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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

What do you get if you cross Mad Men with The X-Files?

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
PS3, Xbox 360 and PC 6/10

The answer probably looks a lot like The Bureau, a tactical shooter that takes the buttoned-down world of small town America in the early 1960s and drops a full-on alien invasion into the mix. As FBI agent Will Carter, inducted into the shadowy world of XCOM where government forces fight back against outer space threats, you'll be the one leading the charge in the battle for Earth's future.

Keep Watching The Skies!

The Bureau is a spin-off from last year's brilliant turn-based strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The prospect of taking a smart strategy title and turning it into an action game is usually a recipe for disaster, but developer 2K Marin has done a predictably solid job. This is, after all, the same studio that made Bioshock 2.

After an introductory level that introduces Carter and gets him into the bosom of XCOM, you'll begin to explore this mysterious new world of UFO cover ups and alien incursions. Free to roam XCOM's vast headquarters, chatting to scientists and pencil pushers alike, you'll learn lots about the game's fiction while making your way to the part that really matters: the mission console.

It's here that you select which threat to tackle next. These include major objectives, the story missions that move the game forwards, and minor objectives, less urgent incidents that offer shorter, punchier experience ideal for levelling up and earning a bit more equipment. There are also Dispatch Missions, where you can assign any XCOM agents not currently in your squad. They'll tackle that mission while you undertake your next job, and then will report back with more skills and gadgets as a result.

No Swords, Lots Of Saucery.

The Bureau XCOM Declassified

In the field, things play out as a hybrid of cover-based shooting and tactical RPG. You're accompanied by two agents at all times, and issue orders using a simple and intuitive skill wheel. You can use this to direct agents to specific cover points, to help flank enemies, or use it to make them focus fire on one enemy, or deploy any of their unique class-based abilities. These evolve with every level up, until by the end of the game you'll have access to a fantastic array of fun powers, as well as an arsenal of human and alien weapons, plus alien tech backpacks that buff your stats.

Just don't make the mistake of playing The Bureau like Gears of War. It may look superficially similar, but your role is one of commanding officer, not just violent point man. You can crack off headshots, of course, and plant sticky grenades on the heads of hulking Mutons, but directing your squad, keeping an eye on their health, listening out for their status updates – this is what will get you through the many battles that lie ahead.

It's a lovely looking game, taking you from the diners and garages of eerily deserted towns to alien-infested backwoods locations, and on to more exotic extra-terrestrial terrain. There are lots of little stories to uncover along the way, told through cliched but effective notes and audio logs, and the option to explore the XCOM base and find additional mysteries and objectives keeps it from feeling too rigid and linear.

Plan It To Save The Planet

If The Bureau has a failing it's that the pieces don't always fit together as well as they should. The missions themselves are strong, and only get better the more deeply you engage with the various tactical options. It's everything around them that gets in the way. The XCOM base is too large and confusing to justify the additional narrative tweaks you get from jogging slowly around its sprawling corridors, and its all in service of a story that, much like The X-Files, starts out intriguing but becomes impenetrable and muddled by the end.

There's a lot of flab here, and it's hard not to wish that some of the less essential stuff had been trimmed back to make room for more minor objective missions and a deeper agent management system. The Bureau is smarter than the average shooter, but never quite as smart as it perhaps could have been.

Verdict:
The Good:

  • A true tactical shooter
  • Very nice visuals
  • Combat abilities are many and varied

The Bad:

  • Tough to start with
  • Friendly AI needs babysitting
  • The story goes off the rails
  • Date published: 28th August 2013
  • Written by: Robert Jones

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