The story behind 2K Games' original "XCOM" project is a weird one. When this game was first introduced about three years ago, it was conceived as a strange third-person role-playing hybrid. Unfortunately, its reception wasn't as well-received as the publisher had hoped, and it went on the back-burner in favor of Firaxis Games' more traditional "XCOM" game, "Enemy Unknown," which was met with critical acclaim upon its release last year.
But now the original "XCOM" effort has resurfaced, turned into a third-person action game with strategic-like elements to keep your team at the ready. After spending a lot of time in the development oven, "The Bureau: XCOM Declassified" is here. And it's not bad, even though a few of the gameplay aspects don't work that well.
The game takes place in the iconic early '60s, with a government agent named William Carter swept up in the midst of an alien invasion. As if the Soviets weren't enough to worry about. He joins up with an agency called The Bureau -- hence the game title -- in an effort to wipe them out once and for all.
When the Bureau begins, you'll notice a few elements similar to "Mass Effect," such as when you're having conversations -- are you a jerk, or a nice guy? -- or guiding your teammates to victory. The action itself works really well, with responsive shooting and movement controls. However, when it comes to giving commands to your teammates via an item wheel -- which slows the game down while you make decisions -- things can be problematic.
First off, your teammates are completely useless without your input. You'll constantly hear someone yell, "I don't know what to do," even though they're an officially licensed government agent. Really. Secondly, even when you do give them an assignment, their movement can be quirky, leaving them as easy pickings for the alien armada. You'll basically have to clean house and keep them in one piece -- a job easier said than done considering what your enemies are packing.
Fortunately, as the game moves on, you'll get access to new powers that even the playing field, including mind control, lifting abilities and drone deployment. Once these are introduced, the game picks up tremendously. These go hand in hand with your shooting skills, making you a nearly unstoppable force, and one dressed in classy detective duds, at that.
The "build a soldier" system doesn't work as efficiently here as it did in "Enemy Unknown," mainly because your soldiers are mostly useless in the field anyway. If they die in action, you don't feel nearly as much loss here as you did before -- only relief. Plus, you can revive them by loading your last checkpoint anyway, which kind of defuses the point.
At least The Bureau benefits from a mostly strong presentation. The visuals are nice, drawing from the essence of the era with outfits, cars and bits and pieces of the environment. At one point, you even see an old-school atom bomb drop.
Kudos also go out to the soundtrack team. They've created some music here that really fits into the vibe of the early '60s, without going overboard. On the other hand, the voice acting is off at times, with some folks sounding like they're better suited for working at a diner, much less a government office. Plus, really, when someone whines that they don't know what to do, it's kind of annoying.
"The Bureau: XCOM Declassified" is at its best when it's not trying so hard to be "XCOM." We understand that it's part of the series and that some elements needed to be included, but some AI polish and a better command/conversation system would've really gone a long way here. Still, the action here is good, the story keeps moving along, and the new abilities you pick up really serve a purpose, especially when it comes to squashing alien goons. Give it a rent, it just might surprise you.
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