AllOutWar's X-Com Apocalypse Guide

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X-Com Apocalypse is a classic. More than that - for 1997, this game has as much depth as some of the finest sims, while incorporating so much - from managing an organization, hiring/firing, human/hybrid/android unit types, skills and improvement, political relations, expansion well beyond your needs, gang warfare, research, manufacturing, base defense and setup...it goes on and on. And this is before you even get into combat and experience the thrill of real-time.

So many games like this are turn-based, which - although satisfying to some - are just a time sink for those busier with life (work, school, bands, wedding plans, etc). The game is actually short - it can be completed in just 2-3 months game time, which can be just 40 hours or so of actual effort. The real-time option lets you speed through a battle, and really experience squad-based tactical command. Move your guys in teams - groups of 6, or simply two partners checking a room at a time. Run at full speed, or crawl slowly and cautiously. So much variety, and the ability to learn from your mistakes (at the cost of lives, unfortunately). Real-time is a more realistic model, and helps Apoc survive the test of time much better (in my opinion). Of course, it's a departure from the other two games (which I find slow and unplayable).

The game has drawbacks, of course - it's out of date by now, and the graphics (and sound effects) leave something to be desired. There are minor bugs and glitches - from Widgets filling up inventory, to bases suddenly getting an extra lab superimposed on other structures, to brainsuckers not being able to attack units that are prone. There's the ground combat, where your ultra-protected tank blows up because the road has 1 hit point. There are all kinds of questions left unanswered - why are the aliens invading, if they can't survive in our dimension? Why do they slowly build up forces, tech and ships over time to match you, instead of coming all at once? How do you have a meter of alien infiltration level - who the heck is providing that?? Why do Disruptor Shields survive when you shoot down their craft, but they destruct if exhausted on your ships? Why don't Marsec - or other organizations - give you things, or discounts, or help? How can you destroy a Cult of Sirius building, kill everyone inside, and then come back 1 minute later and have it be full of people again?

Surviving this game is really just a question of getting through the UFO incursions successfully - shooting enough down to get what you need, and attacking the aliens right when they drop. Depending on difficulty, aliens may spread to neighboring buildings immediately - and while they can die off in a day or so, that's experience and combat you miss out on.

Here is my list of ticks, trips, facts and findings to help you enjoy this game and circumvent the issues many face. Big nod to Roger Wong for doing most of the legwork over a decade ago. His notes made this game the awesome experience that it is!

Vehicles

Right away you start with a nice selection of vehicles. The Valkryie will serve a dual-purpose as your flagship and your troop transport. Hoverbikes and Hovercars will be your main air attack fleets. Like every guide states - sell off ground vehicles. The Wolfhound APC is the most useful, since it has better troop/cargo capacity than the Valkryie - but it a) can't reach alien UFO crash sites, and b) can't get past destroyed road. I can't count how often a bug chunk of road is destroyed right where a UFO deposited aliens - the APC just goes in circles trying to find a route. It's also slow!

The Hawk I would dismiss earlier as an expensive, slow waste - but when UFO type 7 and 8 come around, you need one or more in your arsenal. Nothing outpaces your custom aircraft, like the Retaliator - but keeping a few Hawks at home is always a good move.

Once you start building your own craft, things are significantly in your favor and the game starts losing it's appeal (for me). Here's the breakdown:

Dimension Probe

The urge is to build this - but don't. No reason to. Not much profit margin, and the Bio-Trans or any other craft can do what it does. In most games, by the time you are able to build the Probe, you are already at least researching the Bio-Trans.

Bio Trans

The coolest troop transport you'll ever need is also the game's #2 money-making item to manufacture. I like to keep one advanced workshop churning these out constantly to make money. You only need one, after all - unless you're stuck on this ship type and are making a fleet. They come out suprisingly fast, especially with 10 engineers at 90+ skill levels.

It can equip the small disruptor, and with slots for 8 small shields it can tank like few others - plus it can stay in the sky indefinitely. These might be underrated as attack/defense vessels, actually.

Explorer

Roger Wong: "The bio-trans does it better."

