By Steve Wright
I sprint towards a park bench as plasma bolts fly past my head, singeing the air around me. I hungrily gulp down acidic-tasting oxygen as I take limited cover and plan my next move. I know I've enemies all around me -- mostly out of sight -- but luckily, I've managed to flank one unknowing mark. I motion to my teammates, indicating my next target as I set myself up for a killing shot. I jump out of cover, bring my muzzle up…
… and shoot WAY wide.
Then, my opponent takes his turn and is spot on. The plasma melts my skin from my bones and the remnants of my body slam lifelessly to the pavement. My enemies quickly focus on dispatching the rest of my team.
That's pretty much how every game of XCOM: Enemy Unknown goes when I'm at the controls. The strategy game is one I truly appreciate, but one I'm utterly hopeless at. I'm too impatient. I rush into combat. I take useless cover and attempt shots that my soldiers have zero chance of actually making. Thankfully, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified lets me combine my third-person shooter skills with the strategic elements the franchise is known for.
Set in the 1960s, you get to play as Agent Carter, a bad-ass CIA version of Don Draper. Carter finds himself at the centre of an alien invasion and proves himself to be instrumental in conflicts that arise as the aliens first launch their plans into motion. A skilled tactician, Carter gets drafted and finds himself part of the super-secret XCOM division.
As the game begins, you're locked into a linear shooter that slowly reveals itself to you. As you progress, you're eventually teamed up with two other teammates. In Mass Effect style, you can slow down time with battle focus to issue commands – movement, buffs, attacks, and so on – to each member of your squad. You can pretty much stack as many commands as you'd like, though I found myself sticking to two or three per teammate in one go.
You're encouraged to combine skills to bring down baddies. A particular favourite of mine had one squad member use a scatter move to bring enemies out into the open, where I'd then have my other soldier throw a turret up. I'd then use my own powers to have it float, mid-air, above the battlefield. With enemies being distracted by a hail of fire from above, we simply picked them off on the ground.
Best yet – and staying true to the XCOM in the game's title -- more strategic XCOM-like functions are placed at your feet as you beat back the alien menace. You'll be able to swap out teammates, develop their specific attributes through conflict and pick and choose your missions around the world map.
Oh yeah… and permadeath? Still a thing. A major thing.
The game is hard, even on its easier difficulties. Thankfully, I somewhat avoided scenarios like I described at the start of this review simply because a talented headshot artist really can turn the tide of a battle. In The Bureau, success isn't wholly dependent on statistics and the likelihood of a shot; at times, lining up a baddie's skull up in your crosshairs can save the day. Or, your life for that moment in time, at least.
That being said, you can't just run and gun through the game; you really need to think with an Enemy Unknown-esque strategic mind. Enemy AI is very aggressive, and will work overtime to flank you and your teammates. If you avoid smaller missions to tackle big boss-type ones head-on, you will fail . And miserably. Your teammate AI isn't too bad, but they're not nearly as aggressive as the aliens; you'll constantly need to be issuing them things to do, or risk turning into a one man army. And failing because of it. A nice variety of ground- and air-based enemies mean that you need to constantly rework tactics, or else get caught out for being too predictable.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will have something for fans of shooters who're getting a little bored with the generic nature of the genre. Fans of Enemy Unknown will enjoy The Bureau, provided they don't mind getting their hands dirty with actual combat. Meatheads who like to go Gears of War-style, constantly throwing themselves up the battlefield with the smallest amount of health, will get frustrated very quickly. Personally, I think more shooters could use a bit of a strategic element to them… but know that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified won't be for everyone. Use your head to decide if this is one you'd like to put in your sights.