When the guys at Fireaxis Games released their successful reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown to the masses, it was chaos. The return of classic turn-based strategy with a modern touch left both critics and gamers around the world reeling in excitement and wanting more.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Developed by 2K Marin / Published by 2K Games
Available on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360. Reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Review code provided by 2K Games
2K Marin, developers of the Minerva’s Den DLC for Bioshock and the sequel Bioshock 2, believed they could deliver on continuing the non-stop action with XCOM, a first-person shooter set in the same world as Enemy Unknown and acted as a prequel. While it was wildly different from the turn-based action it was based on, it was a unique take on the franchise, and one that had quite a solid pedigree with FPSs.
Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be, as development on the project was halted and revamped, but the bones of the FPS were taken and transformed into what is now known as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, a third-person squad-based shooter that attempts to mix the tactical combat of the original and 2012’s reboot, while adding the ability to control everything from the frontline. Is this spin-off to the franchise worth your time, or should it have remained shelved forever?
In The Bureau, players take on the role of special agent William Carter, a weathered soldier that is tasked with transporting a mysterious box. A surprise attack by the aliens known as the Outsiders leaves Carter dazed, confused and without the box, so he must band together with the secret organization known as XCOM to fight off the alien threat.
While the game sounds similar to Enemy Unknown, it’s actually pretty different. Here you control Carter through a third-person perspective, guiding him through urban and rural environments that are usually filled with large pieces of debris or objects that can be used as cover.
Carter can also pick up to two weapons along the way, allowing him to defend himself against alien threats. Using cover he can peek over and take some shots, or blindfire over his head and keep most of his body behind something solid. Bullets litter the strangely empty battlefield, so running out of ammo is usually a worst-case scenario. Shooting controls handle well, and taking on the large variety of foes, both big and small, is always a thrilling experience thanks to the nice variety of weapons you can wield.
Players also get to use cool powers later on in the game thanks to the use of alien technology. Carter can levitate enemies, for example, pulling them out of cover. More powers can be acquired as you level up, granting players new skills and abilities that will assist them against stronger foes.
You aren’t always alone on the battlefield though, as once you find another survivor the game transforms into a squad-based shooter. While you can’t actually control what these NPC’s (you can have up to two teammates) do, as Squad Commander you can order them to do a wide number of things, like move to a certain position and flank, fire upon a specific enemy, use special abilities granted by alien tech and more. It’s actually pretty similar to Mass Effect with the order wheel, where you select what actions you want them to use, and then issue the order. Unfortunately though, it doesn’t work as well as it should.
While commanding your teammates is a breeze and they respond on a dime, they are as stupid as rocks. They usually always have enough bullets and firepower to take out most foes, but they don’t seem to care much until you assign a specific target, which then takes a couple of moments to actually be killed. They also have a tendency of leaving the spot you command them to stay in, which leads very often to them being killed by a barrage of bullets by turrets, or running straight into a laser beam or into the blast radius of an enemy grenade. Try as hard as you might, these guys will be falling on the ground quite often, and if you don’t run towards them and apply some first aid, you’ll lose them forever thanks to the game’s signature permadeath. It’s tough business, folks.
The game isn’t all about being on the field though, as in-between missions players can also visit XCOM headquarters. Here most of the background story occurs, as you can check out the behind-the-scene politics, find out interesting tidbits, and see how new tech develops. While players may be expecting a level of customization seen in Enemy Unknown, the customization in The Bureau is quite stale. You can create new teammates from scratch, but the only thing you can select is the color of their clothes and their classes. You can’t choose their weapons for them. Then you can choose from two to three missions, with one usually being the main mission, and the others short side missions with the “kill X aliens, and retrieve Y item.” The options to choose from in The Bureau are not bad, they’re just limited.
The Bureau could have been a great game, but unfortunately it isn’t. While the game has solid controls and a nice battle system, idiotic team A.I., the lack of customization options and rough visuals really turns something that should be exciting into something that is lackluster and pretty straightforward. Multiplayer could have improved the game nicely, but as it stands, The Bureau is a missed opportunity.