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Review

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

  • Game release: August 19, 2013
  • Reviewed:
  • PC
  • PS3
  • X360

E.T.: The Extra Tedious

by

A shooter based on a beloved strategy franchise? It's the kind of idea that makes strategy fans nervous, but games like Command & Conquer: Renegade have proven that the possibility isn't meritless. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is not a great argument for an XCOM spin-off, however. It often puts its best foot forward, but while The Bureau mimics some of its inspiration's touchstones, it doesn't re-create their impact. The result is a third-person cover shooter that is decent fun but ultimately rings hollow.

What the Bureau nails is its retro-futuristic atmosphere, which channels an early-1960s view of the world straight from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. Protagonist William Carter looks as if he leapt from a postcard or periodical advert from the era: his hair is shellacked to perfection, and a heavy turtleneck sets off his freshly shaven face. Environments look slightly yellowed in the way we often imagine the 1960s, given how photographs fade over time. Sectoids--alien mainstays in the XCOM universe--have the big bulbous heads and skeletal bodies of the extraterrestrials you might have seen described in Amazing Stories magazine. This was the era of famous alien abductees Betty and Barney Hill, whose descriptions of bald-headed, gray-skinned invaders fueled generations' worth of pop-culture depictions of men from outer space. The Bureau looks like a Hill hypnosis session come to life.

The Bureau's structure somewhat resembles that of a typical XCOM strategy game. You spend some of your time in XCOM headquarters, getting updates on recent global events, before heading into the field and confronting the alien threat the planet faces. And this being an XCOM game, you don't just go it alone but rather take two squadmates with you and issue them specific orders: take cover over there, call in an airstrike, target this enemy, and so forth. Carter and his squadmates all level up, earning new abilities and improving old ones as they go, by way of The Bureau's skill trees. At first, you're only healing fellow squaddies, ordering them to boost you with stims and perform critical strikes on outsiders and laser turrets. In time, however, you're pulling healing drones out of thin air and temporarily convincing foes to become friends.

You're not stuck with the same two squadmates, but can hire and choose from a variety of them. You can also rename them and customize their physical appearance, which you'd think would keep The Bureau in step with its strategic siblings. But this is one area in which the shooter copies elements of the series, but cannot capture its essence. In 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, your connection with your squad was closely tied to the tension built into every move. Losing a squadmate was devastating not just because you had named her after your girlfriend, but because she played a valuable role on the battlefield--and because you invested a lot of time and mental energy into each element of the skirmish in which you lost her.

Let's get this party started!

Unfortunately, The Bureau doesn't capture that tension, nor does it make any given squadmate feel more valuable than any other. Though you can revive a squad member should he fall, it's possible for one or both to perish in battle. In an XCOM strategy game in which you take six soldiers into the field, losing a buddy is a setback you typically push through, hoping the percentages work in favor of your diminished squad. In The Bureau, losing a squadmate makes battle a monotonous slog, making loading the most recent checkpoint the most appealing option. And where you would carefully construct a squad in Enemy Unknown for greatest effectiveness, any old soldiers will do in The Bureau. Once you select your initial squad, there's no pressing reason to use anyone else, unless you want to mix things up just for the sake of doing so.

Why can battles be monotonous? It comes down to The Bureau's very blueprint for battle, which has you slowing down the action to a snail's pace so you can issue specific orders to your squad in addition to performing your own special powers. The idea here was to translate turn-based combat into a shooter milieu, but when the mission gets tough, the stop-and-go pacing gets disruptive. Your vulnerable squadmates are dunderheads, thinking nothing of stepping on a mine or into heavy fire, and forcing you to carefully plot their every move during the most challenging battles. Combat gets especially cumbersome when squad members start going down; a single felled soldier can initiate a tedious resurrection loop with you and squadmates reviving each other over and over again rather than doing the fun stuff.

You spend a lot of time looking at the battlefield through this lens.

When you aren't bogged down by micromanagement, The Bureau can indeed be entertaining. The shooting isn't as snappy as in the best shooters, but there's joy in raising an alien tech commander into the air and zapping it with lasers as it helplessly dangles there. When a sectopod lumbers into the fray, combat can feel perilous as you use your squad members to distract it while you slide into cover and fill it with bullets from behind. The way sectoids spurt neon goo as you shoot them before they spin about and collapse makes them enjoyable to face. The occasional spot of cheekiness also fuels the fun; it's hard not to giggle when you're fighting off little gray men in a small-town car lot advertising its "out of this world" sale with an inflatable alien head atop its roof.