By the time I can create the Explorer, I typically am researching Retaliator. Since these come in relatively short order, I've honestly never needed to build an Explorer, so I'm a bit unfamiliar. Not as large weapon slots as the Retaliator, not as useful for cargo and troops as the Bio-Trans. With space for only a few shields, and 1x4 weapon slots on the side that don't accomodate alien technology, the Explorer is a hybrid craft - the weapon slots of the Hawk, slightly less space, but infinite fuel and the ability to travel to the alien dimension.

It won't pack anywhere near the punch of the Retaliator's 3 Medium Disruptors, but it can provide Hawk-ish support, with additional benefits, for much less cost. If you are too cheap to build another Retaliator, or can't build them yet, it's a decent option.

Retaliator

The main attack ship you can create, at least until the Annihilator comes around. Once you can create it, focus all your resources on it. The more you have flying high above Mega-Primus with shields and 3 medium disruptors, the faster alien invasions will fall. This craft can take down a Battleship with sufficient support craft. The only downfall is the lack of missle space - but 3 medium disruptors, unlimited ammo, unlimited fuel, and shielding space?

It's surprisingly strong, and can be a top craft once Annihilators are out - or you can send Annihilators to the Alien Dimension and keep Retaliators around Mega-Primus.

Annihilator

Say goodbye to the UFO fleets. Disruptors, missles, and everything else - plus tons of room for shielding and more (cloaking, teleport, weapon control, missle evasion). Just 2 or 3 Annihilators can wipe the alien dimension clean on easier difficulties. The fact that you can sell a Hawk and build two of these instead is pretty sweet.


Bases

I like to buy a second base right away, usually the first week (unless playing Hard or Superhuman). There isn't much else to spend money on, and having a second base lets me launch aircraft from a second spot, as well as start planning a manufacturing/research center. The main base becomes a garrison mainly, with training/medical facilities and smaller labs.

I buy the base with the most space, at the least cost. Hades block on Medium difficulty is a great example. Give some weight to the warehouse vs. slum argument, and the general defensibility of the base from assault. But honestly I am rarely if ever attacked, so it's almost a non-issue.

  • Seriously the DAY I posted this, I went home, fired up a game, and a Battleship appeared and beamed aliens into my 2nd base - a lab base with one android defender. No security stations too. A popper got 2 of my scientists, but I was killing everything with my Rambo android when the game froze up and died. Oh well.

An odd limit I noticed was a max of 4 large labs (or 6 small ones) per base. Crazy! Other structures are fine - but 4 large labs is the max. The message is that the architects refuse to create more than 4 labs underground due to some city ordinance. What do the drug companies do? What is more dangerous in a large workshop than 4 alien containment structures?  :(

Raids

Some people espouse raiding organizations, for stat boosts, goodies, or simply to punish an organization like the Cult of Sirius. This never seemed effective to me - stun raids exploit a weakness in the design, and otherwise battling the CoS means you'll get a rocket in the face more often than you anticipate. It also boosts your score, boosting alien technologies faster.

I prefer to go raid-free - I only attack the Cultists when the aliens beam into one of their 4 temples, which is more than often enough. Usually before the toxigun/biotrans phase, I can barely spare the staff/time - and afterwards, what's the point, when you're on the way to financial domination. Overall in my opinion it's a cheap exploit, and using it over a handful of times ruins a game.

Agents

Like other labor pools, new potential hirees come into being at midnight. Scan the pool for guys and gals you like. Roger Wong describes all the details, but flavor it however you like. And in the early, EARLY game, realize that any human, even with terrible ratings, can turn into your top unit, even if they just sit around working out for a month.

Androids are really the top unit in early game stages. Complete with good accuracy and a ton of health, these guys are strong, effective, and replaceable. They also don't get brainsucked or mind-controlled, making them useful into mid-game. These will start as your shock troops, and later become your brainsucker/psimorph/micronoid specialists, before finally settling in as base defense troops.

Humans have incredible abilities to improve. Even a shoddy prospect at the beginning can train to supremacy in just 3-4 weeks. These guys should be about 60% of your troops - let them train, use them for missions, but be aware they are semi-squishy.

Hybrids are weak in health, but like humans can train to stellar levels. They also have better psi defense and some (minor) psi attack. I usually train these guys in psi only for weeks, but that leaves their accuracy and health low. Be sure to switch them between training facilities to really make these guys super warriors - otherwise they'll be about 10-15% of your force, and just a one-hit kill for devastator cannons.

