The XCOM series has seen a recent resurgence, buoyed largely by the success of Firaxis’ brilliant XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The mix of turn based squad tactics and resource management worked superbly to immerse you in the universe that XCOM takes place in, and the permanent death of your squadmates added to the gravity of your tactical decisions.
2K’s other offering in the XCOM world is The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which started its life as a first person shooter, but now takes the form of a squad based third person shooter. Now, before the collective eye roll, it’s important to note that, while there are definite similarities to the main TPS series doing the rounds, The Bureau easily feels like a valid part of the XCOM series.
The most striking thing about The Bureau is the setting. Taking place in 1962, there’s a real Roswell mystique lying at the heart of the game. The neon signs, the vibrant colours, the giant cars, the very dapper looking agents; this game hits all the right boxes in capturing that swingin’ 60’s Americana . The aliens are also very well realised, with the “Gray” Sectoids and Mutons looking like their counterparts in Enemy Unknown.
As for the gameplay, it’s an instantly familiar system. Cover is readily available, blindfire is there too, and you carry two main weapons with you. Issuing squad orders is implemented through a radial menu, another familiar trope of third person shooters. However, the tactical nature of XCOM: EU is still here in spades, right up to the icons notifying you of the amount of cover a particular point will provide your teammates, allowing you to assess a move before you make it.
Making sure your squaddies survive is important, as XCOM is a punishing mistress. Permadeath is active in The Bureau, so keeping your most skilled operatives alive becomes important to your success in the campaign. That’s not even going into the grief that comes from losing a character you’ve become attached to. I still remember the sadness of losing my expert sniper in Enemy Unknown to provide cover so his squadmates could escape, and by the looks of it, The Bureau is gearing up to induce similar feelings of regret at your difficult in game choices.
Much like Enemy Unknown, The Bureau gives your squadmates different classes, with unique skill trees for each specialisation. Having squaddies that fit each unique mission is as important as ever, and having a team whose skills work in unison make for some glorious alien murder. For example, your engineer class can gain access to a turret they can place to attack the enemy, while Carter, the game’s protagonist, has a lift ability. Combining the two results in an aerial turret that provides a great distraction for the player to make a break for better cover, or kill hard to reach enemies.
If anything, The Bureau is not necessarily an innovation in third person gaming. However, it is a solid TPS experience combined the elements that make the XCOM series great, and added a great setting into the mix as well. It definitely hasn’t reinvented the wheel, but it did add whitewall tyres and steel rims. Or something. Either way, August can’t come quickly enough for this one.