Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Buzz: NinjaBee Saves The World

You know NinjaBee for our games. Maybe you love Keflings, maybe you fancy Band of Bugs. But did you know that NinjaBee is actually a front for the XCOM project? Yup, tis true. Your friendly neighborhood indie developers moonlight as the elite guardians of humanity. At least they do in my first run through Firaxis’ brilliant expansion, Enemy Within. On a whim, I decided to name all my operatives after the fine men and women of NinjaBee. How did we fare? What do I think of the expansion? Read on, dear NinjaBee fan!

Even though NinjaBee is actually based in Orem, Utah, I decided that the “We Have Ways” bonus for South America was too crucial to pass up. Especially given that Dr. Vahlen seems to take her cues from Nazi war criminals, the instant interrogation and autopsies offered the best possible beginner perk. I do have to say, the good doctor becomes even more unsettling than usual when she starts wringing her hands with joy over the thought of splicing people and aliens together willy-nilly. My wariness over being alone in a room with Vahlen aside, everything at once seemed familiar and new.

My early build order was heavily disrupted by the addition of Meld. I continued to pursue my slavish devotion to early satellites, but before the first month was up I was already finding myself acutely behind the curve without MECs. By the end of March, NinjaBeeCOM was teetering on the brink of global panic, with half the world’s nations in the yellow or orange panic spectrum. I thought I was doomed for sure. It didn’t help that EXALT had started rearing its ugly head. I had to expand my dream team. Early missions were almost always conducted by myself, the devil-may-care PR Heavy not afraid to stand in the open to take a crucial shot, Cyndi the QA super Sniper, Matt, kamikaze office manager and shotgun jockey, and Jared, lead designer and walking medkit. As my roster expanded and injuries kept my A squad out for extended periods, I started to draft in more of my colleagues. Our fearless leader, Steve Taylor, stepped into the boots of the Heavy, Tara took up a rifle as Cyndi’s understudy, Brandon took on duties as point-man Assault, Art Director Brent Fox became our smoke-slinger, and Lane took a break from being CFO and started handing out the heals.

We started to push back the tide. It helped a lot that I finally squirreled away enough cash to dig all the way out to the edge of level three in my base to pursue another generator (I had really terrible steam vent placement) and plop down my Cybernetics Lab. Paul Mitchell and Peter Konneker parted with their organic limbs and stepped into their new robot bodies. That is when things really turned around. MECs are beasts! It didn’t take long for me to develop neat party tricks with both of my tin cans. Paul became our heavy ordnance. Burn it up, blow it up! For fun, try tossing a proximity mine onto a group of aliens and then detonating it with an alien grenade. 13 damage for everyone! In the meantime, Peter became my own personal rockem-sockem robot. Anything big got a taste of cybernetic fisticuffs: Cyberdiscs, Sectopods, Mechtoids, and Berserkers all the way down to stupid EXALT grunts rushing the encoder.

Speaking of EXALT agents; they almost made me lose council nations on several occasions. It seems they were eager to rouse rabble, and I soon dedicated Tara to all covert ops. I gave her the best pistol NinjaBeeCOM could build, gave her some tasty pistol perks, and sent her back out into the field repeatedly. She scratched a lot of traitorous humans, even under heavy fire. She gave her all for the team, and was critically injured twice during her ops, but she made it through. In fact, we only had one true loss the whole campaign. Lane Kiriyama ate a faceful of Muton plasma on NinjaBeeCOM’s first encounter with the brutes. He turned a corner at the wrong time. His loss will be keenly felt by all.

Stating that we suffered only one casualty makes it seem like we were never truly threatened. But I can’t tell you how many times NinjaBee operatives made it home by the barest margin. Matt spent most of the game in and out of the infirmary, throwing his body and shotgun between his coworkers and certain death. On one terror mission, Matt’s close combat perks allowed him to charge a group of Chrysalids, gun down two of them on his turn, and stop four more dead as they tried to rush through the door he blocked before taking a Cyberdisc volley on the chin. His bravery earned him nine days of medical leave and saved the lives of Steve Taylor and Jared Evans. Cyndi was the hero of Newfoundland, using her plasma sniper rifle and Archangel Armor to gun down almost two dozen X-rays to cover the team’s approach and escape. And not a single soldier left the defense of NinjaBeeCOM’s base with more than four remaining health, with Brent Fox being revived twice during combat.

I didn’t find myself leaning on gene-mods very hard. Matt was my only super-charged soldier, rocking a full complement of enhancements. While Cyndi got bionic eyes and a couple of key personnel received a second heart, I definitely suggest investing in MECs over mods, but that is just personal preference. By the end of the game, Steve Taylor was nominated as The Volunteer. Leading his company and his species to greatness, the head honcho himself spearheaded the final assault, competently gunning down the alien hordes as our colonels sprinted to victory. At the end of all things, the team began to wear down under increasing firepower. With the end in sight, and the team flagging, Matt manned-up one more time and made “The Play”. Popping “run and gun”, charging between two overwatched Muton Elites with no lightning reflexes and only four health left, he mounted the dais and gave the big bad two shots in the face to save humanity. Game over, NinjaBeeCOM wins!

The game was a blast, and I’m exceptionally pleased with what Firaxis has done to XCOM. It took me a little bit to get into the new flow of the game, to learn the new items and the new enemies, to adapt my strategies. In the end, it was the best XCOM I’ve played yet. Thanks guys! As you look to the stars and wonder when the aliens will come for us, remember that NinjaBee will be waiting, making awesome games and training to kick alien butt.

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