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Xenonauts Dev Diary: Exclusive first ground combat screens and walkthrough

Annoyingly, the alien didn't make an appearance. Rather than risk my soldiers on a frontal assault, I decided it would be easier just to flatten the barn with rocket fire from my Hunter and the soldier with a rocket launcher (the damage above is caused by two rockets). As it turned out, the alien was actually behind the barn, rather than inside it. Now with clear sight lines to him, I finished him off with a second rocket from my Hunter. That left it with only four rockets remaining.

You may have noticed that there's only one alien type in this mission. This is intentional – the other are all under wraps at the moment! There are actually eight variants of this particular alien type, each getting more powerful and better equipped as they increase in rank. There are also another six alien races in the game (most also with numerous variants of their own), as well as several types of alien support vehicle. We'll reveal some of these closer to the release date.

After we flattened the barn on the other side of the map, the rest of the strike team located a second barn north of the dropship. Believe it or not, this is the mission objective – w don't have our "crashed UFO" tileset done yet, so we're currently trying to capture an evil alien barn on missions. Having surrounded it to make sure there were no unpleasant surprises, I sent a soldier in to check out how much resistance there would be – finding three aliens.

Unfortunately, I hadn't done a very good job on my initial sweep of the battlefield. Just as I was planning to attack the barn, another alien attacked the strike team from behind, nearly killing the soldier with the rocket launcher. Because it usually completely bypasses a soldier's cover, attacks from behind are particularly lethal. I moved my shotgun-armed troops down to help the wounded soldier take on the alien.

One of the shotgun-equipped soldiers missed his target completely and dug a hole in the grass nearby instead, but the second hit the alien with a blast that injured but does not kill it. With his rocket launcher empty and useless, I switch the rocket soldier to the pistol he carries as a sidearm and close in on the alien. With just enough APs for one burst of fire, the soldier has one chance at survival: already wounded and only a few squares away from the alien, he'll almost certainly be killed if it survives the turn.

The first shot misses completely, but the second and third hit their target. The last shot sends the alien lifelessly crumpling to the soil of the carrot field, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

...which was probably a bit premature. In the meantime, the rest of the strike team has been exchanging fire with the three aliens around the barn. One soldier was killed trying to fight his way in, and another was gunned down by the two aliens outside the barn. He was a bit unlucky – the wall he was taking cover behind hadn't taken any damage, so it was lucky shooting from the aliens.

The loss of troops in the early game is particularly painful, as the player starts with a team of 12 experienced soldiers who have significantly higher stats than the fresh recruits you can hire in to bolster your team or replace the casualties. It'll take at least two or three combat missions for the replacements to get up to speed.

The final assault didn't go particularly well, truth be told. I managed to finish off the aliens with more rocket fire (three rockets have caused the damage you see there), which makes me very glad I didn't lose my rocket-armed soldier earlier in the mission. However, this tactic won't be viable in the final game, for two reasons.

First, a UFO is significantly tougher than a barn, and you can't just shoot holes in a UFO with a rocket launcher. And even if you could, you wouldn't want to - all the precious technology you're risking your soldiers' lives to recover in the first place is inside that UFO. Just like the rest of the terrain in the game, it's fully destructible – if you blow it up, you don't get to take it home to base with you. So throwing explosives around inside the UFO is a no-no – you'll want to clear it manually.

Home stretch

There's still some distance to go with the ground combat – we've got several more gameplay systems to add, a number of improvements to the graphics (redoing the GUI, cleaning up the tilesets), as well as a lot of balancing and bugfixing to do. We're on the home stretch now, though – we hope to have the game feature-complete in about three months, and at that point we'll just be adding new art and polishing/balancing what we've already done.

If you're interested in finding out more about the project, or supporting us with a pre-order , please check out our website. We expect to release a pre-order build of the game including ground combat in about three weeks, so if you want to get your grubby mitts on a copy of it, you know how!