You can spend almost as much time roaming XCOM headquarters as you can mowing down evil invaders. Where previous XCOM games allowed your imagination--and the series' own pop-culture portrayals--to fill in narrative gaps, The Bureau dumps plenty of information on you, encouraging you to roam the halls between missions and speak to the tie-wearing scientists and chain-smoking bureaucrats driving the secret anti-invasion effort. At first it's great to soak in the period 1960s atmosphere, admiring touches like the whirring reel-to-reel tape machines and wood-paneled radios that clutter the offices.

So. Much. Aquanet.

Just like squad micromanagement, however, roaming XCOM HQ becomes tiresome. You guide conversations using a Mass Effect-like dialogue wheel to get insight into extraterrestrial dangers and increasing tensions between staff members. The Bureau's problem isn't that it has a lot of story, but rather that story points become redundant, with characters repeating many of the same themes in a variety of different ways. (Carter is a loose wire; alien technology is powerful; it's difficult being a woman in a man's world; and so forth.) Choosing dialogue in any order other than top to bottom can result in out-of-sequence communication, which is jarring, and the bizarre facial animations can have you wondering how a mouth in that position could possibly produce the words you are hearing.

There is good reason to pay attention to the story, though: an explosive narrative reveal changes the way you see both sides of the conflict, and a subsequent choice makes for a drastic change in the tale's direction. At this point, the plot goes haywire, and it becomes difficult to make sense of any given character's motivation. The disruption is welcome, but what at first makes your jaw drop will have your eyes rolling instead as each story point makes less and less sense. The excellent soundtrack tries its damnedest to sell the ensuing drama both on and off the battlefield, however. The discordant piano motifs and syncopated bongo rhythms would have been at home in any thriller scored by the late Bernard Herrmann. Too bad the rest of the audio design can't keep pace with the soundtrack; sound problems plague The Bureau, from battlefield chatter that doesn't make sense in context, to dialogue that refers to on-screen events that aren't happening.

Missions end abruptly, without any sight of the recon aircraft flying you to safety.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified mirrors but never masters. When it gets down to the shallow shooting, it fares well, equipping you with some fun futuristic weapons and letting you go to town on nasty intergalactic intruders. But the game gets in its own way, stumbling when it seeks to siphon strategy mechanics into a formula that doesn't support them. The Bureau wants to rocket you into outer space, but it can't escape the gravity of the games that spawned it.

The Good
Great period atmosphere
The basic third-person shooting is enjoyable
Certain plot developments shake up the proceedings
The Bad
Squad management on the battlefield gets tedious
Laborious storytelling
Fails to capture the tension of the XCOM series
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

About the Author

/ Staff

Kevin VanOrd is a lifelong RPG lover and violin player. When he isn't busy building PCs and composing symphonies, he watches American Dad reruns with his fat cat, Ollie.

Discussion

152 comments
VintAge68
VintAge68

Don't agree on this one, not even the story's four alternative endings are mentioned positively by RPG lover Kevin-V...

Qixote
Qixote

I never understood the popularity of the Mass Effect games for the many same reasons cited in this review of the Bureau being flawed.  For example, the dialogue.  In this video review, they say it becomes boring at base because the NPCs stop saying anything interesting.  It's the same exact problem on the Normandy in every Mass Effect game.  Things to see, but nothing interesting to do or interact with.

xxdequisxx
xxdequisxx

Was basically disappointed, with this second game after the first turn base game. Game play wasn't too bad, but it definitely borrowed from Bio Shock, Assassins Creed and Gears. Nothing original, but interesting. The original Xcom turn base game was the first game I ever played on PC some 25 years ago. It was extremely challenging then as it was now. It was actually a game you had too beat, not just play through. Too bad another turn base game couldn't have been published.

kineticman_a13
kineticman_a13

Although I agree with the review, I simply can't stop playing this game for some odd reason. Judging by the review I thought I'd get bored halfway through but that's not happening. Every time my squad mates do something stupid and get themselves killed, I am more inclined to shoot sectoids on the face with the scattergun..... What's wrong with me? 

azk29
azk29

I think the review is a little unfair, but the pointless running around the base sucks and your squaddies doing stupid crap takes the fun out of a few (but not all, it is conceivable that some people won't magically obey everything you do)battles. What I find weird is that the review video actually seems like VanOrd likes the game much more than a 6

lugpoints
lugpoints

if you like mass effect, this game is for you.  no, really.  the play mechanic is a carbon copy of the mass effect series.  the story is terrible. 

