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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

Posted by Joel Guttenberg On Wednesday 25 September 2013Comments Off

Available on 360, PS3 and PC l Published by 2K Games l Developed by 2K Marin l Classified MA15+ l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > The Bureau reimagines and repackages XCOM as a tactical third person shooter. Hero William Carter is tasked with leading squads of agents on missions to save the brass, rescue the eggheads and take down the extra-terrestrial hordes. The combat shines in this title, but it’s missing a few things you might expect to see if you’re an XCOM regular. Oh, and the plot gets a bit screwy.

REVIEW IN FULL > If you’ve grown accustomed to the typical XCOM experience, prepare to be taken out of your comfort zone. Instead of the turn based combat, isometric view and six man squad of XCOM: Enemy Unknown (and previous titles), you now have a three man squad controlled in real time using third person shooter mechanics. In many ways, this game has more in common with Mass Effect (or even Gears of War) than it does Enemy Unknown.

In many ways, this game has more in common with Mass Effect (or even Gears of War) than it does Enemy Unknown.

As Agent William Carter, your time will be split between running missions and doing tasks around XCOM HQ. At the base, you can talk to people to activate optional missions, garner more plot information and equip your team. There are a handful of missions in the base, but generally speaking, you’ll have more fun out on assignment, where you control a further two agents. There is none of the base building found in other XCOM games, although it is nice to watch the base go through various states of construction as the plot progresses.

At this point you might be thinking, “How is this an XCOM game?” It’s a fair question. The Bureau also changes the setting from a global battle in the present/future to a secret war in America in the 1960s. The antagonists are still aliens. Some familiar species, such as the Greys and the Mutons, appear in The Bureau, along with newcomers like the Outsiders. Yes, the Outsiders appeared in Enemy Unknown, but they weren’t these Outsiders. The Bureau doesn’t always seem to fit in nicely with XCOM canon.

Alien weapons are still available to your squad, but don’t need to be researched. You can just pick them up and use them. They can then be assigned to any squad member at the next available refit opportunity. This is not necessarily bad as it keeps things moving and means that stronger weapons can be used without delay. The early selection of 1960s military guns is decent, but the alien weapons are more varied and powerful. These include laser and plasma equivalents to shot guns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers and even lightning guns. The controls feel solid and taking on alien enemies is quite fun. You also come across an array of backpacks offering different boosts to stats or ammo, as well as other buffs. There isn’t much else in the way of equipment. Certainly nothing like you’d find in Enemy Unknown.

The game is generally very linear, apart from a few plot choices that can affect your outcome. You run down a path or corridor, explore the alternate path for goodies, and progress until you find a large area. Battle ensues. The original game forced you to choose between different priorities. Did you try to intercept the large UFO on your radar or stop a terror raid on a small town? You often couldn’t do both and then had to face the consequences of your choice. The Bureau doesn’t really force you to choose one mission over another. You can do both. The optional objectives may reward you with a new recruit or some technology, but you’ll do them for the sake of completion rather than for any compelling reason.

All of the extraneous stuff tends to fade into the background when you’re in the midst of fun, tense and frantic squad combat.

When you do engage the enemy, you are almost always outnumbered and thus need to consider the battlefield carefully when directing your agents. Agent AI can be a bit spotty. Sometimes they are really good at reviving each other, but they don’t always seem to do what they’re told. You’ll probably end up restarting a few battles simply because an agent wanders into the line of fire.

The Battle Focus Mode slows time to allow you to queue commands and use special abilities. As your agents gain experience, you can unlock additional abilities specific to the different classes. Some of the best outcomes occur when combining the skills of various agents. You can use Carter’s ability to levitate an enemy followed by a Recon (sniper) agent’s Critical Strike to greatly damage an enemy. A Support agent can place a shield orb around an Engineer’s turret, or a Commando can use Pulse Wave to send enemies flying into an Engineer’s mine.

Cover is vital and many of your commands will be directing your agents to avoid fire and/or flank alien opponents. Manoeuvring Carter in and out of cover can be a bit fiddly too. The A button makes Carter run. It also makes him snap to cover… and vault over cover. This is similar to Mass Effect and Gears of War, but it can be quite easy in The Bureau to run into cover and inadvertently vault out into incoming fire. Sometimes the cover feels a bit too sticky. Leaving cover to revive an agent and then getting back into cover is often more frustrating than it should be.

For the most part, though, you’ll enjoy the battle situations that The Bureau delivers. All of the extraneous stuff tends to fade into the background when you’re in the midst of fun, tense and frantic squad combat. If fraggin’ aliens sounds like a good idea to you, load up your favourite ET killer, strap on your favourite backpack and go hunt some aliens (♫♪ we are the Men in Black! Galaxy Defenders! ♫♪).

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