The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review: Forgettable
Let’s get one thing cleared up, first and foremost: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is not an XCOM game, and that’s okay. Just as World of Warcraft took the basis and lore of Warcraft and implemented it into an MMORPG, so does The Bureau take the XCOM’s premise and apply it to a third-person, squad-based tactical shooter. Sadly, where the former turned out to be a far greater hit than its predecessor, the latter will one day be one of the franchise’s forgotten titles.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Released: August 20, 2013 (NA) August 23, 2013 (EU)
The Bureau tells the story of Agent William Carter, who is recruited into a mysterioso government organization bent on preventing an alien invasion on 1960s America. While attempts are made to inject some personality into Carter via back story — he suffers from insomnia, tormented by dreams of tragic memories — he’s largely just another vacuous and forgettable character with a gravely voice that grows grating on the ears a half hour into the game.
The campaign, which takes about a dozen hours to complete and is the game’s only offering, has you recruit squad mates and embark on missions to save the worl– err, America. Your squad mates each belong to one of the game’s four classes, which have various special abilities that are unlocked as you level them up via simple RPG mechanics. Some basic customization options allow you to personalize your squad mates, but you cannot create female ones — I guess 2K really wanted to capture that 1960s vibe.
A layer of strategy is included in mission selection, which helps the game feel less linear. Main missions move the plot along, while optional missions are available for bonus rewards. Squad mates that don’t accompany you on missions can be sent on automated assignments to obtain experience and new gear.
The plot of the main mission is carried primarily through dialogue, which largely came across as cliché and without punch: the aliens said what we expected them to say, and statements intended to be dramatic trailer sound bites fell flat. For reasons that are difficult to fathom without mentioning the words “Mass Effect,” dialogue features irrelevant conversation wheels. There are no Paragon or Renegade points to be earned, no real decisions to be made, and the entire system feels obtrusive when simple scripted cutscenes could have accomplished the job more stylistically.
Overall, the story simply wasn’t compelling enough to draw me in, and I quickly found my desire to skip conversations rising. While the plot did eventually pick up, it either became too confusing to follow, or I wasn’t previously engaged enough to fully comprehend what was going on anymore.
While its story isn’t stellar, the game isn’t without its charm. Executed with graphical competence, The Bureau does a great job of capturing the 1960s noir aesthetic — sometimes, so great of a job that it borders on caricature. A few minutes in, it seemed as though every character in every scene was waving around a cigarette or cigar, and just about every room was filled with a cancerous haze. To 2K’s credit, the billowing smoke effects are impressive, so I can’t blame the developers for wanting to cram them into every scene like J. J. Abrams and his lens flares.