Published on September 10th, 2013 | by G. Bargas, Managing Editor
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC [Reviewed]
Release Date: Aug. 20, 21013
It’s 1962, Hoover is president, and a full-fledged alien attack is threatening the existence of the human race. Ah yes, just another day as an XCOM agent.
Since its initial announcement, 2K has changed hands in terms of development teams behind this XCOM title. Over the years, we were able to get a closer look at the title behind closed doors at E3. Since then, we’ve anxiously awaited several years for its arrival, and just weeks ago, it nonchalantly launched bearing the 2K Marin developed label.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified delivers a slightly different approach to the universe of aliens on Earth. The attack launches the inauguration of the XCOM facility, calling to action specialists all over the United States. Differing from its RTS counterpart, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, The Bureau mostly focuses on the guts of the Firaxis developed combat system. Such inclusions like the critical shot and auto-turret are accessible while in cover during battle. To support your given squad during heated gunfire, players can call on the abilities found in “Battle Focus.” These are a few things in which Enemy Unknown focused on, which were the cover based shooter system and the exploring of alien lore.
The biggest difference between The Bureau and Enemy Unknown, is that this version of XCOM features the overarching storyline, which is taken head on via third-person shooter. The Bureau follows Agent William Carter, a boozing agent who falls into the midst of an alien takeover when asked to deliver a classified package. Much like any other agent of high level security, he follows orders and doesn’t ask what the package includes. This hardened agent only cares about delivering the intel and completing his mission. In order to make this mission a success Carter must use all available resources.
The XCOM facility itself is filled with essentials for battle. Here players can visit the armory, dabble in the agents rosters and interact with the people who make the newly activated agency what it is.
Although there is much to be experienced in the facility, there was a slight feeling of emptiness when it came to exploration in general, whether in the lab or out in the field of battle. Items are not discovered and stored to later be viewed which plays into the overall atmosphere of the game.
Carter paints himself as a sort of gumshoe cowboy attempting to investigate the invasion. I feel there should have been more substance in this angle, further playing into the investigatory elements of the game instead of the “Go here, do this” design of the game. This unfortunately is reciprocated in the game’s linear design, something in which showcases the overall age of the game. It’s a straight forward shot over the course of the approximately nine-hour venture. There is no doubt that these elements, or lack thereof, are signs of the changing of hands in terms of development.
Without spoiling the storyline, the events dial in various other agents — DeSilva, Weaver and the leadership of director Myron Faulke — who join Carter to take on the swarm of extraterrestrials known as the “Outsiders.” It is now up to Carter and his support team, consisting of a few primary agents, to battle the hostile takeover.
Aside from a vicious alien infestation, there is also an infectious disease taking over human beings turning them into “Sleepwalkers.” The minds of these people are now gone, leaving only a shell of what they used to be tumbling around in their own minds. This is yet another task for Carter to investigate: What is the purpose of leaving humanity in this zombie-like slumber? Better yet, how are all of these citizens becoming infected?
There are various types of enemies to combat in The Bureau: Sleepwalkers, who never become a threat as they are mostly there for decoration, delivering an emptiness and eerie feeling to the towns in which there are now alien strongholds. In terms of real enemies, the army of aliens fits any other character archetype; the Sectoids (grunts); Elite Outsiders (recon soldiers); Mutons (Tanks); and other Tech officers.
Varying enemy types is something refreshing; it never gets old coming into contact with the same ones again and again.
These enemies do more than just make give us something to shoot, however. They play into the whole scheme of things in terms of combat situations. For example, dropping a shield officer, an Outsider soldier who wields the power of enemy squad shield recharging, will stop other Outsiders from power their shields . Taking out a commanding officer may leave an enemy squad without leadership,causing it to fall apart — damaging a drop pod or drones have the same effect, causing enemy shield recharging or healing to slow.
Being a defensive squad is just as important as an offensive squad during combat. Varying options for perks and equipment will delegate the type of soldier available and create the dynamic for your three-person squad.
The skill tree for the player and characters is quite expansive. Engineers have a skillset geared towards their specialties as mechanical operatives, which is much different than the Support class, which is known for laying down heavy fire. In this case, heavier weapon sets are accessible, and a Gunner Pack might be assigned to that soldier. Packs can be found scattered throughout levels — this is really the only point in which it pays to explore. Packs are modified alien technology that Carter can discover and use for himself and team. These packs deliver multiple upgrades such as increased damage to enemies without shields, enemies with shields, and also armor-piercing abilities.
The packs are not isolated to a character class. So, if you have a specialty character who just so happens to have a heavy weapon set, you can still assign them the Medical Pack, which hands out a longer sustainable down time while waiting to get revived by a teammate.
