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I haven't yet built an Alien Containment, but I already have an Arc Thrower. Can I use it already, just to get free weapons?

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Not sure, but at higher difficulty I won't even try to research weapons until I've got the weapons research credit for interrogating a Muton (plasma weapons) or sectoid (beam weapons). In other words what you suggest might work, but completing the research required to actually use the weapons will take twice as long compared to just finishing the alien containment (assuming you have the “We have ways” continent bonus). – Stilgar Oct 30 '12 at 21:25
up vote 12 down vote accepted

Yes, you can knock aliens unconscious and keep their weapons intact if you don't build Alien Containment. I found this out the hard way when I finally zapped a Thin Man and then learned to my dismay I'd forgotten to build the containment facility.

After the mission when you get back to base, you'll simply get a message stating that the alien expired, and thus won't be able to do any interrogation of it.

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I wonder if I get a sellable corpse this way :) – Sergey Grinev Oct 31 '12 at 21:09
@Sergey: AFAIK, you do. – vartec Oct 31 '12 at 23:03

Yes, the aliens just won't be in the containment facility

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