McGuirex3
McGuirex3

Is this that game series. from waaaaay back, that got a remake and then was delayed about a year or so ago?

catsimboy
catsimboy

It's an okay game with a rough start. When your squadmates only have one ability to use besides attack and move it's really dull. It picks up after you get a few level ups. But it's always annoying how sometimes the aliens get a bunch of hits on your guys no matter how good their cover is because your squaddies are sticking their dumb heads out of cover too much. 6 is a fair score if you're not in the mindset that anything under 7 is unplayable.

Urizen316
Urizen316

VanOrd...*sigh*.. Getting this BECAUSE he doesn't like it, how bout them apples?!

savagejoe444
savagejoe444

despite this review, I'm still getting this. :)

ILuvGameSpot123
ILuvGameSpot123

Shame it isn't that good. Might read other opinions though.

Auth
Auth

The user score keeps creeping up. Lol it was in the 5s on release. Not doubt rated by parrots.

This is a great game for what it is. A great ME ripoff style shooter with extra micro.

OldKye
OldKye

I feel like a sleepwalker after playing this game.

"How many times do I have to say.... I don't want the under coating... how many times...."

markosasav
markosasav

I like it.. I don't see what your comparison is when you give it a 6.. I have not played a good third person shooter on the PC since Mass Effect.. It is not really fair to compare it to console shooters, or even worse to compare it to X-Com the strategy game.. It is very good for what it is..

zeusbark
zeusbark

If they somehow allowed campaign co-op to have 2 of your friends helping you instead of the ai, the game would be super awesome!

smaddeus
smaddeus

Game's team AI sucks, my teammates are dieing on field asap, no use of making them to get in cover, they will die eventually, cause it feels like that they want to shoot when enemy is shooting, and in result, they get the damage not enemy, and then they brag about "help" when they are down, bleeding out too fast, too unreal from regular flesh wounds. When i placed one teammate behind cover, i later went to the same cover to hide with him, but when i got there, the moron just ran away to some different cover. Anyway, hard to explain problems when i'm so frustrated, i better let my teammates dieing on field rather than helping those idiots out, heck, i better kill them myself, easier for me to concentrate on fighting and kill enemy + at the end, i get somewhere like 30-60 kills, team - 2-3, maybe 4, but they...AI sucks ass.

berserker66666
berserker66666

I seriously don't get it. This game is pretty good. It has a few FPS issues with Phyx but that can be fixed if you turn it off. I'm playing the game and so far it's awsm.

Winzent
Winzent

What hurt the game the most seams to be that i dont know what it wants to be, that and general disappointment. People expect more or just something else. Its a good game, not great and that somehow have made it worse. From my own play through Id give it a 7. Wait for a sale if you are unsure but dont just write it off.

Megalod
Megalod

Guys, please don't take this 'review' seriously. I've just played 3 missions of this game, and it's a blast. A real fun experience. They seem to have taken the best missions from the Mass Effect series, added more tactics to it and made the whole thing a really high quality experience. The game is filled to the brim with suspense and never feels too easy or too hard once you pass the first tutorial mission.

The missions are long, the scenery is gorgeous (backwater farms, carnivals and south-american architecture, makes it a joy to play. You can either use a brute force approach, a stop and think approach to strategize, or a mix between the two. 

Don't give up on this game., give it a go, instead. It's much more fun than a 6. I would give it a 8.5, honestly. Gamespot have lost their touch, it seems, and should probably stick to mock reviews of console games where they can fling their 9's and 10's around willy nilly for no apparent reason. This is a thinking game's semi-shooter and is honestly great fun to play. People will remember this game as an underrated classic down the line, mark my words. Don't miss it.

RockmasteR-_-
RockmasteR-_-

My expectations were high for that game, but when I saw some gameplay footage back at E3, I was really disappointed


al-hasan-faroq2
al-hasan-faroq2

Well...since I cant write a review because I'm not a "paid subscriber" or a "level 3 user", I will say that I have actually enjoyed playing this game. While yes, its not perfect or ground breaking by any stretch of the imagination, it is entertaining, has a nice 60's theme/touch, and is graphically appeasing running on a GTX 780 with maxed settings/resolution on a 27" monitor. I would say my biggest complaint is that I wish the developers would have followed suit with the 60's alien sci-fi invasion theme and designed enemies that replicated those seen in classic films such as This Island Earth, Invaders From Mars, It Came From Outer Space, Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers, the list goes on and on. I am new to the XCOM series so I was personally impressed with the combat systems functionality. Could it be tweaked and made better, certainly anything can and I do not feel it is staggering enough to ruin the overall game play experience. To me, it just seemed like a 6 was low and feel it is right around a 7.5-8.3 range. Agree or disagree, I did find enjoyment playing this game!

