Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
XCOM is a long running sci-fi franchise which has produced 8 titles in its 19 year lifespan. While the majority of these have been turn-based strategy titles, including last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2K Marin’s latest title seeks to reimagine the series as a tactical third-person shooter. So does The Bureau: XCOM Declassified offer a successful extension to 2K Games’ current reboot of the XCOM franchise? Or is it just an average title using the XCOM name to gain some sales? Let’s find out!
The story centers around CIA Agent William Carter, during the Cold War era, as he is tasked with escorting a mysterious alien artifact to the military. Within the first few minutes, he’s been attacked by a possessed human, aliens (later known as Outsiders) have begun to invade Groom Range (the military base where you were waiting), and after a blue explosion which killed your assailant and healed your gunshot wound, the artifact you were carrying is nowhere to be found. After fighting your way through aliens and picking up a couple of soldiers along the way, you rescue Director Myron Faulke, the leader of The XCOM Bureau, and fight your way out of the rapidly decaying base.
At XCOM headquarters, you are introduced to the secret organisation which was built in case of a successful hostile invasion (although this was expected to be Russians during the Cold War, not Aliens) and the hub, where you can interact with characters with a Mass Effect-like speech wheel. The title’s narrative reeks of unrealised potential, as it is filled with many characters who were not properly fleshed out, many concepts that were not fully explored and a fairly dull and unimaginative protagonist who undergoes very little development or change. Undoubtedly, the story is still quite interesting, as it explores the Outsiders’ past quite comprehensively and how people react in times of war and when their world is changed completely, but unfortunately it is never explored in such a way that the player really cares about the characters or what happens to the world around them.
The game plays quite similarly to Mass Effect 2 in its balance of using abilities and weaponry and the way your character moves. The title plays from a third-person person perspective, and you consistently have 2 weapons in your inventory (which can be picked from an array of Outsider or Human weapons). You will also consistently have 2 soldiers following you, who will be any combination of Support, Recon, Commando or Engineer units. Finding which soldiers suit your play style is vital, as their abilities will play a major part in the success of your fights and missions, and losing them – at whatever level they die, is a permanent loss. The permanent loss system means that your soldiers are disposable, and therefore there are no interactions with them outside of missions. As characters, they have the same effect as your recruited members in Assassin’s Creed, in that they are just there to kill things, go on arbitrary side quests and level up. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does have basic RPG elements, as your soldiers and William Carter will level up and gain abilities as the game progresses, which further allow you to customise your squad.
The combat gameplay is quite tactical – as your soldiers can be guided and you can use both your and their abilities through the in-game radial menu. Thankfully, the gameplay slows when you access this menu, so you have time to assess the battlefield and decide where you want your soldiers, what abilities you want to use and which enemies you are prioritising for attacks. In essence, you could get through an entire area without having ever personally fired a shot, as good management means your teammates will eliminate the enemies efficiently.
Unfortunately, as with most other parts of the title, the gameplay is held back by some persistent issues. Your teammates will often stand in direct enemy fire, even if you’ve directed them to cover and it is frustrating to have to revive them when they should have sat behind cover until their health regenerated to a manageable level. Compounding this issue is the fact that the bleed-out bar depletes very quickly, so if the downed soldier is across the field for flanking purposes, making the sprint across to save them may be futile. Lastly, the cover system is quite hit and miss, simply because the contextual use of the A (360) button results in the action your character ends up performing not always being what you had intended.
Graphically the title is quite unimpressive. While most of the environments look fair, if uninspired, there are many pixelated textures and constant texture loading glitches. A similar issue applies to most of the character models aside from William Carter, as they all look fairly good, but for some reason, a lot of their speech doesn’t match their facial movement. The menu and user interfaces look quite similar to that of the old BioShock titles, and given 2K Marin’s involvement with those – which were set in a similar era – this is unsurprising, although they do look good and fit quite well.
The sound is quite a shining point of the title, as it is done quite well. The voice acting is well done and conveys the feeling of the characters quite clearly, other than William Carter’s, which is probably a result of how the character was written, not how the voice actor performed. The sound effects are well done, and the laser and plasma weapons sound especially fitting in XCOM’s world. Lastly, however irrelevant it is, I found it satisfying that the aliens actually had a dialect, as it gave the appearance of the aliens having a form of communication, instead of being bumbling savages as depicted in many other games. Music was well used for the sake of building tension, setting a mood or allowing the player to know when specific incidents were occurring.
The main campaign will take around 10-12 hours to complete, depending on how quickly you fight your battles, and has nearly no reason to be replayed, other than testing it on a higher difficulty or with different skills, abilities and soldiers. There are no other modes available and the title is not memorable enough to warrant multiple playthroughs.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified isn’t a bad game – it just doesn’t do anything new, and it doesn’t do anything particularly well. It borrows elements from numerous games, specifically the Mass Effect series, and it doesn’t do the title any favours to be compared to such a behemoth of modern gaming. This shows in both the title’s story and gameplay, as the narrative and characters is not fleshed out in enough detail, and the gameplay, while fun, is filled with glitches and issues that sometimes prevent from being enjoyable.
Graphically, the title fails to impress and is full of glitches, although the audio does save the game and add to the immersion of the player. It is likely the title will only last 10-12 hours in your console, and possibly in your memory, as there is very little reason to play through it multiple times. The XCOM franchise is certainly filled with many possibilities, as The Bureau was certainly an opportunity to explore one of those, but the title never really has its own identity and is quite forgettable because of that.
Lasting Appeal: 5/10