Headscratchers / X-COM

Terror missions

I'm a big fan of the first X-COM, but the idea of the "terror missions" has always bugged me.

Why would the aliens land ground forces to shoot up a city, when it'd be easier to just drop a nuke or asteroid on the site? Same results (tons of humans killed, proving X-COM's impotence to stop the invasion), and this way X-COM wouldn't get the chance to look like heroes blowing the aliens away or loot all that ultra tech.

Admittedly, in the case of the fricking Chryssalids, I can understand - seed those bastards anywhere on Earth and they'd overrun entire cities and nations in short order if you don't kill them all. But most of the other aliens are just dudes with guns. Why wouldn't they take it easy on themselves and push the button?

  • Until X-Com arrives on the scene, they have free run of the place. It could be that they consider it more terrifying to land and slaughter everyone by hand, allowing some to naturally escape and tell the story. Or perhaps they are just sadists?
  • I thought the whole point behind the terror missions was to prove X-COM couldn't defend civilian populations against alien attack in the first place. You know, show the nations in question that they can attack with impunity, and show the countries that if X-COM can't stop a single squad of aliens from killing a small population, how would they expect to fare against much larger invasions, etc.
  • They may be considered "terror missions" by X-COM, but who knows the aliens' motivations? Maybe this is their way of testing out their latest critters and technology - they know a "terror mission" will provoke an X-COM response, and thus they'll get to see how they measure up. Also, small-scale 'terror' strikes will inspire fear in Earth's nations, without pushing them over into supporting X-COM through sheer desperation as nuclear strikes might.
  • The Terror Missions are also used for abduction and organ harvesting, either for experimentation or food since the aliens think we taste good. There are cases with abducted humans and various organs in the alien bases, whether these are like larders or trophy cases remains unknown. It's also theorized by the in-game scientists that the aliens in Terror From The Deep use human brains for the Biodrones (which supposedly focus the tormented feelings and thoughts of their brains into sonic attacks... at least according to the autopsy and biopsy reports...), and that the Deep Ones are mutated/modified humans.
  • I personally got the impression in the game that the aliens' numbers and industrial ability are just too limited to allow them to do anything other than small-scale terror raids and such. So, instead of unleashing a full-scale invasion, they're limited to covert operations and psychological warfare instead of carpet-bombing with nukes.
  • Having heavily armed aliens running rampant in populated areas probably has a better psychological effect than just bombing, and they get to show off their newest and most powerful weapons. Also, the aliens don't seem to display much capacity for widespread destruction- perhaps they never got around to inventing large-scale explosives when you have plasma and mind control?
    • The Blaster Launcher/Pulse Wave Torpedo defies you, sir!
      • I'm thinking more 'two million nukes' levels than 'cruise missile' levels.
        • Actually, some hard to access files indicate X-Com does use nukes. Craft mounted blaster bombs make nukes cry, as it turns out.
  • Also, IIRC the Game Over screen shows humanity being put to work as slaves. If that's what they wanted, it would rule out glassing the Earth from orbit.
    • If they wanted to do that, they would have done it and there wouldn't be a game.
    • That was what they were trying to do. Their methodology was more subversion and manipulation than outright war.
  • I got the impression that the Terror Missions were deliberate traps by the aliens for X-COM. They land and start shooting up civilians, forcing an X-COM response. X-COM arrives and runs headlong into the best the aliens have in the form of their terror units, in tight urban terrain, with civilians all around them that limits X-COM's ability to employ heavy weapons. The aliens are forcing X-COM to send in troops and potentially wipe them out or send them scurrying away in defeat. Either way ends with X-COM suffering casualties and bad PR if the aliens are able to force a victory.
    • ...A round of applause, everyone?
    • Classic Xanatos Gambit: X-COM responds, suffers high casualties and maybe loses standing, along with valuable troops and gear. X-COM doesn't respond, and they suffer even more.
  • Way I see it, it's much like modern terrorist attacks. Small group of soldier get in, kill lots of unarmed civilians and get the hell out of there before X-Com enters. Result? Few surviving civilians spread rumors. Rumors = better than propaganda. Also, reason why they do Terror Missions instead of full-scale invasion... Perhaps they want Earth to surrender, since humans could easily nuke the whole planet into radioactive dustball.
  • There is also the fact that, well. Having aliens appear and terrorize people spreads fear and terror. Glassing a city from orbit does nothing but piss humanity off. Theres no fear, there's no terror in it. It just convinces people that they have to fight even more if they're willing to do this horrific action. But yeah, the guy up there with the theory on the terror missions being traps is pretty good too.
  • Basic tactics state that if you give your enemy a chance to escape (or to believe they have a chance to escape) then they will be less willing to fight. by nuking the planet from orbit earth will be forced to unite and they will throw everything they haave at the aliens, thus rendering the planet into an uninhabitable wasteland and denying the aliens human slaves (as shown in the game over screen) by limiting the force they use to attack humanity thinks they have a chance and will believe that they can bargin with the aliens.
  • The aliens have one large mars base and some ships but no manufacturing ability or E-115 mines/synthesizer. They can't take humanity in a straight fight without running into a very serious possibility that they would exhaust their limited supply of fuel and ammunition (EVERYTHING they have runs on E-115.) So instead they are trying to scare humanity, panic them and infiltrate the highest levels of government. They win if they manage to get enough humans on their side and obeying their politicians (either traitors or mind controlled).

