The Bureau: XCOM Declassified seems to be somewhat of an experiment. On one hand, this game is quite a bit different than other more traditional XCOM games since it is now a third person action / real time strategy hybrid. However, the game still manages to capture some of the charm of the XCOM series while essentially doing its own thing. While fans have not been happy with this game so far, as an outsider with no real experience with the series, the game certainly does not deserve the flak it is getting. Sure, this game has its issues, as most games do, but there is some value and enjoyment to be had if you aren’t invested in the old formula.
It is 1962, JFK is president, the nation is in the middle of the Cold War, and you assume the role of William Carter, a CIA agent on a mission. Suddenly, you find yourself in the middle of a full scale alien invasion and you are one of the few people that were not killed or captured. You were accidentally exposed to a strange artifact that gives you special powers that reveal themselves to you as the story moves on. It is up to you and what is left of the US government to pool your resources and take on these alien invaders. You will be responsible for training recruits, giving battlefield orders, and fighting your way to the objective. If you ever wanted to be the guy in charge when playing a cover shooter or complained that your AI companions never did what you wanted them to do, this game gives you direct control of your entire party.
The story itself borrows heavily from the 1950’s sci-fi genre. Even some of the enemies look like the big-headed, small-bodied alien archetype that is used all the time to define an alien. The story manages to capture some of the kitsch that is necessary to pull off a story like this one; however, as time goes on and you get deeper into the game, you will face aliens that look completely different than the ones you’ve been fighting the whole time, and the kitschy, fun sci-fi vibe starts to resemble something out of Independence Day rather than The Flying Saucer. It doesn’t mean that the game isn’t fun anymore, but a lot of what made the game charming was held in that old sci-fi theme. When the tone switched and you went after the larger alien force, something was lost with it.
As we mentioned earlier, the story starts in 1962 in the American Southwest. As you’d expect, you’ll do most of your fighting in small town streets, in the surrounding countryside, and you even do some fighting on alien ships. However, this is where the variety ends. Unfortunately, you see the same three environments over and over again. When you run through them once or twice, they look great and it is fun to romp through the stereotypical 60’s American town, complete with elaborate movie theaters, soda shops, and old fashioned drug stores. The nostalgia wears off quickly once you see yourself in the fifth small town, and having some variety at this point would have been a welcome change of pace.
There is also a fair amount of dialogue in this game, and it does get rather lengthy at times. It seems that everyone has to have a full-length conversation with you, and it isn’t always relevant, and most of the time, it isn’t necessary. The game does give you several dialogue options for every conversation and you can choose what you want to say. It is up to you if you want to try and learn more about what you are talking about by asking more questions, but in the end, it just feels unnecessarily lengthy. Thankfully, if you choose the option to the left when you start talking to someone, you’ll end the conversation and it saves you from having to wade through seas of dialogue. Luckily, the main character, William Carter, is an interesting guy and seems to fit the story nicely. Though his dialogue options aren’t always exciting and he alone can’t make the endless dialogue interesting, it is a high point.
Luckily, there are some things that you can appreciate when playing The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. The combat is fairly interesting if you give it a chance. At any point during an attack, you can pause the action and issue commands to your fellow agents. As they engage in combat and level up, they will gain access to certain abilities that will make them more efficient in battle. At the beginning of the game, you can recruit and train your crew that will accompany you during missions. There are four different classes to choose from which include the commando, the recon soldier, the engineer, and the support class. Each class specializes in a certain style of fighting and you can swap agents in the middle of a mission by heading over to a resupply crate. The system works pretty well and battles are fun, at least in the beginning. The battle system never really changes or adapts and your agents only get access to an additional few abilities throughout the course of the entire game. We would have liked to see new mechanics or tactics added to the game to make you think a little more. We also would have liked to have seen more abilities so you can further customize your own character as well as those from your squad.
In the end, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a mixed bag. One one hand, you have an interesting mix of an old sci-fi movie theme thrown in with an interesting main character. On the other, you have a weak story with repetitive scenery that challenges the player to pay attention while it displays the same graphics over and over again. It is a shame, because there was a lot of potential in this title, but ultimately, much of that potential went to waste. It is hard to give this game our recommendation since there was a lot of problems with the game; however, if you can find the game on the cheap, it may be worth a quick playthrough. Hopefully, the XCOM series learns from its mistakes, though looking at the next game in the series, XCOM: Enemy Within, everything will be just fine in the future.
This review is based on a review copy of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified developed and published by 2K Games
- RTS elements
- Kitschy Sci-Fi Theme
- Little Customization
- Weak Story