The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: 2K Games Developer: 2K Marin Genre: Action, Strategy Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3
The intention to assemble an XCOM action game was announced as far back as 2006 with an FPS game, simply called XCOM, set within the universe of the acclaimed strategy series. It was revealed to the world and met with ire by fans that didn’t want XCOM to be a part of a genre that is typically a far less brainy prospect then the strategy genre. The developer stated that the strategy genre just wasn’t contemporary enough, but then XCOM: Enemy Unknown happened, and everything changed.
The game was renamed to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and was heavily revamped, shifting the action to a third person perspective and strategic elements were also implemented into the game, bringing it more in line with the series roots and further away from the typical shooting game that dominates the shelves of retailers today.
The story takes place in 1962, around the inception of the alien fighting XCOM project. You play William Carter, a senior XCOM agent with a gruff voice and a tragic past that perhaps isn’t explored as much as it should be during the course of the game. It’s quite an intriguing story and sees aliens invading earth and spreading a virus that leaves people as mere husks with black goo running from their eyes. It’s up to Carter to find out why and, at the same time, show the invaders that they messed with the wrong race by welcoming them to our lovely planet by shooting lots of them of course.
The mechanics to do so are familiar with an over the shoulder perspective for aiming and a cover system to protect you against incoming enemy fire, both of which are perfectly functional. For most of the game, Carter is joined by two lower ranked XCOM agents that you’re able to order around with an elegant radial wheel, stacking actions to use one after the other and setting up flanking manoeuveres and such to get damage bonuses against your enemies.
Squad members can be named and their appearances customized, just as they can in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, but most will never feel attached to them in the way that they do in Firaxis’s strategy game. Like any other XCOM game, once teammates die they’re gone for good, though obviously this doesn’t apply to Carter himself, and once he dies you’ll get sent back to the last checkpoint and your dead teammates will respawn along with him, which removes much of the tension of permadeath.
Sadly, the AI of your teammates isn’t great either, which jars with the strategic side of the game. On occasion, your underlings will completely ignore your commands, and ordering them to move to a certain area doesn’t mean that they’ll stay there. They’ll independently dodge grenades for example, but will forget where they previously were in the process, and while the battlefields can often be quite vast, with plenty of potential for clever strategic manoveoures, your squad is so initially ineffective in a firefight, however, that it’s most often for the best to stay within close proximity of them so that you are able to swiftly dash in to revive them, which happens all too often sadly. As your agents advance through levels, picking up fresh abilities, with some smart micromanagement combat does come a fair bit closer to meeting its deep strategic potential.
There are four character classes, each of which play their role in combat in contrasting ways. Recon are the most proficient at range, commandos are able to draw enemies out of cover, leaving them open to attack, support will break enemies defences and heighten your own, and engineers can finally strategically deploy turrets and place mines around the battlefield. Carter himself is able to suspend enemies in the air, leaving them vulnerable, summon drones or alien blobs and heal the entire squad, amongst other things . Using all of these abilities in combination with one another is key to success on higher difficulty levels.
In between missions, you’ll get the chance to explore the smoky 60’s atmosphere of the XCOM headquarters, chatting with your colleagues and completing rudimentary side missions. You can also send teammates out on missions in Assassin’s Creed like fashion to attain valuable experience and, upon successful completion of a mission, they’ll also bring back either new experienced XCOM agents or backpacks to equip Carter or his squad with, which grants various helpful bonuses to those that don them.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a good, sometimes even great, action and strategy hybrid, though it has flaws that run deep. Perhaps if the development of the game hadn’t been so rocky, it might have been a more refined and slightly less disappointing game in the end, but taking into consideration its protracted development, 2K Marin have somehow managed to assemble a game that, while not the classic that XCOM: Enemy Unknown is within its genre, is still worth playing.