Kazuma_Kiryu
Kazuma_Kiryu

A shame it didn't turn out better. Can't say I'm surprised though. Like some of the design choices they made. But the strategic elements of the game look like a really tedious chore.

KinoDaKonqueror
KinoDaKonqueror

Damn, the review is boring to watch.  I'm not getting this game!!

CommandoAgent
CommandoAgent

@lugpointsMass Effect 1 was a king for its time, yeah i noticed the similarsites between the two but make no mistake this game is no where near ME.

CommandoAgent
CommandoAgent

@McGuirex3 Yes, i remember the trailers and teases for it. I believe the setting was supposed to be set in the 90s when this game was first announced.

smaddeus
smaddeus

forgot to mention, i thought i have been playing on medium, actually on hard, which is Veteran, but that doesn't changes the fact that AI sucks, i have to play on lower difficulty just as compensation for my teams lack of skills and stupidity of theirs.

Auth
Auth

I. Think it knows exactly what it wants to be. It more people assumed what it was going to be. Ignoring all the ME esque style video gameplay footage

smaddeus
smaddeus

@Megalod Added some more, main problem personally is the AI on medium difficulty, dunno if it changes on other difficulties, haven't opened the game after 2nd or 3rd mission cause of AI, they suck, one of the worst AI's, cause they keep dieing and i have to leave my good post just to save a guy, meanwhile other one cries for help or he'll bleed out, i just want to say "why the fuck you still shoot if you have so low hp you moron!, stay in cover !" sometimes they even run away to different cover, which doesn't changes defense position, cause he still gets damaged and killed. I can't do my job if morons are getting killed  + while I gave order to other one to save the other one who is bleeding out, the one who is saving gets down by himself in process. That's not the difficulty that i have to face with, cause AI shouldn't get stupid, difficulty should change damage of enemy and maybe less HP to team AI and player, but not level of stupidity, I'm forced to play on lower difficulty just so my team mates with their stupidity could kill something, cause at the end mostly I'm the one who has killed over 30 and team only 1-3, they would be wasting all bullets if they had in their guns any, unlike me.

dominoodle
dominoodle

@Megalod "I've just played 3 missions of this game, and it's a blast."

And the reviewer has played the entire game. You can't judge how good the game is based on 3 missions.

exherus
exherus

@Megalod I think you fail to realise that a review is an opinion.. Megalod believes that you can have an opinion UNLESS IT DIFFERS FROM HIS!!!!! AGAHGDJAHGA RAGE QUIT!

INF1DEL
INF1DEL

@Megalod Guys, please learn to accept the fact that people have differing opinions. 

He said the game gets tedious. You said you've played 3 missions. How can you disagree if you haven't even beat the game yet?

Then you accuse GS of 'flinging around 9s and 10s' while complaining about this game's low score? WTF?

G34R
G34R

@al-hasan-faroq2 
I feel its a bit like Marmite, I love it... I had it on pre-order a long time ago and was expecting a disaster from reading the reviews but I'm enjoying it, I was a big fan of the original in the day, I wasn't impressed by the Firaxis re-do (in my opinion it was a lesser game than the original except the GFX, in sayingg that i did complete it though) . I wont say that KVO got his review wrong because that's his opinion, and everyone has one of those.

la_boomstick
la_boomstick

@smaddeus Try constantly giving them commands? As in the main thrust of the gameplay in this title? Just a thought. 

Megalod
Megalod

@smaddeus @Megalod Your teammates are not meant to handle firefights all on their own. In this game, the emphasis is on tactics,  think of it more as XCOM: Enemy Unknown from a 3rd person perspective and much less as Mass Effect or Gears of War.

Shuffle your guys around a lot, retreat when needed, heal a lot, use your guys to flank the enemy instead of charging head on, hide them behind full cover instead of half cover when possible and most of all - use your teammates abilities whenever possible in order to distract or weaken the enemy and not just kill it, never keep them in the same place for more than a few seconds in a firefight and pause a lot.

