The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Hands-On Preview

Jonathan Bolding | 17 Jul 2013 08:00
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It's been a few years now since we first got a look at what would become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and this game has come a long way since its origins as a First Person Shooter with an XCOM paint job. It's shaped up as a fine third person cover shooter, with a dash of squad tactics that make it stand out from the pack. The game has great art and atmosphere, with scenes and characters looking very distinct. The story, however, leaves something to be desired with fairly generic plot elements and characters.

In The Bureau you're agent William Carter, an effective, but depressed and humorless Ex-CIA agent recruited for a mysterious division of spy hunters in 1962 America. After a surprise attack, you're pressed into service earlier than expected and have to deal with not only the unexpected alien invasion, but the emergence of your own mysterious psychic powers. Agent Carter seems like standard fare for video game protagonists: he's so hardcore and grim that it comes off as comical, with an inability to relate to others. He's also a rampant alcoholic - but it doesn't look like The Bureau will make dealing with carter's psychological problems a facet of the story unless you want them to be.

Several times a mission you must make choices that will have repercussions later in the game. The developers were very clear in saying that the game has branching paths, hard choices, and multiple endings. Those choices aren't always labeled clearly, either, so any dialogue you choose can affect the game's outcome. Other things, like developing deeper bonds with your fellow bureau agents, are locked away in side missions or optional dialogues.

Oh, and, the game is very, very 1960s. There are plenty of three piece suits, and all the smoking indoors you could ever want. Seriously. I had a hard time finding five soldiers in the base who weren't holding a cigarette or cigar, and the air is thick with clouds of smoke. The computers are satisfying strange and blinky, with plenty of typewriters. If the aesthetics don't remind you of The Right Stuff or Mad Men, then, well, you probably haven't seen Mad Men.

Overall, the story and dialogue were the weakest parts of the game. It was clear that there had been several scripts, and some of the more jokey, less realistic style of previous game builds was still evident - the normally stoic carter would sometimes crack a joke after a headshot, or a thriller-esque action sequence would suddenly break out. Likewise, it didn't feel like Carter was the most relatable character in the world - he seemed driven to make the most grim, unfeeling comments he could in dialogue scenes, which quickly grew tiresome and predictable.

While The Bureau does pull you down from the god's eye view of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and most notably adds a real story to the notoriously plotless series, it's very true to the essence of XCOM. You will find that maneuvering to flank enemies is the core of the game, and the familiar red and blue shields will let you know whether or not you're going to be flanked. You'll synchronize your special abilities with those of your allies for greater effectiveness. You'll get your allies killed, and yes, there's definitely permadeath. You'll die too. A Lot. Because XCOM's notorious difficulty hasn't gone anywhere with this game. If anything, the extended length of missions in The Bureau means that keeping your allies alive is more important than ever. With some missions clocking in at half an hour or more of continuous play, you'll be very sad if you let one of your companions go down in the first few minutes.

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