Preview: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Preview: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

13 August 2013

I warmed up for a hands-on session of 2K Marin’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified with a quick bout of Firaxis’ recent XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Very quickly, I remembered why I love the strategy game… and even faster, I remembered how awful I am at it. Up against the most basic of aliens, I grimaced as all four of my team were killed. A strategic commander, I ain’t.

Thankfully, The Bureau is right up my alley: it lets me play in the XCOM world I love via a genre that I’m better at. This means I could theoretically get through the game without slaughtering every single person I know; despite my ineptitude, I remain one of those guys who renames every XCOM soldier that he recruits.

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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified first appeared as a first-person shooter back in 2011 and has since morphed into a third-person affair. Even with the change of perception, the bulk of the game is said to have remained the same, with elements of strategy ripped from Enemy Unknown that make the game different than other titles in the genre. The Bureau is closely tied to Enemy Unknown, which rebooted the XCOM franchise, and serves as a prequel to the strategy game.

To get an understanding of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, imagine yourself in a standard third-person shooter. Then, redress the characters and the environments circa 1960s America. Next, add conventional weapons of the time – rifles, handguns, and the like – and add some XCOM alien weaponry and baddies to the mix. Finish all that off with experimental alien technology… in the form of backpacks (almost Ghostbusters style) that function as skill enhancers, adding precision to your aim, the ability to fire through alien shielding, and so on.

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Even with the XCOM weaponry and setting, the game still sounds pretty generic, eh? Well, we’re not done yet. After killing one of my squad – and like in Enemy Unknown, it’s a permanent death, so I’m still not out of the woods yet, it seems — I recruited a new squad member and was able to pick his name, appearance, background and skills, just like in Enemy Unknown. It was a great and horrible moment at the same time; with that level of customisation, it’ll be hard not to get attached to your grunts, just like you did in Enemy Unknown.

Furthermore, one button press on your controller will slow time to a standstill and fire up a radial wheel that lets you control your entire team of three. This is called “Battle Focus.” Much like XCOM, each member of your squad has a specialisation; an engineer can plant a defence turret, whilst the sharpshooter can tap into his skill to get a critical hit. The best ability by far was a commando’s ability to taunt the enemy, dropping its defences as it ran around the map in a rage trying to get its initiator. As you level up each character, you’ll also get the option to choose which additional abilities you’d like to learn and enhance using individual skill trees.

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On the whole, if you think of Mass Effect’s biotic powers when considering The Bureau‘s abilities, you’re definitely on the right track. As the commander, named Carter (which I decided I’d promptly reassign the first name of “Nick”), I was able to use a lift ability – thanks to my special backpack – that could throw both enemies and my own tools into the air. Using lift to have an enemy hover above the battlefield made him easy for my team to pick off, or I could opt to use my ability on my colleague’s turret so it hovered in order to get a better angle to shoot from. Mixing squad skills like lift and critical hit will grant you combo kill points which can then be used to further upgrade your team.

As much as your squad seems to function independently, they really don’t… which is awesome. You have to manage the shooter aspect of the game as well as proper position and tactics for those you lead. As it should be. To assist, the radial wheel lets you manually select targets for your squad and move them around the battlefield. Best yet, as you move your squadmates into cover, you’ll see the familiar XCOM: Enemy Unknown shield icon that lets you know just how much cover you’ll get from a given position. At times, I almost expected the camera to do an extreme zoom-out so I could control the game as if I were playing Enemy Unknown.

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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified isn’t a cash-in, but another very valid take on a universe that gamers truly love. It’s easy to see how both offshoots of the franchise will be able to co-exist. From what I’ve seen, the game is best summarised as a thinking man’s shooter, so what some of us lack in strategy, we can make up for with aggression and a good shot. Bring it on.