Scientists

Throughout the entire game, keep an eye out for top level talent - every day that advances, right at 0 o'clock, look at all labor pools. Hire any scientists with 92-100 skill levels as long as you have space. For Engineers, make space. In the 10 days leading up to your Advanced Workshop, try to get it fully staffed. If you plan to build two simultaneously (like I usually do), you better be stocking up talented guys ahead of time.

At the beginning, you need a small Biochem lab (default) and an Advanced one. The Advanced one will be used to research Toxiguns and Toxin B (possibly C) only. Build the Advanced BioChem lab as soon as you can, meaning when it becomes available and when you have the finances/space.

Focus will soon change to Physicists as your main scientific resource - will all the UFO types, alien tech, and much more to research, they will be busy for over a month. Make UFO type 3 a priority for recovery, and figure out the 3 techs that come along with it ASAP. As soon as you get any one of the three, you can build an advanced Quantum lab, probably in your second base. Make this the biggest priority, because you'll need that lab.

Once you have a fair amount of tech that you can manufactur - shields, toxigun, and a ship type - it's time to change to Engineers as the primary focus. Engineering will let you profit hugely from items like toxiguns and ships - you can become self-sufficient if you wanted. Depending on how long you want the game to go, you can create as many workshops as you want - I usually have two large and two small. Big ones create vehicles, small ones create toxin and armor. At least one should be doing high-profit sales only - BioTrans or Toxiguns, etc - to pay for the rest of your manufacturing. This helps in case you need to become self-sufficient or get hostile with Marsec, etc.

UFO Combat

Roger Wong really nailed this one. With all the ground vehicles and big ships Marsec and Megapol make, it turns out the most useful vehicle, by far, is the Hoverbike. So rarely are these things struck by UFOs that the lifespan of a Hoverbike is about 3 weeks on average - 6-8 alien incursions. Hoverbikes don't pack much space, so it's best to use lasers (if you're really cheap), elerium-based weapons (if you have coin), or Janitor missles (nice medium). Don't get attached - you will lose 2 or 3 a battle, depending on UFO count and lucky shots - but these guys should be your main force. 10 or so, strategically placed around the city.

Hovercars pack twice the punch, and are also useful - maneuverable, some armor - but make a slower, easier target. Hovercars should be maybe 1/4th of your hoverbike count.

Valkyrie is the big gun until you can afford the Hawk, so use it - and protect it - wisely. It can take damage, but if it gets low send it home. It packs no more punch than a hovercar, after all - and by the time the enemy has stasis missles, Valkryies are pretty weak. Your Valkyrie should last at least 8 weeks if possible.

The Hawk, as mentioned earlier, reigns supreme in terms of buy-able craft. Three weapon slots, and the middle one can hold a small OR medium disruptor. By the time you can buy a second one, you're already building your own craft anyway. The Hawk is usable with shields and disruptors, but before that it can be a big bulky target.

The only reason vehicles need to be at your base is to rearm and repair. Once those are done, send the ships out - I leave one craft at each base, but send the rest around the map near where dimension gates typically spawn. If you use the swarm tactics, put 1/3rd to 1/2 your craft at the Transtellar Spaceport so that they can immediately launch. Sprinkle the rest around the city strategically.

Once you get to your own ship building, those suckers can stay in the sky forever. I put them in the likely Dimension Gate spots - once you have 4 or more craft, just put them around the city corners. Continue sprinkling support craft like hoverbikes and hovercars around the city.

Once you are battling UFO types 8/9/10, your hoverbike/hovercars are going to be squashed. You can either run them out there as cannon fodder, equip the hovercars with shields (if you consider the shields disposable - they cost as much as the car), or sell them off to fund Hawks and manufacturing. I tend to get emotionally attached (HoverBike 4 has been with me since week one!!!), but eventually all you will have left are larger, shielded craft.

Alien Ground Combat

For missions, the priority is on survival, but there's also weight that should be given towards getting aliens for research - alive, dead, and their gear. At the beginning when all they have is brainsuckers, you can use the AutoCannon or missles on everything with no harm done. Soon, however, they have disruptor guns, which are $2500 a pop and should be saved. Boomeroids, devastator cannons, vortex mines and personal shields follow - all having significant cost, especially for the starving X-Com organization. More on that later.

