The Bureau: Xcom Declassified is a game developed by 2K Games and is a continuation to the Reboot of the Xcom series. This game is set before the hit game Xcom: Enemy Unknown, showing off what happened prior to the full invasion of the world. The Bureau had a rocky development cycle, having to switch between 3 companies with varying title names and having several push back dates. After being tossed around like a flying saucer, how did this game turn out?
The story starts off with the main protagonist Agent William Carter about to deliver a mysterious artefact only to be ambushed by an Alien in disguise, shooting Carter and stealing the artefact. The ambush goes sour for the Alien however, as the artefact explodes, killing the Alien and infusing Carter with unknown power giving him the ability to heal minor wounds, missing the metal claws sadly.
Carter sets off to find the man the artefact was meant for, Myron Faulke, but soon comes to the realization that Earth is being invaded, if Aliens patrolling the halls and shooting plasma at him wasn’t the first clue. Carter quickly meets up with a soldier called Nils and together they find Faulke, after which they set about escaping the facility they are in by getting an air lift from the roof, to get to the chopper.
Once you escape you are taken to the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command, or better known as Xcom. With Faulke in command, you take directives from one man and one man only, with almost all communication with other parts of the world cut off. After all introductions are complete you have free roam of the facility, searching all the different departments and conversing with the employees in each sector.
There is a plethora of backstory and character insight to be found around the base in your frequent journeys, found within pictures, notes and recordings. The only reason you would want to find these would be for the added lore and story, as there is no real reward for finding these pieces of information which takes away from the accomplishment you feel from finding them.
The main enemy of the game is set up to be Axis, the leader of the Alien invasion force, along with the intelligent communications network known as Mosaic. The characters and plot seems to switch their focus between these two entities, pitting you against Axis for most of the game only to say that Mosaic is the real threat.
The main objective of the game is to survive the invasion and push back the Aliens from your world, though the unit does this in a very roundabout way due to being outgunned. You are sent on several different missions, to investigate disturbances, to save civilians and to obtain Alien technology to use against the enemy. Besides the main story missions, you can choose to do Minor Operations, which take around quarter of an hour to do and are mainly completed for new weapons and experience. There are also dispatch missions that you can send your team members out on to complete themselves for experience, new technology and new recruits.
There aren’t many choices to be had within this game; missions have one clear route with side passages being explored only for extra equipment. The dialogue choices you do make within the game are morally diverse, from saving someone’s life, to weighing the needs of the many, the few and the one against each other. Even though the choices you make seem to have an immediate effect, the dialogue and cutscenes later on seem to dismiss your choice and go with a “canon” storyline making you feel as if what you chose meant nothing. The biggest decision you have appears near the end of the game, where your choice affects the ending you get. The endings all follow a morally grey area which feels disheartening and inconsequential but sets up for the other games in the series.
The main story will last you around 11 hours, depending on if you do all the investigations and side missions on hand, this game can be completed in a day if you miss everything and choose the lowest difficulty level.
The game takes on a 3rd person view, detaching itself from the birds-eye view of its other releases, as well as taking on a much faster combat style then it’s turn based counterparts. The game is mainly a over the shoulder shooter, combined with a command based battle mechanic, very similar to the Mass Effect series, choose a place for your team to take cover and direct their skills and shots.
The controls on the Xbox 360 version seem very cliché for a shooter, aiming is smooth if a bit annoying with the fast enemies, besides shooting you can throw grenades, melee the enemy in the face or use skills. The skills are the main weapon for your squad as they can deal significant damage to any opposition, as well as cause many debilitating affects like sapping the enemies shields or lifting them into the air.
The AI for squad mates feels really underpowered, as there are some points where they will stand out of cover for a while before moving out of fire, or hiding in cover and never shooting a single bullet. After completing a few missions you can see how little they can contribute to battle, with the stats saying I’ve killed 60 enemies when my squad mates had only 10 or fewer kills each.
Like the other releases in the series, the weapons comprise of both guns from earth and the Alien weaponry, from the 1960’s pistol to an Alien rocket launcher that shoots green plasma. The player can also choose between two grenade types, the normal fragmentation grenades and a sticky grenade. The last piece of equipment the characters has is that of a backpack, which adds a certain set of buffs to the character, be it higher damage output, more defence or dealing more damage to shields. New equipment is gained through picking them up on the field which then unlocks them for future missions.
The combat in The Bureau is nothing new, taking a lot from Mass Effect’s gameplay and staying very similar to the earlier release Xcom: Enemy Unknown. While it doesn’t innovate, the gameplay is far from boring, as you can play as a headstrong shooter or a tactical commander which opens up for a lot of customisation to how you play.
The setting of the game seems very played out, with destroyed buildings and decaying corpses lining an Alien infested world. Though it is designed well and has a lot of detail, the maps and missions can look very similar to each other, with textures and buildings being reused too much to give a sense of a dynamic world. The game’s atmosphere shines when you enter Alien territory, both in their structures and ships, with intricate designs and colour schemes that fit together perfectly and give a very dominating face to the Alien menace.
The acting can be very poor at times with characters in pain sounding as if they are relaxing in a reclining chair as well as normal conversations feeling barren of emotion. Carter always seems to speak with an angry tone, showing only a one sided personality which betrays many of the choices you make in conversation, as you can say to save someone with a voice which makes it sound as if he really wants them to die.
The overall music design for the game seems lacklustre, with the majority of the music being nothing more than quiet and background noise. The music within battle seems to be underplayed as the sounds of battle take precedence. From what you can hear of the battle music it doesn’t inspire much, with the final battle song being the only one to stand out. The sound design however pulls through for the game as the guns sound like you would expect them too, especially the alien weapons.
I’d give The Bureau a 3/5, it is a short but sweet experience, with action and planning to keep veterans of the series happy, however it lacks a lot in the way of voice quality and innovation. The game definitely shows how the development cycle has affected it, as a lot of the features seem half implemented and unpolished. Fans of the series will enjoy this game, though as an individual game it doesn’t warrant a full price purchase. Like the Motto of Xcom, they survived, but failed to adapt.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.