The Bureau is Underrated Because of the XCOM Name
It’s strange that some players and critics expect The Bureau’s squad to act more like that of Mass Effect, because that change would cause the two games to play in a functionally identical way. Both provide characters with a small group of cool powers they can use to turn the tide of battle, and in Mass Effect, it’s often the smart use of characters’ special abilities that’s necessary to drive out entrenched enemies.
In The Bureau, that’s even more true: using powers well is essential, and again harkens back to the strategy element of the game. More than that, though, it’s possible to create useful combos of powers and abilities that actually often make The Bureau feel like a stronger execution of what the Mass Effect series wanted to accomplish with combat. The squad doesn’t just run off and do whatever, and it certainly makes fewer dumb decisions than Garrus and Liara used to when left to their own devices. You must work with your squad, and they with you, to be successful in The Bureau’s fights. That’s what a squad is for.
But again, that XCOM name hamstrings the game, causing The Bureau to feel as though it’s straddling two genres without being able to commit to either. The opposite is true, in fact: 2K Marin is plying the space between that’s difficult to utilize and express, and one that only a few other games have managed to do well. If you play The Bureau the way it’s meant to be played — with heavy emphasis on squad control and smart use of combos and different squad loadouts — you get an experience that’s far less Mass Effect or Gears of War and far more Brothers in Arms or Star Wars: Republic Commando.
When The Bureau was first announced as a shooter, there was backlash from players about the game losing important XCOM elements — so 2K Marin made changes, hybridizing more traditional XCOM elements into the game’s new third-person shooter formula. The criticism then became even stranger, as complaints were lodged about the game not sticking to its shooter roots, or not doing the XCOM things well enough.
For my part, I can understand players wanting a more traditional game, one that’s either tactical or shooty, and not so much a combination of both. There are complaints to be leveled against The Bureau even when taking into account what it actually is, as well. But I think writing the game off altogether is a mistake, especially when doing so because you’re expecting it to be something that it’s not. Added to a list of games such as Brothers in Arms and Republic Commando, The Bureau is a title that does a lot of things right. If you play it the way it’s meant to be played — methodically, tactically, and with an eye toward strategy — it’s a much better experience than expecting it to be a Mass Effect or Gears of War clone. That’s not the game The Bureau is, and that’s not the game it needs to be.