The Bureau is Underrated Because of the XCOM Name

I’m starting to think The Bureau: XCOM Declassified might be misunderstood — or at least, not fully appreciated.

Take a look around Metacritic, for a start, and you’ll see what I mean. With an average around 66/100, the game is often flagged for its name. “Don’t call this XCOM,” the IGN review proclaims. That would have been good advice.

In fact, there’s probably an uncomfortable amount of blame to be laid at the feet of the name “XCOM” and all the baggage it entails. After all, XCOM is a storied series and comes with all kinds of connotations, about gameplay, genre, and elements that define it. An XCOM game needs to be a strategy title, or at least include a strategy component. It should have base-building. It should feel tactical as well as permanent, with high stakes behind every mission.

The Bureau struggles with all those elements, although it also often executes on them better than it gets credit for doing. Many reviews decried it as trying to be “all things to all players,” but I think that’s an assessment that comes from the name. The Bureau isn’t all that far removed from titles like Mass Effect or the Brothers in Arms series when it comes to gameplay — so why is this strategy/shooter hybrid “all things to all players” and those aren’t?

It’s that damned XCOM label, and all requirements that come with it. The unfortunate result of that branding is that a game that does Mass Effect’s combat better than Mass Effect enjoys middling review scores, and will likely never have much more than a cult fanbase.

That’s not to say The Bureau isn’t without flaws, because it definitely has a few — but many of things cited as being negatives really ought to be counted in the game’s favor. Reviews point to issues such as AI teammates who need “babysitting,” and tactical gameplay that requires players to put in a lot of time in its slow-motion, order-giving interface. And yes, certainly there are elements of this that are dumb, like the requirement to physically move a cursor into a position — moving it up and down stairs and around barricades — to issue orders to characters.

But other flaws aren’t flaws at all — they’re features. AI teammates in The Bureau aren’t meant to be Mass Effect’s semi-autonomous squad, but rather, a tactical extension of the player, and complaining about their inability to get themselves out of trouble seems to be missing the point. A similar approach is taken in Brothers in Arms, in which players wield a gun of their own, but must constantly issue orders to squad members to move their positions and assign them enemies to attack.

That’s a conscious choice to infuse the third-person shooter style of The Bureau with XCOM-esque strategy. Instead of being a commander from a remote position, however, you’re a battlefield lieutenant, working with your men in the thick of battle. Those AI guys rely on you to be the smart one.

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5 Comments on The Bureau is Underrated Because of the XCOM Name

Mccrackelz

On October 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm

THANK YOU! God… thank you for this. I had a damn good time.

folklore

On October 24, 2013 at 8:08 pm

It’s nice to see some one else likes this game.

SXO

On October 25, 2013 at 7:25 am

Many people forgave Fallout 3 for not sticking to the Fallout formula because it was just so damned good despite all the initial backlash against the change. So why can’t people do the same for this game? Mind you, I was one of the many vocal people when this game was first announced as an FPS. I’m sure that outcry, coupled with the success of the other X-Com remake, prompted the developers to switch gears and we got what we have now, which is more akin to a third-person tactical game, and one that does deliver solid gameplay.

AxΣtwin

On October 25, 2013 at 9:08 am

I agree with you Phil….to an extent. The friendly AI in this game was quite bad at times. When people complained about having to “baby sit the squadmembers” it wasn’t because they were expecting the game to be like Mass Effect. It was because of how often said member would not do what you wanted them to do.

You had to move them in tiny increments because of how often they had a tendency to pick the most round-a-about and most dangerous way to get to a location, instead of the most direct logical route. When a member got to a specific location, you had to check on them every 3 seconds because of how often the AI would decide to move. Despite being completely safe behind 100% cover, not taking any damage from being shot at, the game would decide to move this character to a spot that offered less protection which would in turn result in the death of this character.

I agree Phil that a lot of the XCom purists could stand to have the stick removed because isometric point and click isn’t the one and only way to build a strategy game. However, this game is not going to help that cause because it’s not a very well made game. There are A LOT of legitimate issues with the game that stem beyond “this isn’t the XCom I grew up with”.

Dach

On October 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

You raise a lot of good points about how companies can have the “branding” of a game back fire on them.

The only hole I could see in your argument is relating any game now a days to Mass Effect; to much of that fan base seems forever bitter about 1% of that trilogy’s experience.

Not gunna lie, I’m happy that the comments of this article that uses the name “Mass Effect” haven’t exploded into the typical debate we’ve seen on this site before.

Sorry for my own little tangent there; great points all around Phil.