The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
What a shame.
We’re all aware of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s sordid history but after the phenomenal XCOM: Enemy Unknown it was fair to be kind of hopeful for a third-person spin-off.
Put simply, the confused development process of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has resulted in a ropey game. Animations are sloppy, visuals are rough and it has its fair share of criticisms.
But weirdly it manages to remain compelling.
XCOM Declassified And Its Mass Effect Inspiration
It’s a poor man’s Mass Effect, frankly, practically ripping the combat mechanics wholesale from BioWare’s sci-fi epic and barely even trying to cover up for that.
You’ll play William Carter, an agent working for the US government who witnesses – and becomes a major player in – the birth of the XCOM, the secret organisation whose sole purpose is to repel alien invaders.
Carter is a by-the-numbers third-person shooter protagonist. He’s all melancholy about the accidental death of his family; he’s the ‘expert’ agent who doesn’t really know it; he’s a lone wolf and “doesn’t play well with others”.
You know the story; you’ve heard it a thousand times before. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s characters aren’t exactly the most robust, but they’re enough to pin the whole story together.
But what is fairly interesting is seeing the birth of XCOM. Whether your first experience with the franchise is XCOM: Enemy Unknown or the earlier ones, there’s subtle nods to the franchise throughout that will delight.
As the alien forces assault the Earth, The Bureau – which was initially planned for Soviet invasion – switches tact. Now it’s these Outsiders it must counter, and watching this unravel is strangely intriguing.
If nothing else The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has highlighted just how deep and interesting the lore of the world is, and how involved the universe of XCOM can be. It’s something of a surprising revelation, truth be told.
Part of this enjoyment comes from your out-of-mission exploration. Much like Mass Effect’s Normandy exploration, you’re able to interact with the XCOM base outside of combat.
Here you’ll have minor tasks to undertake, characters to meet and conversations to have. It’s not nearly as rich as Mass Effect’s efforts, but it’s enjoyable all the same – especially for XCOM nerds.
Combat In XCOM Declassified
This is only a small part of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, however, and the part that really draws you in is the combat.
Again it’s very much Mass Effect, and if you like what BioWare did then you’ll love what is available here. It’s very much of the cover-focused variety, but by now you should be used to taking cover behind strategically placed short walls.
It’s actually the strategy of combat that impresses, however. Where Mass Effect’s radial wheel was primarily used to initiate abilities, XCOM Declassified instead opts to use it for giving orders.
It’s a subtle difference, and one that probably won’t make sense without context.
Here you’re able to give a string of commands instead of one at a time. What this means is that you’re able to create a series of waypoints for each of your two squad-mates to safely move around a battlefield before unleashing their unique class-based abilities.
Moving into cover presents the typical full or half shield of defence, to explain how well defended your allies will be in that position, as well as highlighting when you’ll be at risk.
It’s important because underneath the hood of the game – outside of your own mad shooting skillz – is a bunch of numbers. It doesn’t sound exciting, but XCOM fans will probably have had their ears prick up.
An enemy behind cover will be harder for your team-mates to hit, and you’ll be presented with a percentage of just how much damage a squad-mate could do to them.
Flanking is important, then. Not only will it make your attacks more likely to hit – simply because there are no blockades – but it’ll mean the enemy will look to rectify that problem and move away.
The Problems With AI
Issues arise with the AI, though more explicitly your squad-mates. Though your allies can follow orders suitably well, all it takes is a single grenade to distract them and suddenly they’re off.
In a lot of ways they’re reminiscent of The Sims. Sure, you can leave them to their own accord, but they function much more efficiently if you micromanage their every movement.
We should also mention that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified lives up to the franchise’s history. Play it on the default difficulty of Veteran and you’ll have a decent challenge ahead of you.
What this really means is that you’ll struggle to survive a battle without controlling every action, every shot and every movement of your two squad members.
It might sound tedious – and if you’re interesting in just a third-person shooter you should probably count yourself out now – but it works well, and is reminiscent of the strategic history the series is known for.
Course all this is undone in a second when a single grenade will take precedence – and rightfully so – but ultimately revert your duo of hapless squad-mates to their original brainless approach to combat.
The system is frustrating as often as it is thrilling; it really requires going into The Bureau: XCOM Declassified knowing exactly what you’re going to get. If you know to expect AI frustrations, then you’ll also know you’ll get a pretty solid – and surprisingly strategic – squad-based shooter.
And this true of the game as a whole. Our The Bureau: XCOM Declassified review might be largely positive, but that’s mostly out of surprise. Make no mistake, this game has suffered and at times it just isn’t particularly very good.
As we’ve already mentioned it’s ropey in a number of ways, but perhaps it’s a testament to the quality of the idea that – in spite of all that – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified somehow manages to remain an enjoyable game.
Mass Effect fans might turn their nose up at the lesser quality, but the rarely-utilised time period combined with all the glorious XCOM lore has crafted a game that feels original even if it’s gameplay doesn’t.
Version tested: PS3