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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Preview

Posted by Erin Marcon On Friday 31 May 2013Comments Off

Coming to 360/PS3/PC l Published by 2K Games l Developed by 2K Marin l Classified MA15+ l Supports 1 player l Due to arrive 20.08.13

I arrived at 2K’s preview session feeling rather poorly, having just committed a scarcely believable sum of money to a nearby parking machine. As the funds drained rapidly from my debit card, I realised I would never reveal the sheer scale of my expenditure. I needed something (anything) to draw my mind away from the sense of shame threatening to overwhelm me. Would some hands-on time with The Bureau do the trick? I wasn’t so sure.

This was a game of three piece suits and double barrelled shotguns, a game in which as much attention had been paid to the sleek automobiles of the era as to the sinister alien landing craft.

It had been obvious even to casual observers that production had not gone to plan. The Bureau had been repeatedly delayed as development duties bounced from one internal studio to the next. The game’s controversial first person perspective had also been ditched in favour of an equally contentious third person approach. Even the original title of the game (XCOM) had been show the door in favour of a longer and more mysterious moniker. I tried to put all of that out of my mind as I settled into the role of special agent William Carter, the hardnosed lawman assigned to investigate an alien incursion.

The first thing I noticed about The Bureau was its art design, which was perhaps unsurprising given its 1960s setting. This was a game of three piece suits and double barrelled shotguns, a game in which as much attention had been paid to the sleek automobiles of the era as to the sinister alien landing craft. Only the (very) occasional frame rate hitch interrupted the spell. I made my way along a deserted suburban street and into a car dealership spruiking an “out of this world” sale. I then negotiated a mechanical workshop and a series of back alleys, before arriving at a city square. Along the way I came to understand the full extent of the threat facing humanity.

While my employer (the eponymous Bureau) was doing its best to cover up alien activity, more and more Americans were being exposed to the truth. Unfortunaely said exposure often turned these poor saps into alien drones. Easily identifiable due to the bloody discharge from their eyes, these ‘sleepwalkers’ mindlessly went about their day to day activities. They were, quite frankly, unsettling to watch. Less frightening, but infinitely more dangerous, were the interstellar foot soldiers that charged and then flanked my small party of agents. I encountered a variety of alien races, including fan favourites like the grey skinned Sectoids and the heavily armoured Outsiders. A gargantuan Muton provided the final challenge and I was shocked by the amount of damage he withstood before finally crashing to the pavement.

The combat system proved to be reasonably deep and surprisingly accessible. I began the session with standard issue firearms, before getting my hands on some lethal alien tech. I spent most of my time huddled behind cover. There I could call up a Mass Effect style command wheel. This simple strategic interface slowed down time and allowed me to issue orders to my fellow agents and unleash my own special attacks. On one occasion I ordered my wingman to use his telekinetic Pulse ability to knock a handful of enemies into the open. We then picked them off with our rifles. On another, I ordered an ally to establish a minefield in front of us in a desperate attempt to halt an enemy charge. The command wheel also offered access to context sensitive weapons, such as remote charges. I must also confess to using the healing power with some considerable frequency.

If I didn’t feel that I had the right mix of skills on hand, I could send one of my men back to HQ and call in a replacement. Eventually, I would have been able to level up my various characters and recruit new members to the team. Though none of my tough as nails G-men perished during the demo, a 2K rep gravely assured me that I should keep an eye out for the grim reaper. If I were to lose an agent, he or she would be gone for good. Like previous XCOM outings, the Bureau was to feature permadeath.

After thanking my host, I made my apologies and strolled back to my car, my spirits lifted by what appeared to be a stylish and accessible tactical shooter. If a game could emerge seemingly intact after several years of development turmoil, perhaps I could recover my own sense of self worth. Perhaps I could forgive myself for paying $40 (there, I said it) to park my car for a touch under three hours.

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