How XCOM Told A Story Without Even Trying
The mission was a total success. Well, that’s a bit of an overstatement. The objective was complete and nobody came back in a coffin but they certainly arrived home with a lot more bruises and broken bones than when they left. Diaz, the team leader was the worst off having taken a face full of alien plasma. But it was no big deal, they have the time to recover right? Wrong! Almost as soon as they get back to base the alarm sounds. The aliens are assaulting Mexico this very instant. I could ignore it, part of me is ashamed to admit I’m tempted to simply shut it off and give the soldiers time to heal. I spend a few moments looking at the alert. They need my help now. People are being taken from their homes, their city in flames and I have the power to help. I can’t ignore this.
I look at my troops. My famous five, my A Team, the men and women who I try incorporate into every mission are just too banged up to join in, not a single one can participate. I look at who’s up for the mission. Only one trooper who’s remotely experienced and then the rest are fresh faced and brand new without a single kill to their names. Well it’s time to get their hands bloody. Strap up kids you’re going in.
We land in Mexico. Things are relatively in control. The rookies prove they may be new but they’re far from untrained. Under the watchful eyes of sniper Sergeant Walker the newbies work together to take down the alien scum and rescue the civilians as quick as they can. As time goes by things are looking even better. No deaths or serious injuries. Surely by now we’ve nearly taken all the aliens out? Walker is up on top of a building across the street covering the alleyway while the rookies make their way down, watching each others’ backs. So far so good.
Disaster! As they reach the end of the alleyway a bunch of aliens charge out and take up positions ready to lay down fire at the unprepared novices. The sniper is too far back, he can’t make the shot. Daringly he drops from the safety of his perch, he goes to find a new vantage point where he can help. Before Walker can even cover a third of the distance he’s cut off by a new batch of aliens. They were hiding down below him all along! The rookies may be pinned in the alley but at least they have cover. Walker is out in the middle of nowhere. With the last of his energy he could either jump for cover or take a single shot leaving him at the aliens’ mercy. The rookies have their backs exposed to this new group. If Walker goes to safety the rookies are doomed. So the question is does he save himself or the kids?
Walker raises his gun and fires. The shot hits and eliminates his enemy with a clean kill. But there are still two of them just mere feet away from him. The aliens retaliate, they do not miss. Walker is slaughtered ruthlessly. The rookies are now on their own, their experienced leader is dead and they’ve got hostiles at both sides.
At this time I’m getting ready to call the whole mission off. Surrounded and outgunned this isn’t looking good. I think back to Walker. The image of his burnt corpse fresh in my mind. He died trying to help his comrades. He could have stayed where it was safe but he didn’t. He took a risk to save his unit. To save his brothers. I can’t let his sacrifice be pointless. We came here to help the civilians who needed our help. We knew it was dangerous but they needed us. They still need us.
The rookies double back and rush the aliens who murdered Walker dispatching them with inspiring efficiency. After regrouping they maneuver to a better location and expertly annihilate the aliens who originally locked them in the alley. It works. Not a single newbie dies. The mission is complete and they head back home.
Victory is bittersweet. This rabble of nobodies saved the day but it cost brave Walker his life. I visit the memorial wall and look at his name, listed there with the other heroes of past missions. It’s a small tribute to a soldier whose sacrifice saved his whole unit. Nothing can truly pay tribute to him. I ponder on it for a moment and realize the best way to immortalize him is to live on. For these rookies, now no longer amateurs but true soldiers of XCOM, to continue their work and progress. I give them matching customised armour to reward them for their success and to honour Walker’s memory. Every mission they go on is one they’d never have seen if not for Walker. Every saved life is a life not just saved by them but by Walker too. He may be gone, but his reach will be everlasting.
He wasn’t the first XCOM solider to die on my watch and he won’t be the last. But I’ll make damn sure those sacrifices weren’t for nothing.