The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

Lee Bradley

From a first-person shooter set in the 1950’s to a squad-based third-person shooter set in the early 1960’s, via numerous missteps and delays, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has been on quite a journey. And while developer 2K Marin may be putting a brave face on it, it’s hard not to identify this as the main reason for the game’s shortcomings.

Because make no mistake, The Bureau has problems. There’s the seed of a decent game here, evidence that 2K Marin was on the right track, but it’s not really finished. Instead it feels like a project that initially floundered, eventually found its feet and was then rushed out the door as 2K sought to cut its losses. The latter half of that statement is pure conjecture, but this is a fact: The Bureau is a disappointment.

Mad Men: The X-Files Years

You play as Agent Carter, who after distinguishing himself in service is eventually bumped to a desk job following the death of his family and his subsequent breakdown. He’s not a happy chap, but at the request of a Director Faulk he’s dragged back into action and before you know it aliens, screaming, death, guns, oh my god the world’s going to end.

Under the direction of Faulk, Agent Carter heads up XCOM, humanity’s last hope of defending itself against the Outsider threat. Armed with a couple of guns, some special abilities, two squad mates and a snazzy hat, Carter must hop to various parts of America, blowing up aliens and progressing the game’s increasingly incomprehensible plot.

Most of your actions stem from XCOM’s base, a hub that you can wander around in - selecting, customising and equipping your teammates and engaging in tiresome chat with your XCOM chums. Aside from providing the mission map it’s a largely meaningless inclusion, little more than a misplaced nod to the source material. Think Enemy Unknown’s “ant farm” without the customisation, combined with Mass Effect’s Normandy without the depth of experience.

This is called Battle Focus. You'll need to use this a lot.

Indeed, the whole game takes a stab at mixing XCOM: Enemy Unknown with Mass Effect‘s action sequences but it never really lives up to either. You can see this most clearly in the combat. Just like BioWare’s RPG you can command your class-based squad mates’ movement, their targets and their use of abilities. Just like Firaxis’ turn-based strategy title these squad-mates can be customised and are liable to permadeath.

In its best moments this can work well. When it all clicks and you’re moving your team into flanking positions against the varied enemy types, using special abilities and generally blasting your way through waves of bad dudes, there’s fun to be had. But it’s spoiled by some niggling issues and poor execution.

Your teammates’ AI doesn’t help. In a game where staying in cover is paramount, they have an annoying habit of wandering into open space or taking ridiculous routes to safety. This means that you have to micromanage them, calling up the radial dial and issuing orders every few seconds. Rather than contribute to the game’s tactical leaning this gets fiddly and annoying, breaking up the pace of the action.

You can get stuck in frustrating revive loops too, where you continually have to run across the map to heal a teammate, only to find yourself downed in the process, waiting for him or your other ally to return the favour. And on and on it goes. It’s especially grating when you consider that dead teammates stay dead, meaning you’ll be tempted to restart checkpoints every time an ally bleeds out.

"Who shall we anally probe first?"

Not that permadeath has the impact it should. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown when a team-mate died it hurt because you had invested in them and had a connection with them. In The Bureau, perhaps because the leveling and customisation feels so empty, no such connections are made. As such, teammate deaths are received with far less heartache.

All of which is a shame because it’s a nicely presented game. Corners have clearly been cut with the voice acting and some of the cutscene animations, but the character models look great and the mix of 60’s Americana and cheesy sci-fi works. When this combines with the occasional flashes of fun, you get a glimpse of what could have been. It’s almost a good game. The truth, however, is that for chunks of the game The Bureau feels like a slog.

The achievements are inoffensive enough, providing a relatively easy list to charge through. But they lack in creativity and there’s only 34 of them as opposed to the maximum 50, which suggests a lack of ideas on 2K Marin’s part. It’s a fitting tribute to the game itself then, as both could have gained from a little more thought.

Considering The Bureau’s difficult creation, however, it’s perhaps surprising that it made it onto shelves at all.


The voice acting is stilted and poorly delivered, but hardly disastrous. The soundtrack fares better, delivering a rousing score and some period pop hits. A mixed bag then.

While not particularly technically adept, The Bureau’s art style is attractive, with good character models and distinct environments. The lip-synching is pretty wonky, mind.

Showing occasional flashes of fun, The Bureau all too often bogs itself down with tiresome revive loops, dodgy AI and combat fatigue born of repetition. All in all it’s a bit of a slog.

A lengthy campaign that weighs in at around 12 hours, with side-missions to engage in and choices that vary the narrative somewhat, as well as a selection of difficulty settings. One playthrough will be more than enough, however.

A combination of a lack of creativity and just 34 achievements makes for a lacklustre list, but at least it’s not too hard to rack up a respectable score in one go.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified aims at combining Mass Effect’s combat with the trappings of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but it fails to live up to either. The action is capable of offering some thrills, but The Bureau is a poorly put together game with a list of problems that prevent it from rising above mediocre. Disappointing.

Game navigation