The Bureau: XCOM Declassified review: potential unknown

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified shows the potential to be a mixture of third-person shooting and tactical XCOM strategy, but winds up falling short in both departments.

18
It's clear that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is the end result of years of troubled development and countless reboots. The end result is a game that admirably attempts to mix third-person cover shooting with XCOM-inspired tactics. However, 2K Marin isn't quite able to deliver. Forget the modern-day setting of Firxaxis' Enemy Unknown; The Bureau takes players back to the Cold War. The story sees frontman William Carter caught in the middle of an alien invasion as he bunkers down with what's left of the U.S. military, as they form the titular Bureau. 2K Marin admirably captures the spirit of the 60s: picket fences, radio broadcasts, and even grizzled fedora-wearing protagonist. It's a world that I was eager to dive into. Players are introduced to The Bureau as a shooter first, and it handles decently enough. The shooting mechanics can get frustrating at times, thanks to some occasional unresponsiveness and unclear differentiation between weapons (both human and alien). Playing it like a shooter is entirely possible, as I was able to get through a full playthrough relying mostly on taking cover, and running-and-gunning. But that's not what The Bureau is designed for. Instead, The Bureau draws many comparisons with Mass Effect. Like BioWare's shooter-RPG, Carter receives squadmates for every mission and these squadmates can be commanded to do your bidding. Like in an RPG, you'll be able to level each member, with deep customization options. As with Enemy Unknown, you'll be able to name each of your AI teammates--for the added sting when they die. While 2K Games has emphasized the importance of permadeath in The Bureau, teammates rarely succumb to any real sense of danger, even when played on a higher difficulty. While squad members inevitably fall during battle, they don't stay down for too long, as long as you keep them close by. Fallen teammates can be revived and, likewise, they can revive Carter. Higher difficulties leave teammates incapacitated for the remainder of the mission, but without an Ironman option, a simple checkpoint restart can nullify what could otherwise be catastrophic penalties.

Battle Focus becomes useful, once you get the hang of it

One aspect of The Bureau that took some getting used to was the radial wheel, known as Battle Focus. This allows players to issue orders on the fly, although using Carter to direct units can sometimes be more of a pain than it should be. There were several instances where I found myself wrestling with the wheel more than the aliens that were attacking me. However, once I became more familiar with Battle Focus, it proved to be incredibly useful. Eschewing cover shooting instincts and thinking of ways to utilize my squad members, I started to notice that skillful use of Battle Focus would make firefights go a lot faster. I could simply direct teammates to take out supporting units and focus on heavier-hitting foes, like the Titan spaceships. If I did feel the urge to run-and-gun, I could also take advantage of support abilities, like a bubble shield. Carter's own Battle Focus powers are fun to use, especially once he can use a decoy duplicate or control minor enemies. Unfortunately, after leveling up further, Carter's abilities start to feel somewhat limited and uninspired and the same can be said for teammate perks, as well. The Bureau's story doesn't quite live up to its promise. There are several instances of dialogue, both during missions and in the central Bureau hub, that open up the possibility of choice, but those decisions add little to the overall experience. I saw possibilities for a substantial narrative within the branching dialogue, but came out of it feeling disappointed. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified tries very hard to establish itself as its own franchise, while also holding onto its XCOM roots. However, it doesn't quite succeed at either, as the mixture of third-person cover shooting and XCOM-style tactics don't quite blend together to make a memorable experience. It does show flashes of potential, though, as I would have loved to see what could have been done if the Battle Focus wheel and Carter's own unique abilities had been fleshed out a little further. I did enjoy the unique setting and hold out some hope that maybe The Bureau can return in the future in a more refined form. [6]
This review is based on early PC code provided by the publisher. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is available at retail on PS3 and Xbox 360. It is also available now digitally on PC for $49.99. The game is rated M.
Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty

  • reply
    August 26, 2013 11:30 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified review: potential unknown.

    The Bureau: XCOM Declassified shows the potential to be a mixture of third-person shooting and tactical XCOM strategy, but winds up falling short in both departments.

    • reply
      August 26, 2013 11:35 AM

      Sorry, guys, the review up above did not include the new Shacknews rating system. I'll post it below here for those who want to know:

      Review Score:
      This game ... does not 0wn.

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        August 26, 2013 11:37 AM

        That about sums it up, actually. But also...

        This game ... does not entirely sux0r

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        August 26, 2013 1:17 PM

        Does it le4se, or r3nt?

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        August 26, 2013 5:12 PM

        I can't believe Pikmin 3 got a 7, loving that game.

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          August 26, 2013 6:12 PM

          It begins.

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          August 26, 2013 7:57 PM

          With our new review system, we simply say if the game 0wns or not -- no more numbers! In your case, I have revised the review so now the final score is that Pikmin 3 0wns.

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      August 26, 2013 12:03 PM

      Seems like a by the numbers game.

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      August 26, 2013 12:08 PM

      It sounds like a decent game to buy during a Steam sale

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      August 26, 2013 12:54 PM

      I'm 10 hours in and can't say a bad thing about this game so far. Well, the story is sometimes really bad, but the beatiful settings and really fun combat system make up for it.

