The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a game that in no way resembles XCOM: Enemy Unknown, yet is so afraid of that fact that it clings desperately to the game’s name and select pieces of its lore. It’s constantly straddling being an XCOM game and trying to be something different, ultimately wasting any potential it had to excel at either approach. Every part of this game’s design screams indecision, a reluctance to alienate XCOM fans while insisting it do something different.

The Bureau is a third person shooter set in North America during the 1960s and follows the events surrounding the creation and first days of the XCOM organisation. It throws you into the shoes of William Carter, a super generic government agent obsessed with wearing a press hat at all times. He conveniently survives an alien invasion and is granted super human abilities by an alien artefact that he comes across. For this reason alone, he is tasked with leading the government’s agents in their fight against the invading alien species, which usually involves flying to a location, shooting your way through a corridor until you find something, then flying back to base.

Yes, it’s as generic as it sounds. Every mission you come across during the eight hour campaign follows this same template. The story is at best boring, and at worst a convoluted mess. It’s predictable as a story, and the way it’s presented is equally mediocre. The voice overs are weak, the lip syncing poor and the music forgettable. There are branching dialogue options at points, but they have no effect on the story’s end point and leave Carter just seeming a little insane, completely switching his entire personality at the drop of a hat every few sentences. Carter has no real personality and the story is just a mess of cliches and tropes. There is one attempt near the end to pull a fourth wall breaking plot twist, but it is much too little and far too late in the game to justify getting to it.

Each of the missions send you through a corridor style map design, occasionally with very obvious arena areas for larger shootouts. You can take a pair of squad members into battle (selecting from commander, support, recon and engineer classes) who individually level as they complete missions, and the inclusion of permadeath for these characters is a nice idea, but ultimately these squad members are more of a hindrance than a help. The AI will often ignore your commands, run straight into heavy gunfire without thinking of cover, and fail to effectively use their skills as a squad. Level one squad members are also incredibly weak, meaning that if one of them runs into gunfire and dies you loose their levelling and will have an even tougher time progressing in the game. 

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In many ways the combat feels like a cheap imitation of the Mass Effect 3 combat system. There’s a command wheel you can use to command your squad mates, a sprint into cover and hunker down mentality to the encounter design and your human player has access to futuristic or space age abilities and technology from the get go. The problem is that the command wheel fails to accurately control your team. The sprint into cover mechanic uses a flawed shared button approach that often leads to getting into cover and sprinting not activating correctly. Also, the ability to use strange powers, right from mission one when the aliens are just landing for the first time, feels out of place in the world they’ve created. Reloading and picking up new weapons are both tied to a tap of the same button too, not setting one to tap and one to hold even. The Bureau just doesn’t make it easy to do what you want to do.

On the positives, the 1960s alien invasion setting is refreshing, with a strong art direction and visual look to support it. It’s just a shame that the dialogue rarely meshes well with the visual identity. It’s people in 1960s America talking like it’s the early 2,000s at times.

In the end The Bureau suffers with indecision. It’s terrified to either abandon the XCOM name or integrate its mechanics more fully into a third person shooter. It’s mediocre, it’s forgettable, and it’s not recommended for either XCOM fans or people looking for a good third person shooter.

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