I’d gotten cocky, see. Major Odessa Simon – for that was her name – had been with me since the first mission, where she’d fumbled with her assault rifle and not killed anything. She’d been out on every sortie that the XCOM project had fought, attempting to stop aliens from taking over the earth by shooting them in the head.

She was so close to becoming a Colonel; she went to battle decked out in a Skeleton Suit complete with grapnel unit and rocking a laser sniper rifle retro-engineered from stolen extraterrestrial technology coupled with a S.C.O.P.E. unit, which is like a normal scope but also an acronym so it must be better.

She was a complete badass. She had jet-black skin and kept her white hair slicked back, and she solved problems if those problems were Aliens Being Alive. She’d get herself into position and line up her shots and rarely, if ever, miss. Every shot a kill. Even though Colonel McFrag – my obvious author insert character, born in the UK, red hair and a daft beard – outranked her, I like to think that he looked to her for assistance. She was calm, after all – she was a Sniper. He was an Assault trooper. Together, they saved the world.

And then, fighting my way through an assault on Manchester city centre, I stacked up three of my operatives – Odessa included – against a wall, either side of a window. Two Muton units – big green fuckers – stood inside, waiting to die. On my next go we’d swing round, smash the windows and dive in and Odessa would offer covering fire whilst McFrag and Ivanovitch, the other Assault trooper, stormed the place with their laser shotguns.

And then – grenades. I didn’t know they had grenades and the first one threw one and it took out the wall and Odessa wasn’t meant for close ops, she needed cover and she had none, and the second one opened up at point-blank range and she died, right there, right at McFrag’s feet. Blood everywhere. She shouldn’t have stood so close. I thought I could take them, and I was wrong.

I knew then that I wasn’t going to turn off the game, reload the save and bring her back to life. I knew that I was going to kill everything responsible for her death as hard as I could. A sort of shocked, determined calm came over me as I ordered the Assault troops into the building and began throwing grenades. Salvage be damned. This mission was now about revenge and nothing else.

I’d dealt with death before, obviously. Every mission saw my original four troopers – now high-ranked super-skilled badasses covered in gleaming carapace armour – accompanied by a single Rookie carrying only his starting equipment and looking sorry for himself.

The Rookie had an unenviable job: he was there to absorb bullets for the other characters. In my head, I was offering him valuable combat experience – and hell, he was wearing lighter armour than the other characters anyway, so recon is the ideal job even if it put him in the line of fire. I was rationalising away the deaths of characters that I didn’t care about. That’s how good a game XCOM is.

And then, Odessa. Odessa died so Earth could live. We fought on. Some other guy died, too, bled out in a shop doorway – don’t even know his name – and my veteran heavy, Marquez, almost bit it too but we managed to pull him out in time and lob a grenade in to cover his escape. Manchester was safe. We flew home.

I went to The Memorial in the barracks and listened to the bad midi bagpipes and wondered which of the shotglasses stacked beneath the pictures of the lost was Odessa’s. Her photo was biggest, placed above all the others, and she’s never coming back.

Categorised in: Console, RTS

5 thoughts on “XCOM Enemy Unknown: I’m dealing with my grief

  • Jamstick says:

    I loved reading this. I now know I’m not the only weirdo that gets overly involved, desperately attatched to my soldiers and is grief stricken when one of my troops is brutally killed. You painted the picture so vididly that I feel for you and sympathise your great loss.

    R.I.P Odessa

  • exhile says:

    I know the feeling. My best sniper died. She never missed a shot. I grew fond of her and made sure she wasn’t in any danger. But one difficult mission where two of my top ranks where mind controlled. I had to put her in line of fire to take out one of the high lvl sectoid. It worked. But my other high rank killed her. I knew it before it happened. The game would sorta show a cut scene of the shooter firing the weapon and that always meant a kill. After I avenged her I didn’t want to play anymore. Then I realized wtf am I doing. It’s just a game. I knew this game is something else if it could draw us gamers a sort of fondness to the characters. Anyway that was a good read. Thanks for sharing.

  • Darren says:

    Grant, I remember the same experience playing the original XCOM on DOS/Windows machines. I finally made it all the way to Cydonia and took out the boss alien thingy, hours and hours and hours after I started.

    I loved XCOM because I got the game with no instructions and had to figure out how everything worked on my own. Everything. I’d never played a squad-level turn-based game with movement allowances. I had to figure out for myself that XCOM’s own laser-based weapons were all the newbies got to hold, that whatever the unobtainium stuff was that powered alien weaponry was too valuable to put in the hands of anything but power-armored veterans, that it was always better to move a little and save lots of movement points for full-auto snap shots because sure as anything a door was going to open and some alien bastard was going to pop out and my dudes were going to die if they didn’t take two steps and put three pounds of pressure on a four-pound trigger for the rest of the turn. There’s nothing more depressing than one trooper making it back to the lander and flying home, and starting over with a flock of newbs not fit for the armor left over from better (virtual) men and women. But into the fray they went. You’d never have thought such shellshock and PTSD could be displayed by the four pixels describing the eyes of that one remaining squaddie in the DOS days, but I swear I could see it. Maybe that was just me.

    I have the 360 version of XCOM, I just had to get it out of loyalty to a game that taught me so much. But I haven’t played it yet because I want to stay married to my lovely wife of 21 years and to your point — I don’t want to get quite that involved.

    Although thanks to this review I may have to. For all the ones I never got home the first time. 🙂

    • grant says:

      I don’t know what it is about XCOM troops – and I wish I did, because it’s kind of my job to know these things – but something attaches you to them. More so than in any other game I’ve played. Maybe it’s the way that you watch them grow into badasses?

      I really liked your comment; play the game. For those that have fallen.

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