The Bureau: XCOM Declassified's Uphill Battle

2K Marin's tactical third-person shooter is aiming to bridge the gap between strategy and action. But can it succeed?

"There's nothing wrong with falling back," says Morgan Gray. "That happens in real fights all the time. Fall back 15 feet, catch your breath, get organized, and push all over again."

The creative director of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is talking about how modern shooters have trained players to constantly barrel forward without taking the time to think things over, but he could just as easily be referring to The Bureau's own cautious transformation. This is the game that riled up a hornet's nest of strategy fans when it was announced as a first-person shooter back in 2010. A decade had gone by since the series had shown its last signs of life, and to many it looked as though 2K Games had revived a franchise so beloved for its turn-based tactics only to transform it entirely.

Fast-forward a few years, and things have calmed down considerably. 2K has shown itself willing to embrace the strategy genre by handing the series over to Civilization developer Firaxis, which last year released a stellar--and very faithful--continuation of the franchise in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Once again, the world was at peace…if not entirely free from alien invaders.

Now 2K Marin, the development team behind The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, is ready to show what it's been up to these past few years. No longer a first-person shooter, The Bureau has since transformed into a tactical third-person shooter whose focus on squad leadership carries echoes of Rainbow Six and Brothers in Arms. It's neither a turn-based strategy game nor a run-and-gun shooter; rather, it's something in between.

Bridging the gap between those two genres is one of the big focal points for 2K Marin. "We're going after two types of players," says Gray. "There's the classic XCOM fan--like most of us on the team--that wants to check it out from a different perspective. Someone having played the classics and Firaxis' great Enemy Unknown and wants to try a new twist."

"But we know there's also a percentage of the gaming public that thinks--probably foolishly--they don't like turn-based games. They like a lot of action. They'd like a lot of the tenets of XCOM in a genre that's a little more immediate for them. We'd like to bring them in too. So it's these two audiences: give classic XCOM fans this new perspective, and take people who like [shooters] and turn them into XCOM fans."

The Bureau's tactical aspirations are anchored by a feature called Battle Focus, a fancy phrase for the radial menu used to issue commands to your two squadmates. With this tool you're nothing short of a commander on the battlefield--albeit one who dons a fedora as he wages war against aliens throughout the remote corners of 1960s America.

The Bureau's tactical aspirations are anchored by a feature called Battle Focus, a fancy phrase for the radial menu used to issue commands to your two squadmates.
Triggering Battle Focus slows time to a crawl, allowing you to carefully consider your next attack without giving you enough time to get up and make an entire sandwich between moves. You can tell your squadmates where to go and which bits of cover to hide behind, but in typical XCOM fashion, there's a statistical bonus to firing from up high and flanking your enemies. You'll also be managing when and where to use your agents' special abilities, those class-specific skills you choose to unlock as you level them up from one mission to the next.

These skills come with a fairly lengthy cooldown timer, forcing you to be careful with how you use them. When you get a jump on your enemies, you can afford to be clever. This might mean placing a mine with one agent, and using another's taunt ability to lure your sectoid foes to their fiery demise. In the midst of a chaotic shootout, however, you'll need to make more fast-paced gut decisions. Do you send your agent up onto a high balcony to stay safe, or make sure he's close enough to the action so that he can knock those foes to the ground with a mighty pulse wave? Option A will give him a nice little fire bonus, but option B will give your other agent just enough time to deploy a laser turret without getting completely swarmed.

These are the types of choices you'll need to make in the thick of combat--choices that might not be apparent the first time you lay eyes on The Bureau. "People who just see the power wheel might say, oh, it's like Mass Effect," says Gray. "Well, kind of. But you can do a lot more in terms of movement, positioning, and building these little plans. That, to us, is the heart of XCOM."

All of this requires a little suspension of disbelief. While your agents may belong to an elite government organization whose job it is to save the world from alien invaders, they're not at their best until they're being bossed around like a pair of kids. "They're smart enough to keep their heads down," says Gray. "They're smart enough to grab cover, shoot enemies, run away from grenades. They're smart enough to keep themselves alive."

"What you do with them is turn them from a mob into a team. Your orders are what give them focus. You make them critical."

When you're not commanding your squad, The Bureau feels like something more akin to a traditional third-person shooter. Cover is paramount, grenades are often your best friend, and while you have access to exotic alien weaponry, that doesn't diminish the value of a good old-fashioned headshot.

However, going at it as a lone wolf might work okay for short stretches of time, but in the long run it's a great way to get yourself killed. If you want to succeed in this game, you'll need to accept that you're not a one-man army.

