The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Interview: New Name, More Strategy
New name, new player perspective, and a new focus on strategy. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has come a looong way since 2010 when 2K Marin first showed off its first-person shooter re-imagining of the iconic isometric strategy game, and according to Senior User Interface Artist Patrick Guarino, the end result is worthy of the X-COM name. In a candid interview on the eve of The Bureau’s launch, Guarino admitted he didn’t always feel that way.
“Starting off, I was a little concerned it didn’t feel as true to X-COM as it should have,” Guarino told me. “Particularly in those early first-person days, it did feel a lot like BioShock, and that was particularly concerning because it was coming from a team that just shipped a BioShock game.”
“We’ve transitioned into something that feels, to me, a lot smarter and more challenging,” he continued. “The first iteration felt very much like exploring a small area and shooting the same types of aliens over and over again while dragging two agents with you as best you could. All the interesting things were happening between the large story missions. Now we have a much better mix. It’s something I’m really excited to have worked on.”
Judging by The Bureau’s current third-place position in the top selling titles on Steam (as of August 19), behind only Payday 2 and Saints Row IV, gamers are excited to play it, too. That’s not something many X-COM (and XCOM: Enemy Unknown) fans could say up until recently, this humble scribe included. But after learning how and why 2K Marin moved away from its original BioComShock model, a process Game Front chronicled in a one-on-one interview with The Bureau’s Creative Director Morgan Gray, and hearing how it actually plays thanks to some recent The Bureau hands-on previews by the GF team, my interest is piqued.
That renewed interest also sparked a number of fresh questions, questions I thought XCOM diehards might want answered before they decide to part with their hard-earned dollars. First and foremost: will The Bureau provide the same type of challenge XCOM is famous for? We know there is agent permadeath, but is losing agents a real risk and will it carry the same curse-at-your-monitor impact?
“Our suggested level of difficulty is actually the second hardest, Veteran,” Guarino said. “That’s a challenge. You’ll have agents dying, it will hurt, and you’ll have to swap them out. We really wanted to make players responsible for the safety of their agents, very much in the style of the original X-COM games.”
One of the biggest leaps in going up in difficulty from Normal to Veteran, Guarino noted, will be the loss of the ability to revive downed agents and put them back into play. On Veteran, agents felled by Sectoid blasts or Berserker bashes can be stabilized, but not revived. The difference, Guarino said, is that stabilized agents will live, but they cannot be used again during that particular battle. As a result, Veteran players will find themselves fighting alone if they’re not careful.
Talking about The Bureau’s difficulty levels also got me thinking about replayability, an element that helped make the original X-COM, in particular, such a classic. Unfortunately, Guarino told me, one of the features that made X-COM worth playing over and over and over again, level randomization, is out.
“We don’t have any randomization as far as the levels go,” he said. “The biggest chance for replayability is in the difficulty, but also in the way that you approach battles and the team building aspect of it. Each agent has a perk tree, so you can perk them differently with different skills. So even if you go through the game with a mixture of agents and skills, you likely haven’t gotten the whole range of abilities yet. So there is definitely replayability there. There are also different choices you make throughout, and they will have an impact on what you see at the end of the game.”