The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is the final outcome of a game trapped in developer hell for several years, having gone through a few different studios and even a genre change. It has finally been released as a third-person tactical shooter set in a rebooted XCOM universe taking place along an alternate 1960’s timeline.
What You Need to Know
The game is set in 1962, at the height of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. Paranoid tensions prompted President Kennedy to authorise the formation of XCOM, a last resort command division intended to coordinate operations in the event of a Soviet invasion of the USA.
You play as CIA special agent William Carter who has been tasked with delivering a package of extreme importance to the director of XCOM. Unbeknownst to most of humanity, an extra-terrestial presence has infiltrated the planet in search of this package and an all out invasion against the inhabitants of earth is about to commence.
The Bureau brings a new spin to the much loved XCOM franchise. While following a similar third-person approach as the much maligned spin-off of the original XCOM series, XCOM: Enforcer, The Bureau developers have avoided the criticisms of Enforcer by including a greater focus on tactical combat and story development.
Where Enforcer was an out-and-out alien nuking action fest, The Bureau incorporates intrigue and mystery as well as great squad management through a time-slowing ‘Battle Focus Mode’ to create a hybrid between a third-person shooter and squad-based tactical simulation.
What’s the Same?
The Bureau is essentially a third-person shooter akin to Mass Effect and consists of two main sections: On mission or off duty. The ‘on mission’ duties require you to wander around a level picking up information that develops the overall storyline in the game, interacting with other characters through a dialogue interface, or simply blasting your way through staged combat while managing your squad through Battle Focus Mode.
The off duty sections involve you roaming through the large XCOM bunker running basic errands and interacting with characters as you seek to unlock future missions and uncover more information about the story.
You’ll Enjoy The Bureau: XCOM Declassified If You Liked…
… Mass Effect. It’s essentially the same game mechanic, requiring you to go through some dialogue with other characters and managing a squad of two team-mates in battle.
… The Thing. The Bureau shares a spiritual connection with The Thing. The feeling of being totally outnumbered and constantly ‘up against it’ is the same in both titles and brings a stronger bond between you and your team mates.
… Most other RPG-styled third-person shooters. It’s important to note that the extended dialogues and errand-running between missions will be frustrating for anyone seeking a pure action third-person shooter like Gears of War, but if you enjoy developing a story and interacting with characters, you’ll enjoy The Bureau.
What I Liked
- 5.) The alternate 1960’s timeline. There’s definitely something more sinister about the X-Files theme in the early 1960’s. If you appreciate the Dark Skies motif you’ll really enjoy the XCOM reboot.
- 4.) The complete sense of devastation as the Outsiders manage to overwhelm almost all human resistance. The Infection just adds to the feeling of despair and witnessing an entire town of Sleepwalkers elicits horrific memories of the Pod People in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
- 3.) The graphics are very well rounded and there’s a certain grit to everything that makes the game feel more realistic.
- 2.) Permadeath makes every character important and as they develop their skills and gain experience you’ll form your favourites. When a team member falls, you start to panic to get them back up again as quickly as possible and if they die, you feel like taking a moment out of the senseless combat to say a few words.
- 1.) The Battle Focus Mode is the most enjoyable feature in the game for me. The way time slows down but doesn’t stop gives you that added dose of tension as you try to manoeuvre your men out of danger while the shots are flying. The interface is intuitive and adds a great tactical element to the combat.
Any opportunity I had to toss my Silacoid over cover and watch my little pet wreak havoc on the enemy, bouncing and squealing from one Outsider to the next. Go my little black blob, enjoy your brief and meaningless life.
What I Didn’t Like
- 5.) Recruiting extra agents and recovering alien technology felt contrived. Finding new agents is as simple as clicking on ‘recruit new agent’ and if you find a solitary laser pistol, suddenly there are enough of them to equip the entire XCOM bunker. This detracts heavily from the classic XCOM resource management and is one of the XCOM features that should have been maintained.
- 4.) There are moments where the graphical attention to detail is misplaced. Reflections on windows show a field ablaze behind you in the middle of the invasion but when you turn around to look at the wonderful inferno all you can see is a facebrick wall. Using static images on windows depicting something other than what you can see is a minor oversight which ruins the realism.
- 3.) The walkie-talkie moments in the game took away from the panic. If I saw William Carter pull out his walkie-talkie (in his good hand too) I knew we were going to be safe for a while. It made it hard to suspend my disbelief when – in the middle of an alien invasion – the main character puts his weapon away to talk on his radio.
- 2.) I didn’t enjoy the way the plot developed. Although it’s still an enjoyable story, I didn’t like the way all the Outsiders spoke fluent English with an American accent. The Outsiders were also a little too fluid with their humanoid movements for my liking – they seemed to fit just fine with planet Earth’s gravity and atmosphere which didn’t make them ‘alien’ enough for me.
- 1.) The aimless roaming around the XCOM bunker to get to a specific section. I know it’s a bunker that William Carter’s not supposed to be familiar with but it just caused long sections of meaningless walking that took away from the urgency of the invasion. I wanted action and story development, not cartography.
Least Favourite Realisation
At the beginning of The Bureau there’s a great sense of impending doom as it is made abundantly clear that humanity is losing the war. The Outsider technology is centuries ahead of ours and we need to recover some of their weapons to have a fighting chance.
While discovering weapons after combat I weighed heavily on which ones to carry home and which to leave behind only to discover at the end of the mission that everything was recovered even if I didn’t pick it up. This removed a strategic element of the game that could have been used to build on the tension and agony of every decision having a consequence.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Gameplay Trailer
There are multiple endings to The Bureau (that I won’t ruin for you) but they’re not enough to warrant an entire run through the game again to see. Also, the difficulty options affect the way the game plays out in terms of team-mate recovery. In the most difficult setting any team member that falls in combat is unavailable for the rest of that mission and agent recruitment is severely limited.
The Bottom Line
The Bureau is a great tactical third-person shooter which is only hampered by long periods of inactivity and minor glitches that dampen the mood.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was reviewed on the Xbox 360