Wednesday, 24 October 2012

POTUSCOM: Executive Asskickers

The man, now crouched behind the nearest car, desperately tried to pull his thoughts together into something coherent. Just an hour ago he had been at his desk, steeped in routine and normality, working on the database and wondering whether his wife could be convinced to take his turn cooking tonight. Now, he was hiding in the car park, teetering on the verge of hysterical panic, desperately trying not to recall the terrified look on his manager's face as the alien creature had eviscerated him with its glistening mandibles.

As you probably already know, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake/reimagining/remix of the 1994 classic strategy game for masochists. The game has garnered rave reviews from everyone except those who for some bizarre reason thought Time Units were a fun mechanic. It's a fine game, and if there's any justice it should show devs and the public that turn-based strategy is still viable, and even transcendent, on consoles.

My first playthrough of XCOM taught me not to name my soldiers after friends and family. I learned this lesson after seeing my sister get blown to pieces by a Muton Elite, and finding myself on my feet shrieking "SHE'S GOT TWO CHILDREN, YOU FUCKING MONSTERS!" at my television.

He had bolted soon after that, staying just long enough to see his manager's ruined body spring up in a sickening parody of life and begin shambling towards another of his terrified colleagues. Now he was in the car park, pressed against the cold metal of a Vauxhall Astra, fighting to shut out the screams and guttural groans coming from the building he had spent most of his working life in. He knew he should run, knew he HAD to run, but terror had acquired control of his body and rooted him to the spot. As he was feverishly attempting to clear his mind, trying to muster up enough sense to run as far and fast as possible, the alien creature scuttled from around the corner, up to the car, and fixed him hungrily with cold, unknowable compound eyes.

The creature stared at him, mandibles clicking, and he stared dumbly back. He whimpered pathetically, closed his eyes, and thought of his wife.

The excellent writer and RPG curmudgeon Rowan Kaiser named his squad members after Game of Thrones characters, due to the decent male/female ratio and the fact that ASOIAF characters die constantly. I decided to go a different way - to channel the spirit of the pantheon of US presidents.

The blast snapped his eyes open. The creature was making a hideous sound, pitched somewhere between a scream and a metal blade dragging across stone. It's abdomen was leaking an olive-green fluid through a gaping hole that had not been there seconds before. A second blast boomed, and the head of the creature disappeared in a green mist. As the lifeless body hit the floor, the soldier behind him was revealed. He was smiling, an easy smile that softened his sharp cheekbones and aristocratic features. His bright red armour made his slicked back white hair seems all the whiter. The shotgun in his hand was still smoking, as was the cigarette in the elegant cigarette holder that was clenched between his teeth.

"Hello sir, name's Franklin. We're here to help. You need to get over to our Skyranger over there. They'll get you to safety."

The rules, then: I'm playing on classic difficulty, where 'classic' is a euphemism for 'fucking hard'. As the US presidents thus far have been of a distinct XY persuasion, any female soldiers get dismissed on the spot (don't blame me, blame centuries of systemic oppression). Presidents will be called up in order of amusing nicknames I can think up for them, rather than chronological order. The game end either when the alien menace has been vanquished, or once all 44 presidents have been given death over liberty.

At present, the squad is reeling from the death of Major George 'O.G.' Washington, the assault specialist who had been with the team since its inception, and who died the way he would have wanted - mauled by a Muton berserker whilst protecting the lives of the men under his command.

With Washington in eternal repose, leadership of the team falls to the shotgun-wielding, no-nonsense assault class Lt. Abraham 'Emancipator' Lincoln. The core squad is composed of support troops Sgt. Richard 'Tricky' Nixon & Lt. Harry 'Bomber' Truman, heavy weapons expert Sgt. Theodore 'Big Stick' Roosevelt, and crack shot sniper Sgt. Martin 'Camper' Van Buren. Several rookie presidents are on hand, with more come if and when the unthinkable happens.

Can the alien forces be thwarted by a collection of rich, mostly white men? Only time will tell.

The man rose to his feet and stumbled a few steps towards the vast aircraft that was idling in the middle of the road. He turned to the soldier.

"Those... those things..."

"We'll handle them, sir. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself."

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