The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Hands-On Preview - Nothing to Fear
Written Tuesday, July 23, 2013 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
When I last played The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, I was surprised. Despite the game’s troubled development, the demo was promising, suggesting that 2K Marin might be able to make the best of a bad situation.
Taking squad-based tactical combat, splashing it over cheesy early 60’s sci-fi noir and including just enough nods to last year’s turn-based reboot, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified looked pretty fun. It had potential. But this latest session wasn’t quite so encouraging.
Let’s cover the basics first, before I slap you in the face with underwhelment. You are Agent William Carter, an ex-CIA agent with demons and a drink problem, who has been recruited by a mysterious government division. It’s 1962, a time before the Beatles, before flower power and before everyone got cool; a straight-laced, homecoming queen, fear the Ruskies kinda time.
But, as we know, there’s more to fear than just that. Aliens have invaded, taking over towns all across America and blah blah get your guns out.
Would it be easier if I just explained that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is probably going to get six out of ten when it’s released? Because that’s how I now feel. I’ve played the first few hours of it and it’s fine, it’s okay, but there’s not one thing about it that’s properly exciting, there wasn’t one moment that made me go ‘Wow.’
Instead it just exists, it’s a game that just exists. There’s no glaringly obvious problems with it; the art style is quite nice, the story is fairly standard sci-fi bobbins and the combat is designed to demand a somewhat tactical approach thanks to a decent selection of different enemy types and level designs. But yeah, meh.
Imagine the Mass Effect series stripped of all the cool characters, the insanely deep galaxy, the brilliant story, the ingenious decision making and basically all of the RPG stuff. That’s pretty much what the first few hours of The Bureau offer. It’s just some mildly entertaining squad-based combat with a strategic angle.
Let me hammer that point home. In The Bureau, as long as you’re continually using the slow-mo Battle Focus menu to push your squad mates into flanking positions around the small maps, you should be okay. The joy of true XCOM games is that every decision you make is fraught with danger and peril, where if you make one wrong move you’re fucked. Based on what I’ve played this isn’t even nearly true of The Bureau and it’s a huge disappointment.
So my session didn’t display much depth or excitement, but there were a few hints that it may evolve into something more sophisticated later in the game. For a start it’s squad-based and you get full control over which classes you choose for each mission, be it Support, Recon, Engineer and Commando. Each of these classes also have their own abilities too, like turrets, taunts and grenades, with which to control the battlefield.
Beyond that each class learns new abilities as their careers continue, plus there’s a bunch of customisable, unlockable weapon and outfit bits and bobs, some of which are lost permanently along with your squad mates, should you be careless enough to let them kick the bucket. Yet I’m not convinced that this is anything more than dressing for a rather drab game.
If The Bureau: XCOM Declassified can deliver a few stand-out missions late on that improve on the level design, while demanding that you make full use of all the abilities and strategies at your disposal, then it may rise up beyond its current levels of mediocrity. But unfortunately there’s not much evidence to suggest that will actually happen. It's a shame.
Make no mistake, The Bureau doesn’t look truly, inescapably bad. It’s not terribly designed or technically lacking and there’s no doubt that it will find some fans somewhere, especially among those that enjoyed the combat of Mass Effect. It just seems competent at best and desperately, crushingly average at worst.
Where so many 2K titles are clearly labours of love - BioShock Infinite, Borderlands 2 and yes XCOM: Enemy Unknown - The Bureau feels like it’s either a rescue job for a failed project or a factory line product churned out to fill a small gap in the market. I don’t know about you, but neither of those things are particularly enticing.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified hits on August 20th in North America and August 23rd in Europe.