You'll get most dead aliens without much effort - except maybe the popper (use lasers). Live ones are more of an issue - ESPECIALLY poppers. You have to use the babysit trick - stun a popper, and immediately sit on it with a spare agent. Same for psimorphs, micronoids, megaspawn and skeletoids. But honestly, the goal is to get toxin B, toxin C isn't even imperative to winning the game.


Finances

One great part about this game is, even with the financial limits and (relatively) low amount you get from the government to combat UFOs, the game always gives you ways to make tons of additional money. Be crafty, be cheap, and you'll be rewarded.

Right at the outset, take advantage of the Stormdog chop shop "feature". Buy all the Stormdogs available, strip them all of guns and engine, and then sell those parts - AND the Stormdogs - for profit. Then sell your Wolfhound APC. They are ground vehicles - get rid of them. Get rid of their ammo too. That's enough to buy the vehicles you do need, with some cushion for that 2nd base.

When you buy hoverbikes, and remove their auto-cannons for lasers or missles - sell back those auto cannons and ammo! They come with 300 rounds - that makes back some of the hoverbike cost right there.

When you start interacting with aliens - stun, lasers, and machine guns as MUCH as possible, as soon as they get boomeroid/disruptors. Disruptors are $2500, boomeroids $900 or so. I've had some times where I'm clamoring for money, and then I finished researching boomeroids - and poof, unloaded 99 of them to the market. Hawk right there! Prices only come down, so if you want them back - buy them back next week!

Soon you have devastator cannons - if you're shooting down UFOs, AND making raids when they beam aliens down, that's a ton of equipment your netting. Mines, boomeroids, cannons, personal shields - these are expensive. Alien UFOs also give you disruptor beams - how many ships you going to equip with light disruptors? Bio-Trans. That's it. So sell all those suckers, as soon as they're researched, in one fell swoop. Buy one back for the bio-trans later.

When you have full-scale manufacturing, have one large workshop just making profitable items - toxiguns, bio-trans. One Bio-Trans can be sold and pay for 3 more to be built...which pays for 9 more...which pays for anything else you could want. Build toxiguns if you need to raise capital for a Bio-Trans. Once you start the dominoes, don't let them stop.

Super-Cheap Financial Management

If you're really hurting, you may find yourself in a situation where aliens are invading and you can't take them on with your vehicles. One approach is to just let them run through the city for a turn or two, and take them out at the drop sites. You miss out on the UFO goodies and points from downing them, but if you run exceptional missions you can make up for it.

Or, you can think outside the box. The instant sell/buy ability of this game is a great asset - on the harder difficulties I have taken to selling my Valkyrie before a tough battle, stocking up on hoverbikes/hovercars, and then reselling the undamaged ones to buy a valkyrie back. Make sure to de-equip that bio-transport unit before selling!

Take that same approach one step further - say you have all your agents armed with disruptors and armor. But with no downed ships and no aliens recently beamed down, they have nothing to do. You can keep a few base defenders armed, but you can sell literally every other disruptor, devastator, or toxigun to the market, and load up on hovercars, hoverbikes, or even a Hawk if you have enough coin. Take the ships down, bring everyone back to your base, and sell off a few (undamaged!) vehicles, replacing them with your guns, which are at the same exact cost.

    • Notes on this: while guns can be bought/sold endlessly during a week, at the end of a week the count will drop, so be prepared - don't leave 40 devastator cannons unowned sunday at 11:59pm, cuz 30+ of them will disappear.
    • With vehicles, the game is less forgiving - if you buy 6 hovercars, then sell them back, you can't buy those 6 ever again. They are gone, so be prepared.

Keep doing the Stormdog Chop Shop trick as long as it is profitable - it should always be, although never again as much as the first week.

Have your engineers produce SOMEthing. Sure the bio-transport unit is barely a moneymaker at all - let alone after you've sold a few in week 1. But as long as it is worth more than in costs to make it ($700) your engineers are turning a profit. That helps go towards what they are costing as employees each week - to have engineers sitting around, making money, and not producing anything is only justifiable if items cost more to make than they can be sold for.

