Going through many different revisions during its long development cycle (at one point it was a first-person shooter), The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has finally hit store shelves. The origination of XCOM can be traced back to the early 1960’s, where the American Dream was being threatened by the Soviet Union. After a surprise attack by the extraterrestrial Outsiders wiped out most military presence and communications across the United States, the director of XCOM, Myron Faulke mounts a counterattack to thwart the invaders, while keeping the general public in the dark.
Placed in the role of government special agent William Carter, you must recruit other agents for your three person team. The squad-based third-person shooter mechanics feel heavily influenced by Bioware’s sci-fi series: Mass Effect. The action orientated gameplay may be a series first, but 2K Marin made sure the strategic element still plays an integral role. Conversations include multiple dialogue choices, giving you small amounts of backstory on various things happening around America and the characters you interact with.
Unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I never felt a connection to my squad mates in The Bureau. Sacrificing one agent for the greater good was a big part of XCOM (at least for me), but it is never fully realized here. The handful of classes allow for appearances to be customized, but only by altering names and tweaking the color palette on preset outfits. Just like in the previous games, as characters levels up you get to decide how each one advances through their class. Different skills can be acquired and allows for variations between different characters of the same class.
Activating Battle Focus at any point during missions, the action will slow to a mere crawl giving you access to a radial menu with various skills and commands for not only Carter, but the two other agents as well. The first couple missions are limiting, with no unlocked abilities besides Carter’s heal and the standard move and attack commands. Once characters begin to level up, new abilities are unlocked adding variation to enemy engagements. Carter’s lift ability sends targets into the air, leaving them in stasis for a few seconds, while the Commando’s push can send an overzealous Outsiders flying backwards.
If one of the agents goes down, they will bleed out for a short amount of time before finally succumbing to their wounds –permanently. At this point you must decide if it is better to load a previous checkpoint or continue the current mission in less than ideal conditions. If you haven’t been leveling a backup team, you may be clearly outmatched for upcoming missions. During long missions, you’ll be able to switch agents mid-mission, helping to keep the combat feeling fresh by using different classes.
The Bureau features entertaining and enjoyable set-pieces throughout the campaign with enough strategy to separate itself from other third-person shooters. Many of the traditional XCOM elements such as base building and researching new technologies are no where to be seen. Much to my delight the difficulty stays true to the series and even on the lowest setting the game isn’t walk in the park.Note: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was reviewed on PC. A physical copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.