XCOM: Horror in Helplessness and Turn-Based Strategy


HorrorScope is a recurring feature exploring the horror genre in gaming and drawing attention to its elements, its tropes, and its lesser-known but still scary titles


Captain Kostya Sokolov had been with the XCOM project almost since its inception.

Only one soldier, Maj. Eduardo “Brick” Martinez, had been with the project longer — and he was the lone survivor of Delta Squad, the team the aliens wiped out on XCOM’s first mission. While Brick was the heart of the team and a part of every mission, Sokolov was its brain, the coolest of the bunch and often the most valuable as the team’s sharpshooter. He’d earned the call sign “Alpha” through many a mission and a few near-fatal encounters.

Sokolov was almost always the most valuable member of the squad, as well, and so they moved to protect him. His skills with a sniper rifle had turned the tides of battle more than once, and he’d saved several missions from utter failure. He also was usually charged with covering the advances of his fellow soldiers, and along with missions, he usually saved lives.

Like every mission in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, this one began with the team carefully spreading out and taking cover positions from the drop ship, unable to see where the aliens were hiding in the distance, but knowing — hearing — that they were there. Suddenly, they appeared from the fog: hulking Mutons, the strongest enemies we’d yet faced, barreling down on my team. A few minutes later, the assault is broken, and aliens lie dead at our feat. Sokolov, Martinez and most everyone else was injured in the fighting, but the XCOM troops were able to clear out the fast food restaurant in which the aliens had holed up. It was down to cleanup.

During the fighting, Sokolov used his skeleton suit’s grappling hook to leap up to the restaurant’s rooftop, and from there, he’d been providing sniper support and overwatch. But it was an exposed position. As the team pushed around to the east side of the burger joint, he moved to one of the air conditioning units and took up Overwatch. Just waiting for a chance to move into position.

Suddenly, with a roar, the Muton threw itself over the lip of the roof, having hoisted itself up a ladder on the other side. Sokolov was suddenly face-to-face with the brute, and trapped with nowhere to go. He had only a moment to react: He raised his laser rifle, the barrel snapping into position, the firing chamber charging with energy. This shot would save his life; missing would mean its end.

Sokolov fired. The laser discharged, the read beam tearing causing the air the crackle as it tore through, and slammed squarely into the Muton.

But the Muton did not go down. Growling its rage, it raised its plasma rifle, and burned six rounds through Sokolov’s chest.

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