TFTD Bag of Spilling

In XCOM TFTD, we find out that Elerium doesn't work underwater, fair enough. But why can't we use any of our Elerium based tech in terror missions, on land? I mean, would you rather fight in a bulky diving suit with a harpoon gun, or a suit of powered armour that can fly, carrying what is essentially a guided "you die" missile launcher?
  • You aren't given any Elerium powered equipment because there's no Elerium. It's gone, kaput, used up. That's why X-com has an underwater base in the first place, looking for shot-down ufos that didn't get the engines wet. Why they can't use the rocket launchers and autocannon is another question.
    • Or for that matter, laser weapons. And why do we have to research motion trackers twice? And why do we have to research medkits twice? Fffggg...
      • That's actually justifiable, if you look at it. They have to be adapted for amphibious operation, including all the way down to the deep sea.
      • Also, a laser beam would either flashboil the ocean infront of the emitter or scatter harmlessly. However, it does seem stupid to not allow laser usage on surface terror missions and base defence missions. Also, a medkit for the sea would have to not only heal the guy, but patch up the suit somewhat. Plus work in salty water.

Mission Recon

  • Why does your map start blank when entering a mission? Surely your landing craft doesn't fly blind, and surely it isn't that hard to get a map of the major cities in terror missions.
    • One of the more common theories is that the aliens use some kind of jamming equipment to screw up X-Com's sensors as they come in to prevent them from having a good view of the immediate area. And while obtaining a map of the city wouldn't be difficult, getting up-to-date information on exact terrain features would be difficult prior to the development of something like Google Maps.
    • The 2012 game won't have that excuse, what with predator drones. However, they all seem to either take place in remote areas, or at night, sometimes with smoke in the area. If only the Skyranger had some sort of drone launcher, or they could get local cops to relay intel via a chopper. But the latter would doubtless have to go through about sixteen different agencies, and would be too slow to be useful.
    • It's likely a funding issue: Predator drones cost millions of dollars to purchase, field, and maintain (the cost of a single drone is roughly 4 million US dollars!). X-COM simply doesn't have much room to fool around with gadgets which perform jobs which could be done at a cheaper cost. For example; spend four to eight million on a recon vehicle or two which may just get shot down by the aliens potentially unfailing anti-air weapons, or spend a couple thousand in soldiers with some maps and a radio? In game I imagine the predator drones would translate to roughly 50 to 80 bucks; at least half as much as a brand new satellite in the 2012 remake.
      • The problem with this line of thought is the Tanks (from X-Com) and SHIVs (from XCOM). For the former, the purchase price (in the ballpark of a few hundred of thousands) for a tank seems to indicate a certain level of progress in human remote technology by the time the aliens arrived, while in the latter not only does XCOM show a willingness to use unmanned drones, they even made a few of their own design. Clearly XCOM could have purchased a bundle of Predator drones if they could.


