Version Played: PC
When I first heard about The Bureau, I tried imagining shooting aliens in the 60′s while wearing a fedora. I really liked that image and I’ve been waiting quite some time to review this. Being set in the XCOM universe and taking a detour from its strategy lineage, some might not even give it a second look. But I did, and I’m here to tell you if you should too.
Its the middle of the Cold War and tensions are high but humanity will need to fear another threat that is not from this world. You’re agent William Carter and you’ve been tasked to deliver a highly classified package but obviously it won’t be that easy. You’re attacked and you were exposed to an alien entity that somehow has granted you powers making you a super-soldier.
That’s pretty much the basis of this third-person cover and squad based shooter. The first thing everyone will think of is, how similar is it to XCOM? There are some similarities of course, permadeath is definitely a feature and recruiting squaddies of certain classes are found here too. But your base of operations are not manageable since you’re specifically playing a field agent. The Bureau is also more plot driven rather than trying to research and better arm yourself against the aliens. That was the biggest departure from the series I didn’t like.
Apart from the main missions or major operations, there will minor operations that you can take part in and send out your reserve agents for dispatch missions. Other than the reward of experiences and leveling up, your agents will bring back either an already leveled up new recruit or a backpack. There are no armors whatsoever, only weapons and backpacks which grant you bonuses so another negative there. You’d think that they will think of increasing your protection against freaking lasers and plasma projectiles.
But the missions didn’t have any sort of consequence on your base and is not really helping you in the fight against the aliens. So you’re pretty much doing them just to level up your recruits. There’s no decisions to be made on which targets to go after since you can take your time and do them all, it would have been better if your decisions somehow affect the war in some way but like I said, it’s an action game that is mainly plot driven.
However, it’s not all bad; I really loved the 60′s setting. The game did a great job immersing me into the environment. The contrast of advanced alien technology and structures being erected right in the middle of small towns were memorable. Pictures of JFK and fear of the Russians are just some of the idiosyncrasies you will find littered in The Bureau. My favorite missions were all that took place in the towns, there is nothing quite like defending your position on the roof of a diner against an alien gunship.
The game is centered on getting to cover and ordering your squad around. You’ll be able to bring another two agents with you and is separated into the Commando, Engineer, Support, and Recon classes. Ordering your squad is as easy as by pressing a button and bringing up Battle Focus, a mode that significantly slows time for you to issue out orders. Each member will take up a third of the Battle Focus wheel and all enemies will be highlighted. The system works great but anything from moving your squad to placing turrets or mines will need to be done by manually moving it through the level like a person, meaning you can go over walls and you will be frustratingly trying to find that gap where you can squeeze through your order. All this while enemies are shooting at you, remember, time is slowed, not stopped.
But your squad mates can be douches at times, after the fifth time one of them needs to be revived because they didn’t bother to move when a grenade is just at their feet or one of them tailing you like a little puppy even in the midst of gunfire, it starts to get annoying. The game can be unforgiving at times, sending waves of enemies like there’s no end but winning those battles are truly satisfying.
William Carter has more unique skills available to be used, because of the alien exposure, he can summon alien technology to aid him in battles and even heal his entire squad. Battles mostly takes place in open-ended environments, and how you use your squad can mean victory or death. The environments is littered with vantage points that help you get the advantage over your enemies which means almost every battle can be won in multiple ways. This helps when you just can’t seem to win that one pesky battle and changing your strategy and positioning on the battlefield might help tip the scales.
Sadly, the potential of a 60′s XCOM is much better than this. The game started the bang too early and instead of having an X-Files styled investigation bit in the beginning, the aliens start erecting freaking skyscrapers and terraforming entire mountains out of existence right from the get go. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified featured themes that are not cohesive and seems stuck between ideas with no real unification. The Bureau is not a terrible game, it’s just that it had so much potential that wasn’t realized for whatever reason. There is nothing to see here.