you who do not know: XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a turn-based strategy game where an alien race is invading Earth and players take command of the “XCOM Project”, a small military outfit comprised from all the world’s nations designated to study and combat the aliens.
Upon completing the tutorial mission at the start, the player is often left with a single soldier who becomes their first trooper in the XCOM Project. I decided my lone survivor, who had seen his team mates gunned down by strange creatures in the dead of night, was going to be my tough, experienced and battle scarred leader. The fearless captain who had seen some shit. As such, I named him after my good friend Lawton, who as well as being a close friend was also a huge XCOM fan so it seemed appropriate.
As my platoon grew to include more people from my friendship groups, Lawton was still my go-to guy. I’d seen him take out groups of aliens on his own; make ridiculous shots that no one could possibly have made; he was the man who would never leave a trooper behind. He was like Corporal Dwayne Hicks, Major Richard Winters and goddamn Aragorn rolled into one.
But if you’re reading this Lawton, don’t let all that praise go to your head. You fucked up. You fucked up bad.
My squad was deployed in Europe, looking to extract a VIP. There was a bridge crossing over a lower street, and once a majority of my team had made it across it, suddenly a mid-level alien appeared out of nowhere, pinning down one of my newest troopers named Steph. The alien opened fire and Steph copped a heavy hit, taking down half of her health bars. One or two more hits, depending on the alien’s luck, and she was toast.
Suddenly it was my turn again, and I assessed Steph’s chances of firing back. She had a 66% chance of inflicting damage, but her inferior rifle would not cause enough to take it out in one go. I could instruct her to make two actions before her turn was up, so I moved her towards the bridge but not far enough so that she couldn’t make a return shot. Her likelihood of making a hit stayed the same, so she opened fire and was successful: the alien lost a couple health bars.
But if I didn’t do something quickly, it would be the alien’s turn again and Steph was surely a goner. So I brought in the big guns: I sent Lawton back to rescue her.
Lawton arrived at the end of the bridge, out-flanking the alien and in a prime firing position. If he can get a good hit in, that alien would go down faster than Tony Abbott’s approval ratings and Steph would be in the clear. Lawton lined up the shot and I was prompted it had a 95% chance of hitting. My top guy had this in the bag.
Except he missed. He missed the “95% chance of success” shot. Lawton should have been dead to me right in that moment.
But we soldiered on, hoping our luck would turn around. The alien had its go, it moved to a new vantage point and miraculously missed another shot at Steph. When things were back in my hands, I moved Steph as far along the bridge as I could, outside the alien’s current attack range so she was safe unless he moved again. Now it was up to Lawton to take the bastard out. He flanked the alien, lined up the shot. 95% chance to strike again, and this time it was going to hit.
Only it didn’t. The fool dropped the ball for a second time. I’m not going to lie to you, I was pissed.
Again, the alien moved along, fired at Steph and by the grace of whatever deity dictates the outcome of my video game experiences, he had a crap hit-chance and she remained unscathed. I had another chance to bail her out, Lawton just had to nut up, shut up and make the goddamn shot. So he flanked, aimed, and got 95% chance to hit again.
He fired and you can probably guessed what happened next.
He missed, because of course he did. On the alien’s next turn, Steph’s luck ran out was gunned down. By this point I was frothing at the mouth, loudly cursing the real Lawton with every swear word I knew (and some I didn’t know I knew) despite him having absolutely nothing to do with his digital counterpart other than share the same name.
Part of what brought this tragedy up for me was that recently the real Lawton and I were discussing XCOM 2 and I reminded him of his failings, which he dismissed flippantly. You can see below that I was having none of his disrespect for the dead.
Here’s hoping he makes amends as the battle continues in XCOM 2 from this Friday. May Steph’s death serve as a harsh lesson for him to focus, because when mistakes are made on the battlefield people die.
RIP trooper Steph.