The Bureau: XCOM Declassified didn’t have the best entry into public consciousness. So vociferous and heated was the fan reaction when a shooter based on XCOM was announced that 2K Marin went back to the drawing board and had a good long hard think about what they wanted to convey in the XCOM Universe, and The Bureau feels like a good compromise of their intent as well as what fans expect from an XCOM game.
In an age where bellyaching and whining has blighted the sales potential of many a perfectly fine game (DmC being one example and more contentiously, the underrated Syndicate being another) it’s maybe wise that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified liberally takes more from the preceding games than anyone thought it would, for the developer’s sake at least.
Plot wise, it’s set back in the good old 1960s, so it’s chronologically the first in the series, and takes place right at the start of an alien invasion of Earth. America is the focal point, as the developers are more interested in telling a more localised, personal story this time around, rather than have a planetary wide struggle as seen in previous games.
Your character is William Carter an agent with a gruff voice, a ghostbusters style backpack and a sweet hat, that never falls off no matter how wildly you roll around like a moron. Carter’s at the forefront of the fight back against the alien menace, working as he does for the newly formed XCOM. The mission played saw him jet off to New Mexico where he sees first-hand the devastation wrought by these less than pleasant visitors upon the innocent locals and the local terrain, as terraforming technology is set down.
It’s hard not to think of Mass Effect, or even Alpha Protocol when playing through The Bureau. It’s no longer a first person shooter, as was first revealed. It’s metamorphosed into a third person shooter, albeit one with (and some fans can breathe a sigh of relief here) a heavy focus on tactics and positioning, with a minimum of running and gunning.
There’s a hub centre where you take your missions, giant alien monoliths loom ominously in the background while alien crafts whizz past, and even the special skill wheel that pops up during gameplay bears more than a little resemblance to the one Shepard uses to force Garrus and his compadres to charge at and attack the Reaper menace. After some exposition you’re placed in the heat of battle, you and two other agents engaging the alien menace. If your team mates die by the way, that’s it. They’re gone. There’s no coming back, no miraculous comic book style resurrection. You got them killed and your pixelated chap will have to live with the consequences.
The Bureau will gleefully tear you and your squad to shreds if you play like a lunkhead raised on a diet of Chuck Norris films and raw meat. If you position them wrongly, don’t constantly place them behind cover and accidentally expose them you’re in for trouble. Even from an initial play through the demo stage, it feels a lot more methodical and punishing than other shooters.
This is not a game to be rushed. Despite appearing somewhat unremarkable at first glance, there is depth here and an incentive to play carefully. It also successfully conveys a sense of dread and creepiness. The locals have become mindless husks, and slowly wandering through them as they moan and wander whilst picking up diary entries of their last few days is gratifyingly morbid, and more than a little befitting of an apocalyptic alien invasion.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, has perhaps done enough to silence entitled naysayers, and is far more cerebral than first glances perhaps reveal. Though it may not set the world on fire, nor be particularly original, it juggles with a number of different genres fairly successfully, and looks like one to watch come August, when it invades.
This preview is taken from Issue 135 of gamesTM, which goes on sale Thursday 16 May. You can buy the issue in newsagents and Imagine Shop, or digitally through greatdigitalmags.com.