Erase the truth.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has been a long time coming. For one reason or another, it is kind of amazing that it has arrived at all. But still, 2K Marin finally managed to bring this highly anticipated spin off from the XCOM games to life, although maybe not exactly how the fans would have wanted. With XCOM: Enemy Unknown being such a huge hit, can this third-person shooter really make the XCOM fans happy?
The Bureau is set in the 1960s in America and sees the player take on the role of the gritty alcoholic William Carter who, through a series of events that start the game off, introducing the main characters and the situation they are in, finds himself as a team leader for the newly formed XCOM, which was originally created to fight the communist threat but has now been re-purposed to deal with an other-worldly invasion and an alien virus. And all of this with authentic 60s technology.
So, once the initial introductory missions have been completed, and the story set, gameplay revolves around spending time in the headquarters and going out on the various missions. The XCOM base of operations is a fairly large area with lots of different places to visit and characters to talk to through a Mass Effect style dialogue wheel. While this is largely pointless due to the almost linear nature of the game constantly pushing the player in the right direction, some side quests can be picked up around the base and the back story can be expanded on.
There are plenty of similarities with the Mass Effect games to be found in The Bureau, the majority of which can be found in the various combat situations. With a third-person viewpoint and heavy use of the available cover, combat may come across as nothing special. Even the use of early 60s weapons against the technologically advanced armament of the alien threat, at least until you can get your hands on some for yourself, doesn’t really spark a huge amount of interest or make The Bureau stand out from other, older third-person shooters.
What really makes a difference are the other agents that the player takes with them into these missions. Left to their own devices, these agents may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, prone to being quite stupid and insisting on being given orders. And giving the orders is where things start getting fun. The player can bring up the wheel to assign orders to the other agents, slowing time to a crawl as the orders are sent. It can take a little while to get to grips with the mechanics of quickly giving orders, but before long the player will find themselves telling the other agents where to move to in order to flank the enemy, or where to concentrate their fire.
This in itself is not the most interesting use of the other agents however. They may, for the most part, be nameless cannon fodder, but they come in a variety of different flavours, and bring with them useful skills. There are four different classes of agent – Commando agents bring the offense with a rather nice Pulse Wave, Engineers offer turrets and mines, the Sniper can cloak and pull off some amazing shots, and the Support agent gets defensive with energy shields.
The agents level up as they progress, along with Carter himself. This gives access to perks and skills that can further individualize the agents, along with some choices in the way they look when first created. However, the bonds created with agents in Enemy Unknown are simply not developed in The Bureau to the same degree, and neither is the sense of threat.
This comes down to the permadeath feature. Although agents in The Bureau can permanently die, as in Enemy Unknown, it just doesn’t have the same effect. For starters, the main character of Carter cannot die – he is the main character after all. Secondly, there is quite often plenty of time to heal a fallen agent and even if the player can’t, more agents can be dropped in as reinforcements. As the game progresses, keeping agents alive to take advantage of their advanced levels becomes more important, but it just lacks the sense of urgency found in Enemy Unknown.
As already mentioned, the story tends to push the player along a given path without leaving much room for exploration. There are a few twists and turns within this tale, but plot holes are obvious, especially to fans of the other game, leaving the story as perhaps not the highlight it should have been. The same can be said for the visuals in The Bureau – it is not the prettiest game, with somewhat bland environments and slightly uninspiring aliens. There is nothing really to complain about, but nothing to get excited over either. However, a nod has to be given to the developers for creating an authentic 60s experience which really works well.
The Bureau will last player maybe ten hours if the side missions are all taken, with perhaps a bit more for the completionists that want to squeeze every minute from the game. That is not too bad, and there is always the chance to playthrough the game more than once to try different approaches or secrets.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified may not hit the towering levels of success found with XCOM: Enemy Unknown. But as a stand alone 60s squad-based third-person shooter, it succeeds very well. It is not the XCOM experience that fans were hoping for, but it is still a damn good game that offers something a little bit different in an established universe. Worth checking out!