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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified preview: mash effect

by Andrew Yoon, May 13, 2013 5:00am PDT

XCOM has been delayed so often and has changed so drastically that it may be hard to keep track of what the game is. Is it still a FPS? (No.) Is it related to last year's XCOM game? (Not really.) Is it still called XCOM? (No, it's now called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.)

Don't worry if you haven't been able to keep track of The Bureau's many changes. XCOM as it is today can be best summed up as this: Mass Effect, set in the 60s.

You and your two selected squad mates respond to a crisis, landing in an isolated area to investigate. As you explore, you're ambushed by a hostile alien force. You take cover, firing at the aliens while using your powers. You can lift up enemies from out of cover, and so you select that ability from a radial menu that slows down the action.

With the hostile alien threat gravitating, you bring up the radial again and command one of your squad mates to take a sniper shot. It does critical damage, letting you and your team to use your remaining powers to deal with the remaining enemies.

After the battle, you can talk with an eyewitness, selecting options from a radial wheel. Will you talk like a reassuring hero--or as an "evil" jerk? After you're done, you can pause the game and assign new abilities based on your characters' branching skill tree.

This entire experience could describe any mission in Mass Effect or The Bureau. The similarities between the two games--especially with their use of radial wheels for combat and morality-based dialogue choices--are uncanny. Both games even offer similar powers--and cooldown periods.

That's not to say that The Bureau is entirely a clone of Mass Effect. It is a far more tactical game. Whereas in Mass Effect, you could play it entirely like a third-person shooter, you won't be able to get away with that in The Bureau. Instead, you'd be able to play it largely without ever having to fire your gun at all--a feat that's certainly impossible in BioWare's RPG series.

The Bureau encourages far more tactical play by making the enemies far more durable and aggressive. And thanks to XCOM's signature perma-death, every single encounter could have serious repercussions not only for the remainder of the level--but for the game as well. No longer will you be able to Rambo your way through a checkpoint only to have Garrus auto-revive after you clear the area. You'll have to play a lot smarter than that. Thankfully, you can because you have far more control over what your squadmates do.

Like in Enemy Unknown, you'll be telling your squadmates where to go and how to get there. By moving the analog stick, you can paint a path for your soldiers to go: through a building, around rubble, and eventually sticking to cover. You'll also see the same iconography as in Enemy Unknown, indicating if it's full or half cover, and if it is exposed to enemy fire. By being able to control your squadmates so precisely, it's akin to playing a three player co-op game by yourself.

In the demo I played, I found it unnecessary to ever really fire my own gun; calling The Bureau a "third-person cover shooter" seems wholly inaccurate afterwards. Instead of twitch shooting at enemies, I found myself thinking about how to move my squadmates and ensure they can create effective crossfire opportunities. Concocting power combinations proved to be fun as well. Like in Mass Effect, lift and sniper shot work well together. You can also place mines with one character, and use a different character to use a taunt ability to lure a gray helplessly into the explosive.

While it's clear that The Bureau draws a lot from Mass Effect, it still felt like an XCOM game to me. As an Enemy Unknown enthusiast, I found the transition to playing The Bureau incredibly easy. Sure, it may look drastically different than a turn-based strategy game, but the way you approach enemy encounters remains largely similar--assuming you don't want to lose a single man in your playthrough, of course.

It's certainly been a long journey for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. And while the game may have strayed very far from its original vision, what it's transformed into today has me eager to play more. As a combination of Mass Effect and classic XCOM, The Bureau could very well become two great tastes mashed into one.





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