Erin saves the world: An XCOM: Enemy Unknown story
“You modeled it on me?” asked Erin, dubiously, on seeing her character portrait. “This looks like Lucy Liu.”
“The tools for this aren’t very accurate,” I explained. “So you look a bit… generically Asian.”
“Why is there a Swedish flag next to my name?”
“The game assigns each soldier a nationality that you can’t change. So you can have an Asian person called Erin from Sweden.”
“Do I have robot legs? The legs look a bit wide. Are they robotic or just… unfortunate legs?”
Pictured: Saviour of the planet in on-trend purple armour.
It’s this that makes my friend Erin ten times the hero my Shepards and Clarkes ever were. True, these alien-swatting jocks looked death in its twitching bug-eyes many a time – but always with one finger on the trigger and the other on the quick-load button. Erin saved the world with nought but a fancy shotgun, the face of a B-list former movie star and very little idea what was going on. This is her story.
To clarify: the end of the world, as portrayed in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, is hard. Until you’ve had the President of Nigeria call you up to tell you he’s pulling your funding just as an alien ship shoots down your last remaining satellite, you don’t know space. As the commander of the titular XCOM Project, Earth’s final line of defence against ruthless alien invaders, your soldiers are weak, fleshy things and the aliens mercilessly efficient. As if combat weren’t difficult enough (and it is), you’ve also got base-building, research trees, satellite maintenance and spaceship dogfights to deal with.
If you screw any of these up – and you will, many times – there’s no do-overs. You suck it up and move on, training up rookie replacements for your fallen veterans, jerry-rigging new satellites and praying for a break. You either pull it back from the brink, or slump into total, harrowing defeat as your world burns around you.
XCOM’s character creation is the hook that keeps you slogging through the incredibly punishing missions. At XCOM HQ, you take in batches of new recruits that are pre-configured, but everything about them is customisable. So, of course, you start filling your squad with friends, family and co-workers, making your story personal. Once you’ve recreated your friends as soldiers, losing them forever becomes more disheartening than just losing a veteran squad member. Many fell, but not Erin.
The first mission on which Erin distinguished herself was specially requested by the XCOM council. A US government big shot’s motorcade had been ambushed by aliens, and the VIP was pinned down at the scene with his security detail. The game had assigned Erin to the fast-moving Assault class. She was first choice to grab the VIP. After touching down at the scene, the team discovered the motorcade in an underpass with high ground on either side, dangerously exposed. I set up snipers on to provide overwatch while the assault team moved up, dashing from cover to cover.
Such a talented actor.
As Erin and the rest of the rescue reached the vehicle, the trap was sprung. Tall, spindly creatures in dark blue suits and round, Lennon-esque spectacles lept and tumbled from the fog. The game calls them ‘Thin Men’, a take on the pre-Will Smith-ified Men In Black legend; humanoid – but not quite human – infiltrators that spearhead an alien invasion, blending in and studying us.
Erin says they “look like Steve Buscemi”.
As point woman for the squad, it was Erin who flushed out the lurking Thin Men, using a special ability that allowed her to both sprint and fire in the same turn to take her shots at point blank, right into the mottled faces of the enemy. With her single-handedly clearing the enemy positions, the rest of the squad moved with the whimpering VIP back to the exfil point.
“I like how feisty I am in this,” says Erin.
“How are you feeling about this?” I ask. “Are you taking it all in?”
There’s a pause.
“I like it,” she says. “It’s kind of like I’ve been in a coma and I’ve woken up and someone’s telling me all this great stuff I’ve done that I have no recollection of.”