Great moments in PC gaming: The XCOM mission with the fish null

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

XCOM: Enemy Within

(Image credit: 2K)

Year: 2013
Developer: Firaxis

‘Site Recon’ is a prosaic name for a mission that, the first time I played it, straight-up terrified me. This is the council mission in XCOM’s Enemy Within expansion that sends you to a fishing village in Newfoundland that’s “gone dark”, with alien involvement suspected as the cause. It gets off to a slow start—the abandoned houses contain a few individual zombies and at some point you’ll set off the chryssalids on the docks. You’ve only encountered these spike-legged insectoid shock troops once before at this point. You may still be rocking a squad of four and ballistic weapons, in which case three chryssalids running at you is a hell of a thing to deal with.

Eventually, one of the big fish hanging from a pole on the docks bursts open, and you find out where the chryssalids are coming from. The aAliens have been gestating them inside aquatic creatures, and this doomed Newfoundland settlement brought in catch much bigger than expected.

You work your way along the pier, looking for the source of the trouble, and find a ship with its hull ripped open. Inside, things get downright grisly. This is a whaling ship, and the dead whale in its hold is pregnant with a whole army of chryssalids. Your mission changes. Now the job is to activate a transponder on the top of the ship so an accurate air strike can be called on this mess, and you need to get the hell out of there before the missiles light it up.

Up until this mission, XCOM has been teaching you the importance of cover and that using explosives robs you of valuable tech salvage. You probably geared up for Site Recon with a bunch of stuff to help you deal with aliens who shoot back. But nobody shoots back in Site Recon. Every enemy is coming right at you, and full cover counts for squat when a chryssalid’s got its claws in your face.

The rush back along the docks to the EVAC zone, trying to outrace a horde as they continuously spawn out of whale guts, is pure panic. My first time playing this mission one of my squad got left behind, a heroic sacrifice to draw the ‘lids away while everyone else got the hell out of Dodge. Sure, it loses its impact on replays—especially if you’ve seen the way Beaglerush dealt with it in his Long War playthrough—but that first impression shakes you out of thinking you know what to expect from XCOM, and you’re never convinced that caution, full cover, and overwatch will protect you completely ever again.


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