Where The Bureau departs from shooter norms is in the way it throws classic XCOM mechanics into the mix. Most notable is the presence of permadeath. When your agents get knocked down, there's a brief window of time when you can revive them. If you fail to do so, it's lights out. Those agents won't be coming with you to the next mission. That's especially bad news if you've been building them up over the course of several missions and you suddenly find yourself with a roster full of rookies fresh out of the academy. But as always, the losses that hurt the most are those agents that you've taken the time to name. Goodnight, sweet Spider-Man.

Where The Bureau departs from shooter norms is in the way it throws classic XCOM mechanics into the mix. Most notable is the presence of permadeath.
That said, the ever-present specter of absolute failure isn't looming over your campaign the way it was in Enemy Unknown. Time does not pass between missions, nor do you need to micromanage the status of various partner nations or defensive resources or any of that. These are the early days of the alien invasion, when the US government is trying to find out what's going on rather than wage a full-on defensive campaign against the aliens. In other words, you can fail an individual mission, but you can't fail the campaign as a whole.

All of this plays out in America circa 1962, as dapper government agents try to keep the lid on alien invasions occurring everywhere from the suburbs of New Mexico to the college towns of Georgia. It's the beginning of a turbulent decade, with rapidly advancing weapon technology, the Cold War, and the space race all rolled together. But 2K Marin is also cranking up the dial on the science of the era, in terms of both the advanced technology brought to Earth by the aliens (referred to as Outsiders in the story) and the highly classified lab work done by the government (think of Air Force-built UFOs).

"For touch points we want somewhere between The Right Stuff and James Bond, going back to the '60s with Q and the superspy bent on all the tech," says Gray. "I think the juxtaposition of the regular world as we know it, 1960s veneered superscience, and extremely modern sci-fi in the form of the Outsiders and their technology--it gives us a good canvas to work with."

Whether or not the gaming world is ready to embrace that work is another question entirely. XCOM is one of those franchises that players hold next to their hearts with a vice-like grip. Likewise, diehard shooter fans aren't always the most willing to embrace a methodical, tactical approach. Can The Bureau successfully bridge those audiences?

But hearing Gray describe The Bureau's setting confirms the notion that stranger things have indeed happened. "It's an amazing century," Gray says. "In the same century that the Wright brothers took flight, we're putting a foot on the moon. That's pretty incredible when you stop to think about it."

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Discussion

166 comments
1wikkid1
1wikkid1

"But we know there's also a percentage of the gaming public that thinks--probably foolishly--they don't like turn-based games." Huh? People that don't like turn-based games are foolish? Wtf kind of retarded statement is that, especially coming from a game developer. Personally I'm not a fan of the run-n-gun CoD type games, but action as a genre is extremely broad, and putting any label on fans of action would make it wrong just because everybody is different, and everybody has preferences.

While the idea sounds good on paper I have trouble imagining this game in practice. Combining genres like the relatively slow-paced strategy which has a large focus on detail and micro with fast-paced action which is more of a twitch reflex genre would take some really serious thought about all the various mechanics. Basically unless they do everything perfectly this game is more likely to piss both types of gamers off.

HapiJoel
HapiJoel

I was a huge Freedom Fighters fan, and eventually a Fallout convert, and absolutely got obsessed by X-COM-EU; this game cannot come soon enough for me.

MrBunson
MrBunson

This game looks ok...I guess. JUST GIVE ME ANOTHER FALLOUT GAME.....NOW!!!!

Ok, I feel better.

reanor2
reanor2

I hope its as fun as the X-COM: Enemy Unknown.

Hangman1307
Hangman1307

I'm willing to give it a shot. I remember something similar about Fallout 3 and how long time fans of the series claim its going to suck from the drastic gameplay changes and straying away from being pc exclusive. Well look where it stands now; proudly on my shelf. Worth every cent of that initial 60$ purchase.

 I still have faith X-Com. 

Gamer-Geek
Gamer-Geek

It's like Men in Black 3... It will be awesome!

WDBmasamunezero
WDBmasamunezero

I really dont get the hate for this game its looking good from what i can see atm. ofc need to see more gameplay but the 60 theme and using the same aliens as in X-com EU, makes me interested in this game, and if its total shite i move on simple as that.

loved the reboot of X-com EU never played the Original but liked from what i have seen on lets play vids on youtube.

ggregd
ggregd

Games that stop mid-development and completely change direction tend to be bad because they're inevitably rushed.  I'll need to see the reviews.  I'm glad to see they got rid of the black tar glob aliens and inter-dimensional rifts though.  After reading about it in GameInformer a few years ago I had zero interest in this game.

kozzy1234
kozzy1234

This looks horrible, why can't they just do a xcom properly?