Your guys will get better the more abilities they'll have and the better weaponry you'll arm them with.

DigiRave
DigiRave

@dominoodle @Megalod 6.0? Clearly an understatement. Even if the missions become boring, it deserves at least a 7.5. 6.0 is reserved for a game like DARK.

Megalod
Megalod

@dominoodle @Megalod The more I play it, the better it actually gets. An excellent game, really. Not even close to a 6/10.

xthknight
xthknight

@INF1DEL @Megalod Well the guy has a point with his "accusations". I don't know about you, but GTA4 is hardly the best game of all time. And Modern Warfare 3 certainly does not deserve equal standing with games like XCOM EU. I've seen Vanord's reviews before, I don't hate on him, because I'm sure this is a GS decision in terms of rating, but I rarely agree with him no matter the game.

A lot of criticism for this game in general is nothing but the "gaming media" having to find safe games to dump on that don't have big followings and look like they won't live up to the hype. In my opinion this game lived up to everything it set out to do, and while that doesn't deserve a high 8 or 9, it deserves more than a petty 6.

xthknight
xthknight

@INF1DEL @Megalod Well, he has a point. While GTA IV is in no way a bad game, it doesn't deserve the title of "Best Game Ever" with it's 10 rating. They also commented on the HL2 review that the story was lackluster. Wow.

Megalod
Megalod

@INF1DELThat's not a different opinion. The game doesn't play like a 6 at all. A 6 should be reserved to games that have little merits and value or are very amateurish in nature and are made poorly, with game breaking bugs and poor design. Something like Alpha Protocol comes to mind. That's hardly the case here.


The Bureau is very professionally made, has no frustrating moments due to poor design decisions or any blaring shortcomings. It's just a nice game that is being scrutinized for no apparent reason other than the game's long, hard road to being finalized, and that is not gaming journalism, that's called being biased towards the game before actually playing it. IGN's review is even more ridiculous in that regard.

Try playing this very nice game, it's really being wronged, here.
Oh, and please don't use cheap demagogy techniques in your replies. I accuse GS of flinging 9's and 10's on different type of games. It's very easy giving these high scores to AAA console games rather than niche games that had major ups and downs in their development, but they are still being paid to judge a game by what it plays like.

INF1DEL
INF1DEL

@Megalod A 6 for game breaking bugs and poor design? LOL. WTF is less than 6? The rating scale is not 6-10.

G34R
G34R

@MegalodI know what you are saying, and it does have an effect on the sales of games but reviewer must judge by there own standards, I feel that to try and judge for a community would be a mess. I do recall that KVO did mention that "there will be those that will like this game" or something like that, I see myself as one of those I guess. I will still look at gameplay videos and make my judgement from those, but is is nice to have some sort of confirmation from high profile reviewers.

As a side note, I believe you are entitled to have your say, im just enjoying the discussion. I hope some demo will come out so people can try it for themselves.

Megalod
Megalod

@G34R @Megalod @INF1DEL I completely understand what you're saying, but that's not that easy. You see, review scores = sales.

A 5.5/10 or a 6/10 means to the average gamer: 'a heap of digital garbage, steer clear away!', Now, if that was really the case, I wouldn't even bother. But something is really wrong in this industry when a very nicely made game that is really more like a 8/10 game is getting bashed so heavily by reviewers. 

Other than the implications on the people who made this game, I believe this behavior turns the whole gaming industry into the equivalent of the MTV awards - only the glamorous, the already successful, get to reap the rewards. The people with talents that are not in the spotlights disappear into anonymity for no real reason, and this saddens me to no end.

G34R
G34R

@Megalod@INF1DELI like this game, im about 6 hours in and really having fun 8/10 (veteran mode), but I have got to say that if someone, say a reviewer thinks its really bad and gives it a 1/10, i believe that's a legitimate score, no one has final say. Look at gameplay and if you like the look buy, if not dont.... easy.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified More Info

First Release on Aug 19, 2013
  • Macintosh
  • PC
  • + 2 more
  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox 360
Set in 1962 at the heigh of the Cold War, The Bureau tells the origin story of the clandestine XCOM organization's first encounter with a mysterious and devastating enemy.
6.5
Average User RatingOut of 286 User Ratings
Please Sign In to rate The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Developed by:
2K Marin
Published by:
2K Games
Genres:
First-Person, 3D, Shooter, Action, Team-Based
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
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Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence