The XCOM franchise is one of critical acclaim and massive fan support that won over millions of fans in the Turn-Based Strategy genre and made a successful comeback in 2012 with XCOM Enemy Unknown. 2K Marin was also working on an XCOM game of their own with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
The Bureau is a much different game however as it is a third person tactical shooter set in the XCOM universe. 2K Marin has take some of the things that make the franchise great and built a shooter around it. Declassified will see players control special agent William Carter who is a CIA agent during the very first Alien invasion in 1962. The US government had setup a special unit to ready itself for a possible Soviet invasion during the cold. The invasion came but it wasn’t the Russians.
At the beginning of XCOM Declassified players come face to face with the alien threat right away before making it to the XCOM base to find our just what has happened. Communications from the world have been cut off and Washington is deemed lost as Carter and his squad members begin picking up the pieces.
The 1960’s America is beautifully presented in its locations, character models and overall presentations. The game was inspired by X-Files and Mad Men and this comes through in XCOM in impressive fashion. Carter sports a turtle neck, people are smoking cigarettes and large cold war era computers beep in the corners as type writers hammer away – Declassified has me at hello.
The Bureau’s main draw is its squad based tactical gameplay build around a third person, cover based shooter where Carter gives commands to his two squad mates as they flank enemies, use various class specific powers and blast away the alien enemy as ‘Battle Focus’ is engaged. Battle Focus allows players to slow down time, order squad members to position themselves and attack enemies using their specific abilities such as taunting enemies to draw them out or delivering a finishing blow.
Using the various abilities that are specific to the classes in the game works really well especially when combining them to be most effecting in the challenging battles. Carter has skills like healing or levitating enemies himself. All squad members, including Agent Carter, can be leveled up and unlock their various skills but since this is an XCOM game each of them can be lost to permadeath. If you like, you can reload a checkpoint and start again but that would defeat the purpose.
The actual gameplay feels good and especially Battle Focus is swift and easy to use, at it’s best XCOM Declassified matches the quality of Mass Effect. Some of the downsides of XCOM’s gameplay however are the awkward controls. At times I was trying to take cover but jump over all wall instead causing me to die or trying to heal a squad mate but instead picking up a weapon. The agents can act a little silly in the combat missions which was a bit annoying but since it was easy to level up their replacements, I wasn’t too upset when I lost my best friend to an alien sniper. Squad mates can be sent out on their own missions to level up similar to Assassin’s Creed.
The best parts of XCOM are clearly its presentation and combat system when it works well and I loved exploring the XCOM base, talk to the various characters and soak in the atmosphere. Something I would have liked to see is the actual implementation of research or more fleshed out uses of the base. The most researching I did was picking up an alien weapon and that counted as ‘acquired’ – this is a missed opportunity.
Overall I have to say I really enjoyed The Bureau: XCOM Declassified because of its setting, presentation and squad based gameplay. The game has some issues with its controls and squad AI but this really didn’t harm my experience too much. If you enjoy the XCOM franchise this is a must play and even if this is your first XCOM game, Declassified will leave you wanting to explore the series more.
Score: 8 / 10
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was developed by 2K Marin and published by 2K Games for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on August 20th. A retail copy of the Xbox 360 version was provided to us by 2K Games for reviewing purposes.