The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review
The Other XCOM game.
When 2K games originally announced that we would be returning to the XCOM universe it was to be with a first person shooter, and an accompanying strategy game. The strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown beat the shooter to market and was a bit of a surprise success. Soon after, 2K scrapped the first person approach and let us know they were working on a tactical third person shooter instead and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was born. This is a risky approach, engaging The Bureau in two battles right out of the gate. First it would have to distinguish itself in a saturated shooter market, and second it would have to win over the XCOM strategy game fans. Let’s find out how it fared.
Set in the 1960’s, The Burea: XCOM Declassified details the origins of the XCOM program in the days when hostile aliens first begin making contact with Earth. You’ll play as Agent Carter, a government man who has been pre-selected to join XCOM and their lead combat forces. The United States are in disarray and it will be your job to hold things together, while bringing a fledgling agency up to the task of defending Earth.
Combat in The Bureau starts out feeling like your standard, cover based, third person shooter but the game quickly begins to show it’s XCOM flavored, strategy roots. Each mission will allow you to take a few other agents with you and you will be able to slow time to issue orders to them. This interface is well laid out, which is good because your squad will need to be told what to do on a regular basis. They seem to be pretty good at healing downed team mates for you, but not so good at staying in cover when they’re taking enemy fire.
Each of your squad members will fall into one of a handful of different character classes. Engineers can deploy turrets and explosives, snipers snipe, and soldiers bring the firepower. Playing each class according to its own strengths will be a key part of succeeding in a game that is quite difficult. You will need to stay in cover, keep your squad in cover, flank enemy positions, and stay alert or you will find yourself on the ground very quickly. On the default difficulty level, squad members who aren’t revived in the field are permanently dead and cannot be used in later missions.
Unfortunately a portion of The Bureau’s difficultly comes from it’s clunky and unresponsive controls. The game often acts like you simply haven’t yet pressed the button you are currently holding in. This could mean failing to revive a squad member in time, or popping out of cover holding the trigger only to have your gun not fire until you release and press the trigger again.
In between missions you’ll be able to walk around the secret XCOM base, talking to the various staff members and managing your squad but this part of the game becomes very tedious, very quickly. The base is simply too big and your sprint ability is disabled while you are there. After the first few missions you’ll find yourself ignoring the base altogether and just heading for the mission board unless you’re forced to go talk to somebody in the base.
While out in the field, the action can be quite fun once you get the feel for it. The Bureau won’t allow you to plow your way through, guns blazing, and figuring out the best strategy feels more rewarding than mowing down the waves of enemies you would find in your average shooter. The missions themselves are quite formulaic and a little repetitive, leaving you to make your own fun by directing your squad into gaining superiority.
There are no multiplayer modes in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
The Bureau tries hard to mix genres but doesn’t end up going deep enough into any of them. It is a competent tactical shooter, but some of the shine is taken off by technical issues. While it can be fun to blast aliens for a few hours, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified never manages to suck you in the way other XCOM games can. It isn’t a terrible game but it will have a hard time finding its audience.