Review: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (Xbox 360)

Review-The-Bureau-XCOMGames which have a prolonged development process usually have issues – Duke Nukem anyone? The Bureau: XCOM Declassified had been announced way back in 2006 and in 2010 it was to be a first person shooter named ‘XCOM.’ 2K Games set their demo stall out: a 1950s/60s setting where agents do battle with an alien masquerading as a housewife. Then all hell breaks loose and a giant alien ship descends – the attack on Earth has begun! The XCOM community rebelled with derision and bile. 2K shelved the game and in 2012 Firaxis appeased the cult followers with its sublime reboot: XCOM Enemy Unknown.

So what happened? The Bureau slipped under the radar in the last quarter of 2013, even relegating the XCOM moniker to nothing more than a footnote in the title. Was this so 2K could distance themselves from the internet wolves who were distracted by the meaty steak of Enemy Unknown? Or was it because there may have been an identity crisis with Firaxis’ second offering (and its subsequent updated release) – Enemy Within?

Set in 1962, The Bureau begins with agent William Carter transporting a mysterious briefcase to your superiors. Carter is intercepted on route which is the start of a mass alien invasion. This opening introduction sets the scene – the army base is obliterated by these ‘Outsiders’ forcing him to fight through the desperation, to eventually meet up with XCOM. The game is set in the XCOM world – it is not quite a prequel but more an alternate universe of the first alien invasion (only now set in the 60’s).

The Bureau is a 3rd person shooter with an element of tactical nuance thrown in. It is Mass Effect Lite – if you can’t be bothered with months and months of gibberish text only to be stiffed with an awful ending – it might be for you. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it is not. In fact its initial first hour is excellent! It is immediately dripping with atmosphere – charred corpses are draped and strewn all over the place, neon explosions shaking the screen and brief glimpses of alien shadows catching your eye.

Review-The-Bureau-XCOM-Screenshot

Agent William Carter is a gruff cigarette smoking, whiskey drinking alcoholic real man’s man. If there was such a game as ‘Clint Eastwood Vs the Aliens,’ Carter is your man. His character model is exceptional and his face looks absolutely stunning. Once you have got through learning the basics (modern games simply must tell you as reading an instruction booklet on the toilet clearly isn’t enough anymore), it throws in the introduction of the team based tactics. Immediately this is where the trouble begins. A button brings up a wheel which you then choose orders to give to your team. Be it to snipe an enemy, concentrate fire, set up a turret or even just a basic move order – there is plenty there and as you level up your squad you unlock more perks. This is all very fluid and it is easy to manage your two AI teammates as well as your own special moves.

The problem is that after a while your team makes rice pudding look intelligent. You tell them to take cover against a wall – “Oooh what is that over there?!” five seconds later your man has been downed on the other side of the map and you have only a short time to revive him. You can send your other guy (as for once medics are actually good in a game!) but then you have to reissue a move order which he then may or may not ignore.

Frustrating.

At times you have to issue the order again and again until they finally do as told. It is like taking two kids to the shops but at the same time you are carrying a pet carrier with two cats in it that really hate each other. Where does your attention lie? This becomes increasingly problematic when you fight against some of the tougher enemies or during a 30 minute battle when Dairy Lea Dunkables (you can edit your squaddies and their names) the sniper decides he wants to stand over there for a change of scenery. When the game works it is a joy to play. Battles are satisfying and you can ping off several orders that can all tie together brilliantly. Your engineer for example can set up turrets and Carter has the ability to levitate an enemy – you can decimate your opponent OR you can levitate the turret instead to give it a wider reach – The Bureau is full of neat little ideas which makes you want to explore different possibilities and ways to kill the enemy.

The mission hub is also a great touch – imagine being able to walk around a 3D XCOM base! If you are a fan of the originals it will always bring a smile to see scientists observing XCOM canon such as Sectoids or doing research on Elerium. Also dotted about are research notes and audio logs which flesh out the story. If you are an achievement / trophy gamer you will be pleased to know that you don’t have to collect any of these – everything is optional. The base is also the centre of character interaction. It all looks and sounds like if Mad Men had aliens in it.

