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Several different types of craft are available to X-COM Commanders, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. There are two basic roles any X-COM craft can fulfill, the ability to intercept enemy UFOs, which requires mounting points for craft weapons. The second potential role is for a troop transport which requires carrying space for soldiers, equipment (especially weapons) and potentially Heavy Weapons Platforms. A couple of the craft with can be researched can fill both roles.

Interception Craft

Interception Craft are used by X-COM to chase after and shoot down UFOs as they travel through Earth's atmosphere performing some mission. They need to be fast enough to catch up to the UFO, have sufficient weaponry to take it down, and enough damage capacity to survive long enough to use that weaponry. Note: All damaged craft are repaired at the rate of 1 HP per hour.

  • Interceptor - The only initial interception craft you can use, it is the best humans have at the time but it is comparatively slow and fragile.
  • Firestorm - The first new hybrid of Human-Alien technology applied to craft design, it is a big step up from the interceptor in all but range.

Troop Transporters

Troop Transporters are used to deliver soldiers to a remote mission location. Ideally they need as high a capacity as possible so that large squads can be sent out where a mission demands it, and sufficient range to get to all potential mission sites. High speed will also help for certain mission profiles, but is of lesser importance for most purposes.

  • Skyranger - A solid piece of equipment that gets the job done for most of the conflict, although it is slow when missions are required at all sorts of places around the world.

Multi-Role Interceptor/Transporters

Later research will allow X-COM to field some multi-role craft that can fill both the interceptor and troop transport roles. These craft might supersede the other more specialist craft for general usage, although some commanders may prefer to use them more rigidly in one role or the other, or create entirely new roles that make use of all aspects of these craft.

  • Lightning - This design suffers a little from being too small to do both jobs well, but it can be useful in certain roles, mopping up smaller UFOs with it single weapon and then immediately being able to recover the resulting crash site if a small squad is enough.
  • Avenger - The ultimate hybrid craft created - although its fuel is limited, its speed means it still retains an impressive range and gets there much faster than the Skyranger leading to faster mission turnarounds. It's only weakness is a very short airtime, like all hybrid craft, making it terrible at detecting alien bases.

Quick Comparison Table

Craft Speed (knots) Range (nm) 6 Air time Fuel Weapons Damage Cargo HWPs Cost/Rent ($) Time (h) Destroyed Pnt.
Skyranger 760 13,500 35h40m / 83h20m4 1,500 None 150 14 3 500,0001 72 -200
Interceptor 2,100 8,050 7h50m / 16h40m4 1,000 2 100 None None 600,0001 96 -250
Firestorm 4,200 7,000 3h20m 205 2 500 None None 400,0002 14,0003 -250
Lightning 3,100 7,750 5h 305 1 800 12 None 600,0002 18,0003 -300
Avenger 5,400 27,000 10h 605 2 1,200 26 4 900,0002 34,0003 -400

1 This cost is paid upon ordering and also monthly as rental fee, charged at midnight on the first day of each month.
2 This is only the up-front cost. These craft also require a number of Alien Alloys, UFO Navigation and UFO Power Source to build, as well as engineers time and workshop space.
3 Engineer man-hours to manufacture.
4 Stationary (Patrolling) air time. Fuel consumption for conventional craft is decreased, allowing longer air time.
5 Elerium-based fuel: every fuel unit is worth 10 minutes of fly time, and 1 Elerium-115 unit is consumed every 5 fuel units.
6 Range is the maximum distance from base a given craft can reach before fuel (50%) requires it to come back. Thus, maximum travel length of a craft is actually twice its range.

Costs of craftable aircrafts
cash labour alloys power navigation total
Firestorm 400k 500k 423k 250k 80k 1653k
Lighting 600k 630k 553k 250k 80k 2113k
Avenger 900k 1250k 780k 500k 80k 3500k

This means that manufacturing a Firestorm and selling your Interceptor pays for itself in under 3 months. (an existing interceptor costs 600k a month= 1800k in 3 months) However, if you do not already have an interceptor in the hangar, manufacturing a firestorm would effectively pay for itself in 2 months. (An new interceptor costs 600k+600k the first month, and 600k a month henceforth)

A Lightning arguably pays for itself in 1-2 months (500+600...500+600) since 1 Lightning can more or less do the job of 1 Interceptor + 1 Skyranger.

In short, X-com saves a LOT of money by manufacturing craft. The only drawback is Hybrid craft cost a lot of Elerium... 100 Elerium a month is $500,000 a month. So if your ships are spending a lot of time in the air, an Interceptor might be better than a Firestorm after all.

In terms of combat effectiveness, (vs Battleships) an Avenger has exactly the same damage output as a Firestorm, but has almost 2.5 times as much health. The Avenger also costs slightly over twice as much and almost 2.5 times as long to build. In actual combat with a Battleship, on average, 4 Avengers will receive exactly the same amount of damage as 4 Firestorms, aka they are equally effective in combat, when engaging with 4 craft at once. And 4 Firestorms will fare better than 2 Avengers. In effect, this means that dollar for dollar, building 10 Firestorms is cheaper and more effective than building 4 Avengers. However, EACH avenger uses less fuel than 1 Firestorm, due to shorter airtime. Furthermore, 10 firestorms require 10 hangar.

In short, if you have enough resources, the Avenger is the better choice, but if you are short on resources, and for some reason you feel an uncontrollable urge to shoot down battleships (I do not know why you would do so), a fleet of Firestorms is better.

See Also

UFO Badge X-COM: Enemy Unknown/UFO Defense
Craft Armaments:CannonStingrayAvalancheLaser CannonPlasma BeamFusion Ball Launcher