The leveling system of the game was primarily streamlined for an action-adventure, third-person shooter. This can be seen in the simplified perks that become available when your character levels up. Points then unlock abilities that have a two-tiered structure providing a simplified, straight-forward leveling system through 10 level classes. Your squadmates are also managed based on these classes, which allows for a broad range of customization to occur over the course of the game. This is important due to the finite nature where agents can die and never return from their fate.
If you lose members, new agents can be created, or “recruited,” and sent on side missions. These are missions where you are basically simulating a battle in order for them to reach higher skill levels. Then, the agents come back leveled up, and can be assigned to your squad and taken into regular story missions of the game. This becomes helpful in that you are not grinding in side missions to prep an agent for a big showdown.
Agents can be managed prior to the mission select or at resupply stations at certain checkpoints of the game. The agent management at the stations can only be done in the Squaddie difficulty or below. You can also apply new packs and weaponry found in battle.
With the vast amount of agents available and difficulty at times, it feels like there should have been more than just three-person squads. There’s no doubt you will lose a few soldiers on higher difficulties, but a four-person squad would be easily navigable in battle with the available combat wheel during Battle Focus. This would have made the overall experience more manageable and balanced given the available classes, perks, abilities and skills.
There is no doubt that the The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was built around its combat. The cover system is the meat-and-potatoes of the game. With that being said, it hinders the overall experience quite a bit. This is primarily the case when changing the difficulty level to veteran instead of the typical Squaddie default.
To start off the truest of true XCOM experiences, I decided to choose the difficulty that described that experience to best way possible. I selected “VETERAN” without a second thought. Boy, was that a bad choice.
During heavy flights of combat, the difficulty and cover system seemed to fall apart at the seams. For starters, when entering a location where there are several enemies who have yet to notice your presence, one would think that a stealthy move to the nearest cover would be the first order of business. Which it is in most cases, however, there is no option to manually crouch into cover.
So, in order to move to the nearest cover, a dead-on sprint is needed. Often times, enemies are alerted without even giving you the option to prep Carter for the upcoming showdown. Squad AI moves just as awkwardly as they attempt to find cover behind low walls and stairs, and cover was often blown due to the broken cover prompts.
The cover system overall is very spotty. At times it seemed to do exactly what it was supposed to do, but moving from cover-to-cover was touchy. I found this particularly the case in heavy fire situations. The button prompt for cover was pretty much non-existent in some cases, and would not allow me to duck behind the closest enclosures. Then, if Carter gets dropped, sometimes there is no agent close enough to revive him, and it’s back to the last checkpoint.
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This wouldn’t have been such a big deal if there weren’t entire levels based on this cover system premise. Even with an arsenal of upgrades and perks, the feeling of stealth tactics for combat plateaued clumsily due to this limitation.
Something that could have alleviated some of my woes would be the use of stealth assassinations. There are quite a few different enemy types, from snipers to invisible elite officers, in which some stealth killing action would have made the combat more bearable. Instead, you get an awkward melee animation that doesn’t feel complete. You swing away at an enemy, most of the time without even feeling of connecting with your hit, yet they awkwardly drop.
Among the other gripes of the game, it’s really sad that there is not more good to say about the experience, particularly due to The Bureau being graphically sound. One of the most notable focuses of the game is on scale: Buildings and alien structures are visibly enormous. Also, cityscapes engulfed in flames give a feeling of wide-spread panic among urban and rural towns.
This doesn’t even touch on the expansive alien structural designs. There was also a high attention to detail bringing the game to its 1960s roots with music from the era and visible detailing in cars and other such aesthetics to make the visible experience more than striking. But, if you are looking to blow up one of these classic cars with a grenade, sorry, you’re out of luck. Something which was almost a staple for Enemy Unknown.
There’s no doubt that XCOM: The Bureau Declassified had huge potential — the game raised brows years ago when it was showcased at E3. However, with a broken cover system and shortcomings in the form of true representation of the XCOM experience as a whole, it doesn’t make the cut.
The amount of detail and scale of the game is magnificent. With that being said, it’s hard not to feel that the game’s cover system and other features were built around this already created landscape. There is an unfortunate feeling of empty exploration and linearity to be had in such a beautiful setting.
The storyline will hold you over for approximately nine hours, delivering rather lengthy missions. However, you will find the story really straining to iron itself out.
Summary: There's no doubt that XCOM: The Bureau Declassified had huge potential -- the game raised brows years ago when it was showcased at E3. However, with a broken cover system and shortcomings in the form of true representation of the XCOM experience as a whole, it doesn't make the cut.