Nodashi
Nodashi

I don't see no cliff, I see a copy-paste of Mass Effect 3rd person combat with special abilities...

TheRelentless
TheRelentless

I think XCOM: Enemy Unknown was able to scratch my XCOM itch.  This moving from a FPS to 3rd person tactical actually increases my desire to play it, but only because that itch was already scratched.  I definitely will not pre-purchase, nor buy on release, but pending good reviews, I think I could be persuaded to try it out.

Benjamin Alberti
Benjamin Alberti

I bet if it was only named "The Bureau" people would like it more

BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

its safe to say I'll be staying away from this game till I hear a review.  From first person shooter to third person shooter makes no difference to me no matter the mask you wear crap usually smells the same at the end of the day.

MN121MN
MN121MN

I somehow think that the "Command" needs more polishing if this wants to be a hit.....

Also, I remembered something about "alert mission" (where it is only available over a period of time) and how failing/winning a mission might change the outcome of another mission. I hope they haven't lost that with the rebranding of this game.


jpnelson82
jpnelson82

If Ghost Recon:Future Soldier could do it, sort of, The Bureau:XCOM Declassified can do it too. Look at future soldier, the icons are the same ones as XCOM:EU. All you really should need to do is take Mass Effect, and Ghost Recon:Future Soldier and smash them together, throw in the enemies from XCOM, and there you go, job done. If that's what they've done I will be frankly overjoyed, it will be my game of the year without doubt.

Shanks_D_Chop
Shanks_D_Chop

Getting really interested in this. Just hope the engine gets the extra bit of polish that it'll need to ensure no daft AI bugs to create frustration.

starduke
starduke

I don't play turn based games because I think they are foolish.

I mean, really, do you think alien invaders are really going to politely wait for the earth's defenders to take their turn? 

Give me a good RTS any day of the week over any TBS.

Hreath
Hreath

@1wikkid1 the 1 who said others is foolishly is that they themselves never look into mirror. I agree with you about the idea sounds good on the paper but reality is workout that remain a question mark.

psycohideo
psycohideo

@MrBunson I am waiting for another fallout too. But in my waiting I played X-com enemy unknown, and to be honest it's one of the best games I played.


RunzWthScissorz
RunzWthScissorz

@ggregd I need to see reviews for MOST games these days! Nothing worse than paying full price for a game I've been excited about, and it turns out shitty.

Simplythebest12
Simplythebest12

NOPE !! First of all ME3 has not permanent death and second the game will have similarities with "Brothers in Arms" amd Ghost Recon according to developers

ggregd
ggregd

@starduke RTS's all feel the same.  If you've played on you've played them all.  On the other hand XCOM is very different from Civilization, which is very different from HOMM, which is very different from Worms, which is very different from a hex based wargame.

picho86
picho86

@starduke Do you also not play monopoly because of the lack of realism? What about building a base with power plants and collecting resources so you can train units in mid battle? Is that more realistic?

How realistic is COD where your squad can't hit the broad side of a barn? Unless your'e there, they keep shooting  at the air indefinitly with their infinite supply of ammo. 

starduke
starduke

@ggregd All TBS feel the same to me. The player takes a turn, does whatever, then the computer takes a turn, and takes forever, despite the fact they are a computer. It's artificial slowness designed to simulate the turn a real player would take. Then it's the player's turn again, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, and so on and so forth, until somebody wins. It's all the same. 

starduke
starduke

@picho86 Actually, I could give much of a damn about realism. Taking turns in boring, especially when it's against a computer and not a real person. 

starduke
starduke

@genjuroT "Oh, all right chaps, it's the alien's turn, sit there while they try to take aim and shoot us all in the head."

"But, sir, why don't we just charge in there and shoot all of them?"

"That wouldn't be very polite of us, would it?"

genjuroT
genjuroT

@starduke @jecomans In Xcom:enemy unknown and Pokemon you level up your men and Pokemon. You take turns attacking or defending in both. You use strategy in both. You use a variety of moves and abilities in both. You pretend you are someone you are not in both. Other than the story or plot, how is this ANY different from one another? 

You just simply have to admit one thing and one thing only. You just want something to hate for no reason because you have a superiority complex. Just like how it's "annoying" when your family doesn't want to play a board game with you. Entitled much? Get a job and stop living off people. Truth hurts, "bub". Deal with it. btw I like Dukey better than Starduke.

