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Saved by the Plasma Rifle

October 28, 2012

A happier time.

This is a tale of how one man’s hubris caused him to lose everything he ever held dear and doomed the world to extinction. In a video game.

I bought XCOM a few days ago. I’d heard only good things about it, from the compelling turn-based battles to the challenging difficulty. As it happens, those are two things that appeal to me greatly, and after enjoying the demo I was looking forward to getting stuck in.

Being really good at games (and modest!), I tend to jump in at the hardest difficulty. XCOM’s “Impossible” sounded exactly that however, so I plumped for “Classic”, equivalent to hard. Turning on Ironman mode, which makes it impossible to re-load an earlier save, I remember thinking to myself, “how hard can it be?” Foolish mortal.

In a stroke of what can only be described as pure genius, I customised my squad of alien-killers after the cast of seminal 90’s teen sitcom, Saved by the Bell. My veteran from the tutorial mission became ladies man Zack Morris, with Samuel “Screech” Powers, A.C. Slater and Mr. Belding rounding out the squad. These guys had survived plenty of “very special” episodes, what were a few extraterrestrials gonna do?

Team Bayside High were a riotous success. For four missions, aliens fell in their droves and the team took nary a scratch. Zack led the team with a heavy machine gun and plenty of wisecracks. Slater, befitting his athletic nature in high-school, showed an aptitude for assault tactics, whilst Principal Belding acted the responsible adult and played the support role. Screech, being the wuss he is, preferred to hang back and snipe from a distance. All those years having zany hijinks together had clearly paid off.

May we never forget these brave men.

Mission five was a tough one, and Mr. Belding took a shot that left him severely injured and out of action for several days. I was faced with little choice but to bring in a substitute for the next fight and so welcomed Cousin Skeeter from “Cousin Skeeter” into Team Bayside. Skeeter had grown a bit since we last saw him, and now sported a sweet handlebar mustache and hundreds of pounds of muscle. He quickly proved himself as the next mission went off without a hitch. Upon return I was greeted with a now-healthy Belding, and everything was looking good.

Nothing lasts forever, and the next battle was a gritty, drawn-out affair. Earth prevailed again, but only after heavy injuries had been sustained by Slater, Belding and Screech. With the aliens unrelenting, Morris and Skeeter needed new teammates. Enter the rookie pair of Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble – green and inexperienced, but eager to prove themselves. Their chance came when I was informed of a VIP who needed rescuing in China. Zack and his new team set off to provide assistance. This was the beginning of humanity’s downfall.

The alien threat provided opposition like never before, and the team was struggling under fire. Skeeter and Kimble took cover behind a nearby car. As the vehicle was peppered with plasma fire, the engine caught fire – something I failed to notice. Without warning, the car exploded in a ball of flame, and Cousin Skeeter and Kel Kimble were torn to shreds by the burning shrapnel. Rockmore was understandably perturbed by his comedy partner being eviscerated before his eyes, and panicked. Wildly firing toward the enemy, Kenan Rockmore was shot in the face with a salvo of plasma. Just like that, Zack Morris was alone in the fire and wreckage, with three dead teammates and angry aliens bearing down on his location.

Two heroes, taken before their time.

Morris performed admirably. Reaching the VIP, he made it most of the way back to the extraction point before the odds caught up with him. The VIP was summarily executed, and with aliens on all sides, Zack Morris spared one last thought for his beloved Kelly Kapowski before going down in a torrent of fire. The mission was a failure.

Morale back at base was at an all time low. Slater, Screech and Belding had lost their leader and nations were panicking around the world. Kenan’s father Roger Rockmore was drafted in to round out the squad and avenge his son. Slater took command of Team Bayside and the next mission went perfectly. I dared to hope that I could pull things around.

It was not to be. The next battle was a disaster. Rockmore, mad with grief, was quickly killed by the extraterrestrial horde. Slater was the next to go down, surrounded after rushing in too far. Screech was surprised by a flanking Thin Man and blown apart by plasma fire. Desperate and alone, Mr. Richard Belding, Principal of Bayside High, managed to take down a couple of Sectoids before succumbing to the overwhelming odds and perishing with his former students.

I didn’t really have the heart to continue. Unnamed rookies attempted to stem the tide of panic caused by the alien assaults, and failed. As the end of the world loomed near, I could only watch and mourn for those who gave their lives in its defense.

But those lives were not wasted. In my new, second attempt at XCOM, I am doing much better thanks to the knowledge I attained whilst leading those plucky teenagers. I’m still on Classic difficulty, but not Ironman mode this time. That helps too. I currently have a team of six Owen Wilsons, a crack squad with alien-killing skills and acting chops to boot. And it is all thanks to Team Bayside. RIP.

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