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Review

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review

  • First Released
    released
  • Reviewed Aug 19, 2013
  • X360

It delivers some enjoyable stretches of shooting action, but The Bureau: XCOM Declassified too often transforms the series' signature tension into tedium.

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.

Why are aliens always landing in rural America?

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.

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.

Agent Carter and associates would never allow a single hair to be out of place.

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.

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.

Remember when all small towns needed to worry about was loiterers?

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.

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.

In time, The Bureau stops feeling tactical and starts feeling tedious.

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.

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.

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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
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About the Author

Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.
162 comments
DigiRave
DigiRave

If anyone is interested in watching a good show about 1950s aliens, watch Steven Spielberg's Taken.

DigiRave
DigiRave

This is not a horrible game, it deserves a 7.5 at least. This was a lot better than XCOM: Enemy Unknown

DeltaForce324
DeltaForce324

carolyn petit would have given it a ten if it had lesbians

IceBlood79
IceBlood79

Noone cares about Agent Carter's or what ever he is pathetic life. When we are killing some greys I am the commander and I am the one who are giving the commands. This half movie is waste of time IMHO. Well.. at least this one claimed the title the worst XCOM - game ever just bit after XCOM: Enforcer.

DigiRave
DigiRave

@IceBlood79 Wrong! I (and others) care, it ads to the story, and not all of us are Ritalin addicted kids who throw tantrums when they don't get enough action .

Plus who gave this a the title of worst XCOM game, you? "We will give this game the title of worst XCOM game because the Great Exalted One said so!" Get real,  you have a delusional view of your own opinions.  This is actually a pretty good game, and the story, action, sound and visuals are a lot better than any other previous XCOM games.

Cristhian_Cobas
Cristhian_Cobas

Reading all the comments, and being an XCOM hardcore fan myself, I must say this: I like the game. It's good and micromanaging orders in a hardcore battle where laser and plasma shots are flying over your head gives you a whole feel on how it would be to be a commander in a battle with almost impossible odds.

The 60s environment is beautifully designed, with details to everything that surrounds you, and it keeps you imagining how the hell they would keep such situations under wraps in order to not panic the population. 

BUT I have to agree with some people here. If I give a trooper an order and I move away and far to flank the enemy, more often than not the troopers will move to follow you. this makes micromanaging a lot more often, to tell your troopers to stay at a single spot drawing enemy fire. This is the ONLY thing that bothered me, the issue that there should have been two more buttons in orders:  Stand Your Ground, and Cover Fire.

Overall I think this is a good game. A few minor details in Battle Focus, but a damn good spin-off. Hopefully this spinoff will do well enough to see more daring spinoffs from the original franchise. I would have given it a solid 7.5.

Trendkilla_dk
Trendkilla_dk

Im an old XCOM fan who like most didnt think much of this game to begin with, but im pleasent surprised. Its Mass Effect meets Xcom. Its not as polished as I would have expectet it to be. But it has alot of good things going for it. I hope it does well enough for a more polished and fleeshed out sequal. If your like the XCOM universe and the Mass Effect gameplay its for you.

Broodwin
Broodwin

I agree with you, I've also long been an XCOM fan. The game was good, with plenty of room for improvement. I would also liken it with mass effect.. Maybe with a dash of LA Noire..

MooncalfReviews
MooncalfReviews

Good. Can we get back to the real Xcom now? Sequel please.

Warlord_Irochi
Warlord_Irochi

@MooncalfReviews An expansion for Enemy Unknown was revealed on Gamescom, guess this one will not be on the cover for a lot of time.

Spitz6860
Spitz6860

the difference between this and enemy unknown is that i grew really attached to my squad in enemy unknown, and i absolutely want to rip the stupid brains out of my squad mates and put them in a juicer in this game.

joel82b
joel82b

@Spitz6860 This game is your squad. They are the backbone of this game. If you micro manage your squad more often then they won't do stupid things, You have to become responsible for every move they make, even the bad ones, that's what being a commander is. I think this game does something really special, It makes you feel really powerful when work all your guys as one unit. Spend more time micro managing and less time shooting. When you strike the right balance between miro managing and shooting you feel like a super commander with the ability to pop off a few rounds yourself when it really counts. You really can't play this game like any other third person shooter. You have to think of yourself as a manager not as a soldier. And one of your powers is the ability to control a player when you really need to and to move up the battle field. I really hope this game gets more positive feedback and momentum. I'm sick of just playing the same old shooters where all I do is move a gun around a screen. I want to have more power on the battle field and this game gives me those options. I can't stop playing this game. I love it but I understand that it may not be for everyone. I think its for people that like RTS games and third person shooters.