Speaking of scientists - on the lower difficulty levels I hire willy-nilly. If I have a 91-rated guy as my worst, and a 95 guy is on the market, i will hire one and fire the other. But each hire costs money ($800) AND the agent gets paid at the end of every week. So on higher difficulties

  • don't hire willy-nilly! Have space and a reason to hire the guy (or gal)
  • If you can help it, try not hiring until its a new week
  • every Sunday before finances are tallied, fire off some dead weight. If you fire an 85 sunday at 11:59, and hire a 99 at 12:01 monday, its kinda free!

Base structures also require maintenance. You can't avoid most of this, but it will help to not go crazy filling up your base with unnecessary structures. The initial cost is one thing, but over 10 weeks you pay that cost in maintenance.

If you are really hurting and need guns, ammo, etc - sell off some other hidden gems. You know you have 1000 fuel units to start the game - if you leave your vehicles parked most of the time you should rarely ever need to refuel. Sell the first 800 units, and if you're in trouble sell the rest. The game will tell you if you need more.

To truly maximize the alien contributions, use stun grapples as often as possible, and go Toxigun as soon as you can. Personal Shields are one of the most valuable assets in the game, and destroying them all with explosions doesn't help you at all. Take down aliens while leaving their gear intact - sell the grenades, extra disruptors and devastators, everything else - right away. Buy it back later if you want (that week). Even the smoke grenades can help in bulk. Once you can make the BioTrans, and can sell devastators, you should be good for the rest of the game - it's surviving to that point that can take some micromanagement of funds.

Hybrids can help with this - Skeletoids aren't easy to control, but Arthropods are. I like to control them, get them to drop their shields (and weapons), and then send them to distract or grenade the other aliens to distract them while I pick up the shields. It can be tough, but with a crack squad and some luck its doable.

Quantum Physics research tree:

The goal here is to shoot down UFO type 3, and then let the games begin. One alien tech -> Advanced Quantum Lab -> Other two alien techs -> Dimension Probe. Don't delay!

Also don't forget the disruptor is necessary before the ship shields can be researched - I kept getting confused as to why I had tons of shields but couldn't research them.

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Game Balance Issues

X-Com Apocalypse does a fantastic job of micro-management, and presenting so many different pieces all in one congruent format. However, many players love the thrill of the early to mid-game. Once the UFOs are wiped out and you begin assaulting the alien buildings, the thrill is gone.

Despite 10 or so playthroughts in my life, I have never made it past the 3rd alien building. By that time my guys have disruptor armor, the UFOs are all destroyed, everyone's an ace combat veteran and I'm rich beyond belief. There's nothing left to research. There are no inbound UFO incursions or alien sightings to combat.

Other players note this same issue - once the alien dimension is safe for travel, and you've bested the UFOs, the aliens are really harmless. You could fast forward for months, just popping into the alien dimension to kill everything every few weeks. By the time your agents are armored, shielded, and weilding two-shot-kill toxins, there's not much scary left in the game system.

The game does an excellent job of pushing you a bit more, incrementally, but the threat level just drops off in a very unsatisfying way - the end is just cleanup, instead of a climax. The true climax of Apoc is somewhere between your first Battleship visit and when you wipe out UFOs in the alien dimension. Having 9 or 10 missions after that, with no UFOs or serious threats, is just too much.

Tips/Tricks

  • Need to get an item to your other base fast, like Toxiguns, but you can't transport them for some reason? Just sell at one base and buy at the other. No net cost.
  • Ammo shortage got you down on Janitor Missles? Buy a hovercar! They come with a full missle launcher. De-equip and sell 'em back!
  • Have two Biochem labs at two different bases, and don't want to spring for Alien Containment at both? You don't have to! Leave at least one biochemist at the lab with the Containment. Start any project - alien, autopsy, etc - at that base. Then go to a different project after an hour, and the OTHER bioChem research lab can pick it up.

Weekly schedule

  • Monday at 0:00:00: Buy all the Stormdogs you can, and chop them up to sell back at a profit. Recruit any agents or engineers/biochemists/quantum physicists you want.
  • Tuesday at 0:00:00: Recruit any agents or engineers/biochemists/quantum physicists you want.

<repeat every day>

  • Sunday at 11:59:59: Fire any scientists or agents you no longer want. Build any facilities that you want (and demolish any that are no longer needed). Buy back any equipment that you sold and want to keep, before the game rolls it over and removes it from stock.