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A nod to previous games is the welcome return of a mission select screen. You can progress the story on or partake in minor missions – these are just filler stages with different scenarios but you can use them to take newly hired recruits out to gain valuable experience. Also akin to the later Assassins Creed games you can send troops out on their own missions – success depends on if their combined ranks outweigh the mission difficulty. It saves you having to grind each and every recruit up to their maximum.

The stages themselves are incredibly well laid out. There is a lot of cover to duck and weave through and there is huge satisfaction when you flank your aggressors. On the other hand sometimes you can quite easily stay in the opening of the map instead and just pick everything off before moving on. As you play through the story, civilians also roam the maps but they are suffering from an alien infection. They are dubbed as ‘Sleepwalkers’ – it is very eerie sight to see their bleeding black eyes, catatonically going about their last memory routine (best one was watching a barber shaving a corpse, puppeteering into the abyss), it is stuff like this that adds to the world. This is the problem with The Bureau – for every five great things there are five as equally great niggles.

For all its failings, The Bureau does have some brilliant touches. If you are an XCOM fan then give it a go. Don’t be that keyboard warrior and try it for yourself, just don’t expect the XCOM experience. For anyone else, it is a fun game with at times outstanding graphics and an enjoyable story to boot. If it had a completely different name like ‘The Invasion’ and there was not a single mention of the X word, you would accept it as its own animal… Only it has a leg missing… Not necessarily a bad thing but you would rather have a full one.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (Gameplay)


Last Updated ( 06 August 2014 )  

James 'ewjim' Evans

Jim is a self confessed know it all when it comes to 16-bit gaming. With a strange fondness of playing rubbish videogames for the fun of it, there is no stoop too low he won't go to for entertainment.

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Comments 

(Link to this comment) DemonicNinja 2014-08-06 21:32
Well after reading the review I must pick this game up :D
(Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-08-06 21:59
I must admit I am confused as to which x com game is which, never played one ether. This however sounds right down my ally. Shame it has a few bug and annoying issues but one I want to get round to playing eventually. Mass effect games were a bit too sei oust for me however I did enjoy the second. This doesn't seem so deep or serious which I applaud. Some of the allied a.i. issues sound like the normal for a ps2 game but something we should be well past now.

Good write as all ways mate
(Link to this comment) ewjim 2014-08-06 22:09
Quoting ollie809:
I must admit I am confused as to which x com game is which, never played one ether. This however sounds right down my ally. Shame it has a few bug and annoying issues but one I want to get round to playing eventually. Mass effect games were a bit too sei oust for me however I did enjoy the second. This doesn't seem so deep or serious which I applaud. Some of the allied a.i. issues sound like the normal for a ps2 game but something we should be well past now.

Good write as all ways mate


Thanks! Depending on what console you are currently into, the best XCOM games to go for are:
Enemy Unknown (PS1 / PC)
Terror From The Deep (PS1 / PC)
Apocalypse (PC)
Enemy Within (360 / PS3 / PC) - this is the add on laden version of the rebooted Enemy Unknown. I haven't actually played that one yet but from what I hear, it has been upgraded significantly and well worth the purchase.

Oh and if you go for the PS1 variety, make sure you have a spare memory card as each game can take upto a FULL card! All 15 blocks! As listed above, that is chronologically the order they go in (reboot being the exception).

Hope any of that helps.
(Link to this comment) ollie809 2014-08-07 06:07
Cheers jim. I'm in a ps1 mood at the moment but that memory card issue puts me off a lot lol
(Link to this comment) The Saint 2014-08-07 00:09
I think I had an XCOM game once, it might have been on the PS2. I never got into it but I can see that the later incarnation is all good. Not one for me, but as ever, great work Jim on the review!
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