joel82b
joel82b

@Spitz6860 Saying this game has bad A.I is like saying an RTS game like halo wars has bad A.I. If you leave your troops without orders they suck. But if you put them in the right spot and micro manage them constantly you will kick ass. This game is no diffident. I just don't think people are use to doing that kind of micro managing in a third person shooter, This game is almost a new genre. Third person RTS. At least you need to play it that way or it will punish you. Its a hard game if you don't pay your cards just right.   

BlazeODU
BlazeODU

@joel82b @Spitz6860 

Nothing short of poetry my friend. Thank you for proving I'm not the only person who likes this game.

lonewolf315
lonewolf315

Been playing XCOM since 1995 and I was satisfied with this game. It's not perfect by any means but it's not nearly as bad as all these so-called reviewers are making it out to be. It's a pretty competent third person cover shooter with tactical elements that could have used some more polish before it was released but it's not garbage.

Leagues better than Gears of War: Judgement, in my opinion.

Broodwin
Broodwin

I agree with most of Kevin's points here. I still think the review score is 0.5 -1.0 on the low side though.

The atmosphere, character acting and combat carry the game. Personally I found the story telling excellent. It takes it's time and lets you get your money's worth. Play it on Veteran mode, the combat is a challenge but not ludicrous.

The big let down for me was the lack of involvement in R&D, engineering, squad management and other things that made XCOM great. (And of course the totally dogsh*t friendly AI,  This should have been sorted.)

 Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go, I have a planet to save.

DigiRave
DigiRave

@joel82b @lonewolf315 @Broodwin I also think this is a good game and deserves something higher. I don't think it matters that Enemy Unknown was released before this, that game was a flaming sac of shit - but I guess some people like flaming sacs of shit.

lonewolf315
lonewolf315

@Broodwin Lack of R&D comes from the fact that Carter isn't the Base Commander. He's a Senior Field Agent and team leader. He wouldn't get to make calls like research projects and base constructions. Only team deployment and assignments.

Personally I found the game to be a solid 7.5 though I haven't finished it yet (since Saints Row 4 and Splinter Cell: Blacklist chose to come out the same day and I have a full-time job).

I find Kevin's review to be written like someone that doesn't know what they wanted from the game. For every thing he complains about he then goes on to contradict himself. "Losing a squadmate doesn't feel important" followed by "But losing one makes combat difficult and makes reloading the recent checkpoint more appealing". So it's not important but losing one is going to cause you a problem which therefore makes it important not to lose a squadmate? Contradictory writing there.

Also it's yet another review whinging about how it's not like Enemy Unknown. Of course it isn't. It's a part of the same franchise but a completely different genre. IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE SAME GAME. I wish all these reviewers would stop whining about how it's not the same game and docking marks for it. Seems like everything has to be a rerelease of last years game with a few new weapon skins in order for it to get a good review.

I'm looking at you, CoD.

joel82b
joel82b

@lonewolf315 @Broodwin I agree, This game is really great, I think it got a low score because it was not what they were expecting not because it's bad. If this game came out before Enemy Unknown I bet it would have got an 8.5 for be innovative and special. They would have seen it for all the new elements it adds to gaming rather than what it didn't have when compared with Enemy Unknown. And that's a real same and a dad review in my view.   

DesertEaglex24
DesertEaglex24

Not surprised by the score the game looks generic trash anyways.

pparache
pparache

They blew it in my opinion. Still like xcom:enemy unknown 10x more than this even with all the new eye candy. Don't like what they did to the series. Please revert back to the old gameplay if ever come back again with a sequel.

DigiRave
DigiRave

@pparache I'm not surprised people who like playing Enemy Unknown exist, there are people who enjoy playing with flaming bags of shit. Good for them, it's a free country.

BlazeODU
BlazeODU

@pparache 

Dude, the Bureau was a spin-off. Of course it's going to play differently.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PS3
    • 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 Rating319 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
    Developed by:
    2K Marin
    Published by:
    2K Games
    Genre(s):
    Shooter, First-Person, Action, 3D
    Theme(s):
    Sci-Fi
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms
    Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence