The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

August 21st, 2013

2kg_thebureauxd_codebreakers_1Aliens are taking over the world via fiendish technologies such as contaminated water supplies and terraforming devices capable of corrupting idyllic 50s B-movie america into localised masses of grey, pre-rendered geometry assets. Fresh from the cookie-cutter and ready to thwart this nasty invasion is agent William Carter, a loose cannon, no-nonsense FBI agent with a mysterious past. What has mutated from the game’s original FPS model is now a by-the-numbers squad based cover shooter in the malignant cyan and orange colour palate of all modern sci-fi.

tbxd_header_imageThe player character has a fixed skill set which develops as you gain levels and experience from fighting enemies. You can also have two squad members with you of your own creation, chosen from various roles such as snipers, soldiers and support characters all of whom gain experience and abilities alongside you.

These characters are capable of dying permanently if left to bleed out during combat but since they are player generated, and therefore unwritten, they have no story significance and essentially boil down to different skill sets that are annoying to lose. It’s hard to care anymore after your fifth engineer succumbs to laser burns when you’ve got a replacement in the wings checking the cuffs on his red shirt, wondering if he’ll live up to the greats that proceeded him like agents Scotty, Barfbutt, and engineers 3 and 4.

There are even additional missions that your waiting roster of cannon fodder teammates can only take on themselves, being temporarily dispatched and returning with a level apiece and some prize like a new backpack or a man left alive in the field (a worrying thought if they ever put two and two together). This would be an interesting addition to the game but for the fact that there are only around 4 of these missions available throughout the short campaign so they basically function as a few ‘level-up’ tokens for your temporary meat shields.

2kg_thebureauxd_codebreakers_3Lack of drama notwithstanding, the combat has some interesting nuances with flanking and positioning playing a large role in your success, especially on any difficulty above easy. The special abilities, while adding some variety, don’t feel especially powerful. Underpowered is how the majority of the combat seemed to me; early on you have limited abilities due to your low level and around the half-way point there seemed to be a bump in enemy strength, forcing me to wonder if someone put the wrong kind of batteries in my plasma rifle as a joke, since even unshielded enemies were able to take entire clips of ammo to the face without breaking stride.

Though the combat may be bland at times it is nowhere near as derivative as the writing. Clichés litter every line of dialogue and are the bones holding up the entirety of the game’s cast. The aforementioned Carter, the morally ambiguous commander Faulke (A joy to hear this name yelled like an expletive every few minutes), the sassy and deadly female agent Weaver, the list goes on.

Despite this weakness, the game insists on killing its own pacing with lengthy segments where you simply walk back and forth between different areas of the XCOM facility watching people’s poorly synced mouth animations struggle to keep up with the rate at which you press the skip dialogue button. This is a big let down and a source of some confusion for me. The game insists on you navigating the now mandatory radial dialogue trees but with no opportunity to influence events beyond locking out a few minor objectives here and there. There is no sense of your involvement in the world until the end stages of the game where some interesting ideas are suddenly brought into play and a few choices you make then impact which ending you receive.

XCOM HQThe seemingly unnecessary sub-objective of the game’s organisation XCOM to “erase the truth” leaves you with a thoroughly unsatisfying ending, not least of all due to the game’s limited play time, giving you a sense of ennui at best and at its worst will make you wish for the time you spent on it back.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is an anomaly. This game is too late to the party, sitting in the kitchen passing off its friend’s stories as its own and going home alone early. No doubt the developers are keen to see this one put to bed, it’s continued existence likely a result of the wildly successful XCOM:Enemy Unknown, released just last year by Firaxis. Fans of the franchise may get a kick out of seeing the origin story of the titular organisation but beyond that, this is one UFO you’d do better not to believe in.

Words > Thom Haley

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