[REDACTED] have arrived. The [REDACTED] have a number of [REDACTED], and near limitless [REDACTED]. You are agent [REDACTED]. Your mission, whether you like it or not, is to [REDACTED]. In the end, the [REDACTED] and you may not even [REDACTED]. Godspeed agents, the fate of [REDACTED].
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a prequel of sorts to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, detailing the origins of the alien invasion and creation of the XCOM project in 1962 as a defense force for the earth. Unlike Firaxis’ turn based tactical strategy game, The Bureau is a third person shooter with tactical strategy and squad command elements, playing very similarly to how the Mass Effect titles play. So is The Bureau worth your time, or should this game have been [REDACTED]?
The visuals are simple and you can feel the age of this generation of consoles as you play. Framerate stutters plagued every instance that the game was loading assets or autosaving. Fortunately this didn’t carry into battles too often, but was still enough of an annoyance that I had to make a note of it. The audio also tripped over itself often, particularly in the dialog, with instances of overlapping dialog and one character’s lines not even loading during a full conversation. Overall, the game just lacked a level of polish and care that higher profiles games receive before they ship.
The game’s early ’60s America setting was very well done. I love period pieces and the attention to detail to make the world feel authentic was one of the best things done for this game. While it doesn’t quite reach the same levels of other period based games like Resistance or L.A. Noire, it manages to hold its own as the outfits and music chosen really perpetuate the early ’60s stereotypes.
The gameplay of The Bureau is fairly solid, but is not the most exemplary title in terms of third person shooters. It does apply the tactical squad-based strategy element well, requiring you to make use of it if you want any chance of surviving this alien invasion, but finds itself with a level of redundancy as you near the end. Even on the normal difficulty, I had to make sure that I was sufficiently utilizing cover and paying attention to my squad in order to succeed in most of the larger battles. I loved the strategy required in The Bureau, and am typically the type of gamer that dives into the fray with no tactics, so it was a nice ego check to have to scale back and learn to think out each situation.
When you command your squad and use abilities, time slows to a crawl to enable you to think strategically. While it never meets the extremely tense moments that Enemy Unknown is known for, it still goes a long way towards making The Bureau stand out as more than just another third person shooter. The Bureau does feature perma-death for your squad, so decisions that you make on the battlefield can result in losing a strong agent with good abilities. The urgency in the perma-death is lessened by each unique squad member not actually feeling that unique, so I never felt the same sense of loss that I felt when I lost a member of my team in Enemy Unknown.
Mission linearity unfortunately defeats a lot of the replay value that this game could have, with each mission simply being a series of hallways connecting the next encounter. While it’s (mostly) fun the first time through, trying to play through it again brought about severe deja vu and I didn’t find any alternate enemy tactics or spawns. The AI can be frustrating, especially from your team whenever you aren’t micromanaging them and they have no commands to fall back on. This is at its worst when you are trying to get yourself out of danger, but have to constantly worry about the two buffoons that you brought to that mission. The sense of tactical strategy goes out the window at these points and luck seems to take hold.
One huge aspect that The Bureau missed the boat on is the research portions of previous XCOM titles. While there was plenty of opportunity and I was sure that it was going to crop up at some point, it unfortunately did not. Rather, it opted to give me an unlimited supply of any alien weapon that I found out in the field for my squad to use. This was disappointing, and made the customization of, and subsequent risk of permanently losing, my agents almost moot, despite generally being such a large aspect of XCOM. A lot of XCOM related elements felt shoehorned in to The Bureau to fill expectations.
The Bureau’s story is stiff, disjointed, and fails to fully realize itself. Don’t get me wrong, the potential is there,the voice actors are good, and it has all of the pieces and elements that could make a great XCOM origin story, but too many plot holes and shoddy writing mean that The Bureau isn’t going to impress. Fans of XCOM may be able to find a small level of enjoyment in the references and tie ins that are made to the other games, but even I, as a fan, was extremely confused by the end, specifically concerning the motivations and actions of various characters that made no sense at all. It tries to gain an emotional connection with the player, but fails miserably and a lack of any kind of caring for these moments on the game’s part meant that some major plot points did not have the intended emotional effect when they occurred.
Overall, The Bureau is a decent game that fails to bring anything new to gamers’ tables. With a period alien invasion having been done before in titles like Resistance, gameplay mechanics ripped straight from Mass Effect, and XCOM elements wrangled together, The Bureau feels like an unpolished conglomeration of games that have come before it. While it definitely isn’t the worst game that I have ever played, and I had a decent amount of fun playing through it once, I can’t say that it would be missed too much if it were to be [REDACTED].
Review copy provided by publisher.