Okay, there is clearly an alien invasion going on. Aliens are clearly not friendly. Why the hell does X-Com need to GET FUNDING, instead, I don't know, GETTING SUPPORT? I mean, how hard is it to relay alien sighting to X-Com instead of X-Com building their own systems every continent? This is especially troublesome in early game. You star with one base. Basically, your first task is to decide who gets protection and who doesn't, since you have money only for one base. Now half of the world dares to bitch you because you can't protect them. Imagine if US army would need to get its funding from each state separately...
  • No, your first task is to develop laser cannons as fast as possible, then build a dedicated fab facility to churn them out in trainload lots and sell them. In short order, you'll have more money than you can possibly spend—literally.
    • And who, exactly, is buying all the captured weapons and equipment and alien corpses you collect on your missions? I always figured it was Disney Corp.
      • I imagine the mob and several governments would be interested in the Psi equipment.
  • Because the aliens are infiltrating the governments of the world. If X-COM starts relying on the nations of the world to give them information, and that information gets compromised by alien infiltrators, it can do a lot of damage. Part of the reason X-COM is a virtually separate entity that operates on its own is to insulate it from alien infiltration. And the alien sightings are getting regularly relayed to X-COM (see the whole UFO activity chart) its just that X-COM is the only one actively looking for the aliens, while the rest of the globe is dealing with, well, other humans.
    • Many parts of the world don't have the kind of advanced, widely distributed defense systems that would make them effective at tracking the aliens. If the world's best radar systems can barely detect alien craft... well, how many countries are there that simply don't have radar of that quality, and thus can't relay sighting information to you in a timely fashion?
  • Furthermore, one could assume that some governments outright resent the fact that their safety is in the hands of a body outside their control and are using their funds to try to run their own anti-UFO campaigns using their own armed forces. In brief, it's politics, and politicians don't like relying on things they can't control that well. See also "X-Com was a token effort..." on the WMG page.
    • It's not just that. Imagine if tomorrow a bunch of governments got together and announced to the rest of the world's governments that there was an alien menace and how about setting up this international body with basing rights everywhere and above top secret classification. Nobody has shot down a UFO yet, so whatever evidence exists has to be either easily fabricated (Pictures) or highly open to interpretation (weird radar signatures; damage from alien attacks). If the people proposing this didn't just get laughed out of the room, would countries like China or Iran really accede to what amounts to a major foreign presence on their soil? Or any country at all, for that matter, except for the bases of proven, long-term, reliable allies? The fact that X-Com gets founded at all is miraculous. Of course, once the evidence starts piling up and you can show other governments alien corpses with alien technology, the complaint becomes completely valid.
    • With regards to the last point, it could be that the world's governments are hedging their bets until a clear victor emerges. If X-COM loses the war, the politicians will scramble over each other to be the first to negotiate with the aliens, arguing that they didn't support X-COM, they wanted the aliens to win all along. If X-COM wins, the same politicians will announce that they have always been on X-COM's side. Politicians are like that. They sense the wind. "Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia."


  • Ok, you arm crafts with weapons to take off and shoot down UFO. Why the hell does laser weaponry have the second worst range of all (21 km), barely more than double the canon range (10 km)? And is less accurate than plasma? I mean, we are talking about projectiles traveling at 299 792 458 m/s. I can understand why missiles are more accurate (they lock on the UFO and track it, while laser must hit directly and the UFO must be attempting to dodge attacks, and it is hard to hit a moving target), but plasma?
    • Whilst accuracy is another matter, one of the possible reasons for range is beam coherency. A laser beam that isn't perfectly coherent may very quickly become little more than a glorified headlight. Since this is for the purposes of penetrating hulls, most of which are made of alien alloys, even dropping a little bit below minimum levels could render the weapon ineffective.
      • Atmosphere plays havoc with light beams - even a laser: its full of dust and water droplets, which block refract reflect and otherwise play havoc with the photons.
      • At high energy densities, the atmosphere close to the laser turns into plasma through an effect called blooming. Perhaps the weapon needs many weaker lasers focused at the right point to get around that while still doing some damage, and the focus optics aren't accurate enough at long distances.