      I don't think the combat system gets enough credit in reviews. It's very neatly balanced, with its slowdown of time instead of pause, which forces you to think on your feet, with enemies sometimes appearing where you do not expect them to be and make you change your tactics on the fly, with ability to combine powers to devastating effect... Lots of good stuff and so far almost each big battle manages to throw something new to the mix. And I'm currently doing the last main mission (I think) so it's really, really not bad.

      There could be more side-missions though, it all went too quickly. Maybe there will be DLCs.

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        August 26, 2013 1:50 PM

        I just started but I'm worried that my ai teammates are going to be too stupid to be useful.

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          August 26, 2013 1:52 PM

          You really have to baby your team mates all the time there is no free dinner / I win button(well on the harder difficulties that is) at all, you got to work for it.

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            August 26, 2013 2:03 PM

            Well mostly I'm worried that they'll be more liability than asset. In the first two missions, even using flanking and abilities, I was significantly out performing the ai - to the point where it seemed like it was pointless for them to be there at all.

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              August 26, 2013 2:06 PM

              If you're better at taking out opposition than the AI, you can use them entirely as support. Have them drop shields for you and such, to give you cover. Just make sure you hide them well behind cover.

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                August 26, 2013 2:11 PM

                Totally this ^^^

                I found I needed my team hardcore or I would die, I am playing on the second hardest diff, if I didn't place my crew well always protecting them and evading re org and think things out*strategy) I would die pretty fast.

                I do wish the team would use the enviro for protection better some times they stand and get pegged if I leave them alone to often.

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                  August 26, 2013 2:14 PM

                  I've only played the first two missions so I can't say how it'll go later on, but I tried to put my guys behind cover way in the back and they'd still take lots of damage. Moving them up to flank was often too dangerous, so I'd have to set them at the back as a distraction and I'd do the flanking

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        August 26, 2013 1:50 PM

        I agree with you. It really is sad how some reviews are bashing it hardcore(OzzieMejia thanks for not going below the belt), you all know it is just because it has the Xcom name.

        This is a quality game no question and very enjoyable. If you like third person shooters, squad control, ARPG, and Area 51 old school Aliens/enviro I can not understand how anyone can hate this game or not enjoy it?

        Is it a perfect game no, could the squad AI be a bit better sure it could, but is it B rated or a crap game, not a chance in my opinion.

        Same I don't know why people are bitching about it, what I would like to know what other game this style third person does a better job than --> The Bureau: XCOM Declassified ?

        Sure feels like lets just bash it because it has the Xcom name "this is freaking GEARS of XCOM", the funny thing is it is challenging, tactical and enjoyable.

        Used a 360 controller and the radial wheel and battle focus UI gameplay worked with out any issues, really enjoyed it actually.

        Odd no mention of the technical pimpness of the PC versin , DX11 and Physx are impressive --> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoOknQ-rU0A

        All well... I hope the make a follow up I am a fan of it.

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        August 26, 2013 2:42 PM

        Completely agree.

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      August 26, 2013 1:52 PM

      Is that sneaky [6] at the end there the score?

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      August 26, 2013 2:49 PM

      I know this game is getting mediocre marks from critics all over, but I just love this game! Like, a LOT!

      I've played maybe 4-5 hours and its really drawn me in. I need to write up a lengthy post since I'm in the minority.

      One thing I love is the protagonist. He's not "The Chosen One" or "The Best of The Best..." or a "Ring Bearer" or some crap. He's just a tough dude in the 60s--IT'S FUCKING GREAT!!

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        August 26, 2013 3:07 PM

        Also I find the combat challenging, particularly in the beginning as I was learning the systems. It's well thought out and balanced. Yes you have to babysit your guys most of the time but come on, they're normal dude like you fighting a technologically advanced freaking race of beings. So yes coordination is important!

        Also this game is in NO WAY a run & gun shooter. It is find cover, strategize, coordinate and hope your ass doesn't get blow away, game.

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        August 26, 2013 3:09 PM

        Oh and running around the base reminds me a bit of running around the citadel in mass effect.

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          August 26, 2013 4:25 PM

          I really love the look of the base, especially how the entire base is filled with cigarette smoke.

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            August 26, 2013 8:06 PM

            Oh man! It wasn't until I read your post just now that this stuck out to me. I mean, I've seen all the smoke and cigarettes (particularly the lingering smoke around the ventilation shafts) but now that you mention it--holy shit--you're completely right. Theres cigarette smoke everywhere and because they're underground and in a overpopulated unfinished secure facility, the ventilation is bad! Thank you for mentioning that. :)

            Lets talk about more cool things in this game! You know what else is great? The character models (I'm playing on e PC btw). They all have that lovely Saturday Evening Post quality about them. :)

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        August 26, 2013 3:16 PM

        Heheh. Keep playing.

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      August 26, 2013 3:57 PM

      This review makes the game sound like its begging to be modded. If someone manages to put together an SDK I may have to pick it up.