After XCOM: Enemy Unknown re-invigorated the XCOM franchise, many people considered The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, a fairly generic looking third-person shooter, to be as unnecessary as all the words hanging off of its title.
Despite this, 2K released the game anyway so let’s gather round and take an unbiased look at The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
Set during the Cold War, maverick CIA. agent William Carter is given a special package to deliver to a classified laboratory. However, after being mugged by an extra-terrestrial and apparently given magical powers by the contents of the package, he is drafted into XCOM just as aliens invade. What luck!
The story manages to drum up some intrigue by attempting to subvert the typical ‘aliens invade so kill them all’ plot by making the aliens somewhat sympathetic and by clumsily attempting to serve up curve-balls, but it’s nothing the player won’t have heard before.
The key problem with the story is that the characters are all as clichéd as the words ‘maverick CIA agent’ suggest. You’ve got the unpredictable hero with a tragic back story who doesn’t play by the rules but gets results, god damn it! You’ve got the power-crazy boss who will do anything to stop those alien bastards. You’ve got the German scientist called Dr, Heimrich.
I didn’t care about the characters, so consequently I didn’t care about the story. When the game starts throwing moral choices at the player during (and only during) the last mission, they feel pointless because personally, I didn’t care who lived or died.
Fortunately, the game play is far more enjoyable than the story. It’s a generic cover based third-person shooter in which the player and two A.I. companions fight off hordes of enemies who can’t aim straight. The Bureau’s combat does differ from the norm though.
During combat, the player can slow time and give orders to his two team mates, telling them where to take cover, which abilities to use and who to aim at. The result is that the player has huge levels of control over the battlefield and can use tactics and strategy to orchestrate the fight.
Overall, the combat is satisfying, but there’s a big problem with it. Whilst receiving orders, the A.I. companions are useful, but if you leave them to their own devices, they get sad and decide to run into gun fire, which means they get downed and need to be revived over and over again.
The game tries to give the player incentive to keep squad mates alive by having perma-death. If a companion dies, they never come back. However, Carter’s squad mates are literally given no personality at all, so if they do die it’s nothing more than a slight inconvenience. Also, despite the dodgy A.I., I never lost a companion anyway, so it’s a little too easy.
Graphically it’s pleasing to the eye but it doesn’t really do much with it. The levels, which are a linear succession of environments filled with chest-high walls, are all very pretty, but once you’ve seen one abandoned road side or alien space-lobby, you’ve seen them all.
The Bureau’s most annoying problem is repetition. Despite its flaws, the first five hours of game play are fun. The player is given a few different weapons to try out, and a few different kinds of aliens to try them out on. The problem is that very soon it becomes painfully clear that the game has nothing else to show you, so instead of wrapping itself up quickly, it stumbles on throwing more and more of the same enemies at you.
It seems the developers realised this and tacked a vast amount of unnecessary features on, so The Bureau has RPG elements and side quests that involve going to the same, boring environments as the story missions and killing an extra bunch of aliens for little reward.
If somebody asked me to describe The Bureau in two words and I was feeling generous, I’d say ‘MASS EFFECT’, and then I’d probably repeat it just to hammer the point home.
Practically every single aspect of this game is taken from the vastly superior Mass Effect. The squad -based combat involving two A.I. companions; the base containing chatty NPCs; the protagonist with the wild but true theories that no one else believes; the mysterious, intangible alien menace that wants to destroy the human race. So The Bureau can add plagiarism to its list of deadly sins.
Whilst not a painful experience, The Bureau is not worth your time. It plods around a weak narrative with an awful ending and it repeats itself mercilessly. It rips off Mass Effect without shame or dignity and the characters are as clichéd as attempting to end a review with an insulting pun like ‘The Bureau: XCOM Devolved’.
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A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. However, I'm more than happy playing a wide range of genres on both consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I'm also a History student.