THE MAN BEHIND THE GLASS: Operation 100 Part IV

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Welcome to the latest chapter in my ongoing quest/self-help guide to unlock 100% of achievements in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Between a full-time job, part-time writing career and a range of domestic commitments – is it possible for an average, grown-up gamer to max-out a modern title? As I post my progress, I’ll be discussing hints and tips; discussing the game’s design; and poking fun anything that comes within range. Catch the start of the journey here.

Time trundles on, seconds vanishing into an eternity of infinite possibility, never to be realised into any reality other than this one. And with each second goes another chance to unlock another of XCOM:Enemy Unknown’s achievements (and at the moment, most seconds pass by with the loss of another Soldier).

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Join me this week as I pay homage to XCOM’s least celebrated hero.

The Man Behind The Glass

I’ve now sat through a great many hours being mercilessly ravaged at the hands of XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s Classic Ironman mode. The varied emotions of euphoria, anger, frustration and relief dovetail erratically, but at the end of each peak of pique there is one constant; a stationary reference point in the whirling maelstrom of war; a cool hand to soothe my fevered brow.

Win or lose, step forward or step back: one man is there by my side, whispering comfort and sage advice in my ear. That man is XCOM’s uncelebrated hero, the man behind the glass –  always watching, listening and speaking, but never touching the chaos unfurling around him – Central Officer Bradford.

Officer Bradford 1
Central Officer Bradford – in all his glory

You’ll spend a lot of in-game time with Officer Bradford. He’s the voice on the radio guiding you through every mission; the firm handshake waiting in your underground base when you return from the field; the objective, patient debrief through each twist of the rabbit warren. He’s the man who greets you when you first arrive at XCOM HQ – playing the benign mother role within a faceless military patriarchy – treading a perfect line between comforting warmth and official competence.

For the first few play-throughs of the game, he’s a likeable-if-forgettable character. Blandly efficient, optimally neutral (warming to cagily protective where your soldiers are concerned). He’s ordinary in his appearance: his tall, stocky frame is obviously built to last, and, I like to think, impeccably well-maintained beneath those thick layers of official uniform. Any rough edges in his manner or personality are rounded-off by submissive conformance. As the single-player campaign wears on and you are subjected/treated to increasing exposure to Doctor Valen and Engineer Wotsit – characters who both play safe stereotypes to the letter – it’s easy to think that Officer Bradford has no personality at all.

But when you play as badly as I do for as long as I do, you start to see Officer Bradford in a very different light. You start to see the man behind the generic authority figure. You begin to yearn for his calm, commanding tone. You crave his respect and admiration, you notice his facade crumbling, you see the man beneath the well-oiled machine. His voice cracks ever-so-slightly when you lose a soldier; a barely-perceptible undertone of disappointment carried on his sigh. His crew-cut brow hangs, to better control the great surges of emotion coursing through his veins.

Sooner or later you find yourself craving his approval: an ugly perversion of Stockholm Syndrome in which the master desires to please the servant. You yearn for him to clap you on the back and say “Good job, commander”. You shake yourself off, raise your game, focus your mind – just to please Officer Bradford.

In between howls of frustration and burly hi-fives with friends who have long-ceased to pay attention, I find myself imagining what Officer Bradford does at the end of a 14-hour shift. I expect he returns to his small home, located just off the base, and wakes his sleeping wife. I imagine he makes love to her in his capable, dependable way: not too quickly, not too slowly, just a patient, controlled build up of passion. A restrained landslide, an unstoppable glacier of burning iron. He silently completes his final objective with a minimal of fuss, leaving his beloved gasping for air, completing one last debrief with silence and sweat.

As he strides around the base like a keen-eyed admiral aboard an ancient pan-Atlantic galleon, I find myself pondering strange questions. What’s in his wardrobe? I’m sure he has an immaculate, well-organised collection of dark green jumpers and white shirts for the working week; plus a couple of short-sleeved cream shirts and a navy blue jumper for his off-duty weekends. I imagine him fishing on his rare weekends off (probably while reading some kind of practical military magazine, like Modern Communications or Oil Monthly).

There’s just something so confident about Officer Bradford – even in defeat, he’s magnanimous and commanding. Sure, he’s not the most senior man on the base. Yes, he does have an ambiguous rank and uncertain official duties. No, he doesn’t openly appear to be the most explosive torpedo in the bay. But is there any other man, woman, alien or digital/spiritual/psychological entity from the whole spectrum of games that I’d rather have whispering into my ear as the Skyranger touches down onto the tarmac of yet another dangerous operation?

Probably not.

Officer Bradford Dancing
Central Officer Bradford – throwing shapes in Mission Control

Progress Report

Oh man, what a pitiful couple of weeks it’s been.

Between overtime in the office, a little too much time in the pub, and preparations for an upcoming holiday – my commitment to XCOM:EU has taken a beating. Just 7.5 hours over two weeks. Time enough to start and abandon a couple of doomed campaigns, but no time to make meaningful progress.

I’m sure I’m getting better – both at the macro-game strategy, when I’ve got a plan of how to develop both satellite coverage and scientific development – but I constantly find myself getting burned. Soldiers get hit while hunkered down in heavy cover; easy (but important) shots miss; hordes of aliens get pulled out of the fog-of war within a tiny mis-step.

Mutons have proved the greatest problem. Each one presents an epic battle: they tear through heavy cover like its paper, and their bonus to defense makes them really hard to hit. 

But it’s clear I’m doing something wrong. I need to swallow my pride and get a little help. It’s time to hit Google, rinse out YouTube, ask the Russians and memorise the Wiki. The war against Classic Ironman is going to heat up as I hungrily begin to devour every tip, strategy and catechism I can to crack this beastly game.

I just hope that doing so doesn’t strip all the fun out of the experience. Over the next few articles, I’ll start to report back on what I find.

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This Week’s Stats:
  Hours Played:  10
  Operations Completed: 14
  Aliens Killed:  177
  Soldiers Lost: 51
  Flawless Victories: 3
  Total Wipeouts: 5
  Achievements Unlocked:  0
  Hours spent in the pub (and not actually playing XCOM): 14.5

Global Progress:
  Achievements Unlocked:  41% (35/85)
  Hours Played: 33
  Operations Completed: 55
  Confirmed Kills: 960
  Campaigns Started: 18
  Campaigns Won:  1
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