If you’ve stuck around here a long time and read my review of last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you’ll know I absolutely bloody loved the tactical top-down squad shooter, and in fact I still hold it up as 2012’s best game by quite a margin. Publisher 2K have clearly seen the value in bringing back the ancient series of brutal PC games, and this year are throwing another XCOM title at us, this time developed by Bioshock 2’s 2K Marin.
Perhaps aiming more for the Mass Effect crowd, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified forgoes to the isometric view and turn-based combat for fast paced, third-person cover shooting, while retaining the squad-controlling elements. Is it a huge overhaul? Certainly. Does it work? Yes sir.
Something I’d like to state loud and clear for XCOM fans coming into The Bureau is do not worry about the first hour of the game. In a rather long and drawn-out intro/tutorial section, the game consists of very basic gun-shooting, grenade-chucking fare which doesn’t really feel like XCOM at all, bar teaching you the basics of squadmate commands. It’s also not the best at telling a story, XCOM’s classic cheesy 60s/70s sci-fi approach not mingling too well with trying to get you to actually pay attention to conversations and all the serious stuff.
However, as soon as the game lets you stick into combat with a full squad and an array of weapons, the fun truly begins. Your squaddies upgrade and fit into different vital roles, the various abilities you can pull out from your sleeve make each battle totally different from the last, and the looming presence of permadeath (squadmates do not come back if they die) means you fight to the last breath. It’s intense stuff, and bringing down a huge hulking alien Muton feels just as heroic as it should.
There’s room for improvement in your friendlies’ AI – sometimes they’re a little too autonomous, and sometimes they stay in an awful position when they should have the common sense to move – but the controls for choosing their positions and attacks are quick, easy, and slick.
I really do feel a bit let down in the customisation department, though, because if there was one thing everyone did in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, it was tailor every squadmate to look like their real-life friends and have a brilliant (or unbelievably harrowing) time having them fight alongside you (or get killed horribly) in-game. You can’t really do that in The Bureau, with only ten faces to choose from, eight of them Caucasian, with no options for hair styling and absolutely no women. Some would say it’s to fit with the time period of the early 60s, but there are non-playable characters within the storyline who are women, or black, or whatever. Let us mix it up, 2K!
This aside, when it comes down to it, The Bureau is a healthy 10-hour ride of experimentation with the strategic niche the XCOM series has carved, and it works pretty damn well. I still crave more of Enemy Unknown’s classic style than The Bureau’s reformation, but it’s certainly helped tide me over in the mean time. Suit up, grab a plasma rifle and shoot some aliens – it’s still fun yet.
Developer: 2K Marin
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC Release:
August 20th, 2013