  • So uh... Why do in game over alien transport Earth to their dimension? Did they just need new planet or what?
    • Their own planet was dying. So yeah, they needed a new planet. Earth just happened to be good choice. Well, compared to their world.
      • This troper is disinclined to believe that animation. I've always thought that the aliens in that game were an entity similar to the Combine, with the Micronoids being the only real constant in a highly diverse set of universes and species. The design of the city suggests that it's an outpost for an empire rather than a struggling city barely eking out an existence.
      • This is confirmed by the game - the aliens cannot survive on Earth, their life cycle aside, they are largely sterile, short lived, and have a predisposition to degenerating in the atmosphere. They are also host to a species of sentient mind-controlling super virus which is the driving force behind their invasion plan and what will actually live on earth when they're done.
  • And how the heck you capture Overspawn? Apparently, its possible in the normal game...
    • There is currently no known way to capture it. It has UF Opedia entry for alive and pic, but capturing it is considered impossible. This troper thinks it was dummied out, since it is considered as "vehicle" by the game, not as alien. Also, in my knowledge, no-one has captured it alive without hacking the game.
    • It could also be just part of what they did with the programming. In order to have a 'autopsy', they have to have a 'live capture' as well. And in case of a glitch occurring and somehow someone gets the live capture, it simply gives them the text and continues on, no need to crash the game because 'live capture not found'.
      • This makes a lot of sense, especially considering there was such an oversight in UFO Defense, it was possible for corrupted save data to create a research topic for the Zombie alien type, which caused the game to crash when completed as Zombies were never meant to be capturable, and thus never had a research result programmed in.
  • The Aliens only need the planet, in whatever shape it is. And the city the game takes place in is supposed to be the last inhabitable earth city, while everyone else lives offworld. This brings the question: Have the aliens never heard of "diplomacy"? They can inhabit the rest of the planet, or failing that, humans can live out of it. This could all be solved if they just approached X-COM or whatever governing body the city has and request asylum or something.
    • You're assuming that diplomacy is easy. In the case of just human diplomatic relations, in history, they've not gone well for something as obvious as not speaking the same language. If you factor in religious, economic, and political difference, diplomacy is complicated and time-consuming. Now consider the aliens: they have nothing in common with humanity, and nowhere to go to get common ground, and not even the beginnings of a linguistic translation ability. Sure, they could have tried diplomacy, but they were also on a time limit, and probably figured that they could just beat the crap out of these puny humans and take over in short order.

X-Com's Recruitment Policy

  • I understand it's for gameplay purposes, but in-Universe, why are X-Com's recruits all hired as "Rookies"? If you're the first and last line of defence against planetary extinction, wouldn't you try to maybe pick soldiers of a higher calibre?
    • I assume it means in relation to X-Com. They probably were recruited from the best armed forces in the world and held very high ranks there, but in terms of X-Com's internal ranks they're Rookies.
    • Also, how likely is it that any of them have killed an alien before? Fighting a non-human enemy is likely something that takes some adjustment and retraining.
    • Another possibility is that these "Rookies" are fresh out of the regular boot camp of their home nations military. Why would the funding nations risk some of their very expensive "elite" troops on a project which is probably going to be a failure and huge waste of human life? They're possibly just throwing the worst troops they have to offer into the X-COM project and using them as test subjects so that their better forces will know what works well and what doesn't.
      • Would be the first time the background countries showed some smartness...they know that only losing five Rookies on an op is regarded as a success, so they aren't gonna send their best troops. Shit, guys, they're on to us!
    • I think that the various countries participating in the X-COM project send them their skilled but troublesome soldiers. Think Dirty Dozen. Imagine you are the military commanders of a country tasked with vetting soldiers for possible X-COM recruitment. Do you send them your best or do you send them the best of the troops you don't want?
    • This troper always thought that you were given criminals sort of like in the Last Chancers so you could grind your men through and eventually emerge as elite troopers, and it explains the occasional good recruits while the rest are so horrible.
      • So, basically, X-COM is Earth's very own Night Watch?

Aliens efforts

  • In some of the It's a Wonderful Failure sequences if your funding is cut, we have text indicating the aliens employ Weapons Of Mass Destruction that wipe out most of humanity. Why would they wait until X-COM's funding is cut? I get the idea of want X-COM out of the way, but at the start it's never much a threat and dialogue in those sequences indicates that individual countries trying to fight the aliens, if they get the chance to, are slaughtered. If the aliens don't seem to need humans to alive in their conquest plans, why even let us live long enough to have a fighting chance?
    • It's heavily implied (and outright stated in the remake) that the aliens aren't here to wipe out humanity outright, but they need them for some purpose, be it experimentation or outright assimilation into whatever weird alien empire they are. As such, it's safe to assume that the sequences of the aliens using WMD's could take place some time after X-COM gets defunded.
    • Also, the aliens using Weapons Of Mass Destruction in UFO Defense was a narration included in the console ports of the game. The original version just depicts the aliens killing the humans that sign their surrender terms, and doesn't say what they do afterwords.