With game companies recently ransacking the back catalogues for ideas it was inevitable that XCOM would have been picked up and after the disappointment of another gaming classic, Syndicate, XCOM Enemy Unknown blew us all away and was one of the games to own of 2012. For The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, rather than just re-tread old ground 2K Games have rather bravely taken away quite a lot of what made the original so good and gone back in time to the “first contact”.
Set this time in the 1960's, when Elvis was still curling his lip, JFK was the President of the United States of America and the Russians were supposedly everywhere and according to classified documents, it seems we were also under attack from a superior alien race. Quickly putting us behind the fedora hat of William Carter, a US Agent charged with the responsibility of delivering an unknown package, this very quickly goes south, with a sleeper agent wounding Carter and opening the package. Walking up sometime later, Carter finds he has been healed, the package is missing, the sleeper agent burned to a crisp and out of the window, a huge full scale invasion is taking place. On the back foot you then run around the military compound, locating other confused personnel and gathering them and regrouping to start the big push back. Relocating to a secret bunker, Carter then teams up with other military officers; some fresh from the battle whilst others have been planning for this day for some time. Originally set up to take on the Red menace, the threat turned out to be a lot more grey, with the Bureau taking on the moniker, XCOM. Their mission, travel the length and breadth of 60’s America, visiting desolated towns, farms and secret bunkers to stop the Outsiders using all of the scientific knowhow of the time.
The gameplay for The Bureau is split into two main parts, the preparation and the actual action. The prep takes place in the cavernous XCOM secret bunker, allowing you to wander the long corridors, chatting to other troops and taking part in short character building sequences, testing weapons in the firing range and also equipping and organising your comrades. Before you take to the chopper you need to select your team, made up of a roster of various grunts that will live or die by your command, slowly ranking up with each successful mission. Starting off as quite basic grunts, as your men rank up they begin to take on more specialist roles, like the Support Officer who can use combat stims to boost attacks and also deploy a shield sphere or Recon who can on command use a critical strike, go invisible and even call in a heavy artillery bombardment. Carter however has the best deal with a quick team heal to start with; ranking up later unlocks the ability to lift and mind control enemies and also command friendly drones.
The main action takes place over various maps, some small and punchy, others a lot larger that do tend to be a little too drawn out; either way the action is full on, if a little predictable. Taking away the godlike viewpoint you are now in total control of just one character on the ground, Agent Carter. This version of XCOM is a lot more like the Mass Effect games, but sadly not as fluid. As Carter you are able to hug walls for cover and run and hurdle over obstacles, taking pot shots at enemy troops across the many battlegrounds with the other two members of your team running closely to you, taking cover and shooting at the right moments. Sadly these bullet magnets require quite a bit of babysitting as the AI is a little poor, requiring you all too often to step in and guide them with the press of the Battle Focus button. When used the game will go to an ultra-slow motion/almost paused state, with it also bringing up radial menu, Carters special commands are at the bottom, with your wingmen’s on the left and right. The Battle Focus allows you to then issue commands like move and target to allow ambush and flanking movements or more than likely, recover a bleeding out trooper. With no quick buttons to issue commands on the fly this leaves the action very stunted, constantly slowing down and starting up again, it does get a little tiresome, with you often wishing it was just you on the battlefield.
The 60's vision, with all of its “futuristic” style and detailed visuals down to the clothes and even a slightly washed out sepia camera filter is spot on but the that’s just the visuals, as it is spoiled by the predictable AI in the game, with your men constantly getting shot and even the enemy troops becoming very easy to read after a couple of encounters. There are also far too many moments of just wandering around, strolling between each hotspot on the battlefield or long jaunts in the corridors of the XCOM bunker, running to and fro chatting to the numerous departments.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is an interesting departure from the first game, taking a much more gung ho approach to what was a tactical masterpiece. There is still a fun game to be found here, just do not go expecting it to be a patch on the 2012 XCOM game.
The 60’s setting
More history on the XCOM story
Action tends to stall all too often
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is available to buy now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. Get your copy from ShopTo today.