 I actually feel sorry for you because you are an adult and still have no experience dealing with people professionally. You should have put some of your intelligence points into charisma, because it's at zero. Your wisdom is a little low as well because I just schooled you on turn based games. *drops mic*

starduke
starduke

@jecomans Ah, but Pokemon ISN'T a turn based strategy game, IS IT?

No, it is a RPG with turn based combat.

That is a big difference, especially in how it plays. 

jecomans
jecomans

@starduke All this anti-TBS talk means you don't like Pokemon... Your poor childhood : (

starduke
starduke

@JoPire The name is starduke, bub. Get it right, or get it tattooed on your forehead, so you never forget. 

JoPire
JoPire

@starduke @lonewolf315  Did you hear that, guys?  Starduke wins most of the time.  Good job, dukey!  Keep at it, bud!

starduke
starduke

@lonewolf315 That's the strategy to use, if you want to lose. I have never taken turns in an RTS. I win most of the time.

lonewolf315
lonewolf315

@starduke @picho86 If you're playing an RTS properly you're taking turns defending and attacking the computer even if you don't realize that you're doing it. It's what strategy boils down to. Act and react. You attack the computer. You are initiating your attack turn. The computer will then initiate it's defense turn (unless you have it set at a low enough difficulty that it just lets you steamroll it.) The computer attacks you. It has initiated its attack turn. You then scramble your units to defend. (Unless you have the difficulty set low enough that your automated defenses just murder them all).

So in reality you are taking turns in your RTS. It just isn't a built in function in the gameplay like it is with a TBS.

picho86
picho86

@starduke @picho86 Boring makes sense. Boring is a good reason not to like a game.

Saying that you don't like a game because it doesn't represent reality good enough is foolish. Is chess stupid because the pieces don't move at the same time? Are the pieces not realistic enough because they are made out of wood (or whatever) and are not real people?

starduke
starduke

@iHarlequin So you think the computer taking a turn, then the player taking a turn, then the computer taking a turn, then it's the player's turn again, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, then the computer's, then the player's, and so on and so forth, until somebody wins, is good gameplay? I'd have to disagree, partly because it is unrealistic compared to an RTS, but mostly because it bores me way more then an RTS ever has. 

starduke
starduke

@ggregd Um, no, in Apocalypse with real time enabled, the combat is in real time, so there are no turns to end. The game does pause automatically at certain events, like a soldier getting shot at, but that can be turned off. 

iHarlequin
iHarlequin

@starduke @picho86 Lol. Because games are famous for being realistic depictions, right? You have shooters where you don't get crippled from getting shot at your leg; where there is no blood loss; where equipment has no weight. You have strategy games where instead of the thousands of resources a nation has to deal with, they have.. five. Or six. It's called making good gameplay rather than applying to someone who's trying to be a funny boy on the internet.

ggregd
ggregd

@starduke @genjuroT Except the turn ends after you run 10 feet or shoot once.  It's called balancing, and it works.

starduke
starduke

@picho86 I'm actually interested in playing X-COM: Apocalypse, since the battles can be played in real time.

starduke
starduke

@Gwarpup Actually, I'd like to see YOU try that. Go ahead and control more then one character in an FPS game and see how well YOU do.

starduke
starduke

@MN121MN "You were hired to do a job, and that job was to fight the enemy! Now, wait until their turn is over, then attack!"

starduke
starduke

@Shanks_D_Chop "Commander, the strikes on the human's bunker were successful. They just sat there and let us shoot them all."

"That was very polite of them. Good thing this isn't an RTS, or they might've actually fought back, because they don't take turns in an RTS."

starduke
starduke

@genjuroT "Um, sir, the aliens are attacking."

"Yes, I noticed that."

"Sir, aren't you going to do anything about it?!"

"No. It's not our turn."

genjuroT
genjuroT

@starduke@genjuroTI get this vibe that you're a teenager that just simply wants something to hate. Do you feel this way about all turn based games?

starduke
starduke

@genjuroT "Commander, the humans are not attacking. I am detecting that it is our turn."

"Good. Have all troops march to that location, and then open fire on the humans. Kill all of them, wipe them out. That way, we won't have to wait for them to take their next turn."

"Yes commander, executing your orders."

genjuroT
genjuroT

@starduke Oh snap, grammar error! *His or her imagination* when talking about individuals, I can't say their because I said no 'one'. Plural to plural, singular to singular.

genjuroT
genjuroT

@starduke @genjuroT Ever play a Final Fantasy game? You have to use some imagination in between. It's ok though, you can vent out if you want, no one should have to live without their imagination.