Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, a turn-based strategy game of human resistance to alien invasion, was a surprise hit, making many gamers’ top games list — my own included.
Enter — finally — The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, a game that’s been sent back to the drawing board several times. At various points in its development it’s been a first-person shooter, a third-person shooter and now, in its final form, it’s a squad-based real-time third-person tactical shooter.
That kind of development history can play merry hell with a game. And it has: The Bureau isn’t anywhere near as engaging as Enemy Unknown.
The Bureau is set in 1962. There’s a certain appeal about this; our agents may roll their sleeves up when there’s work to be done, but they never remove their waistcoats or fedoras. There’s even a guest appearance from FBI chief J Edgar Hoover, and frequent references to President Kennedy.
But the US-based period setting removes one of the most appealing aspects of Enemy Unknown: the international flavour of the game. Here there are no Indian snipers, Mexican assault troopers or Japanese medics. The Bureau is predominantly white, male and American.
Our story opens when CIA agent William Carter — who we’ll play throughout the game — is sent to deliver a mysterious package to The Bureau, a secret US agency created to defend against alien invasion, and the fore-runner of the later XCOM project. Before he can hand over the package, he’s shot by a woman under alien control. When he wakes, his injuries are cured, she’s been incinerated, the package has vanished and the Bureau’s base is under alien attack.
Tutorials are built into Carter’s escape from the base. We learn how to move, shoot, take cover and — once we meet an ally — how to control squad-mates through the “battle focus mode” which slows down — but never quite stops — time while you issue orders. As time goes on you can select from a number of specialists to assist Carter — commando, engineer, recon and support.
As in Enemy Unknown, injured squad-mates can be revived, but those who die on a mission are gone for good. Survivors, Carter included, gain experience and levels.
With communications down, the president out of contact, the Bureau’s Director Faulk takes over America’s defence against the invaders, and Carter becomes his weapon of choice.
Retro feel aside, The Bureau owes much of its look to Enemy Unknown. Sectoids and Grays are back as enemies, shield icons represent how effective your cover is and so on.
But where Enemy Unknown’s retro flavour came from its game play, offering us a fresh take on something we haven’t seen for years — a superb, isometric turn-based skirmish strategy game — The Bureau comes into a crowded market. There are plenty of other tactical shooters out there: SOCOM, Splinter Cell, Modern Warfare, Black Ops and more.
And The Bureau doesn’t really do anything to stand out from the crowd. Levels are moderately interesting, but not captivating. Gameplay isn’t too challenging. Graphics are mediocre.
While the XCOM setting retains its appeal, I found myself longing to eject The Bureau to spend another quality evening with Enemy Unknown.
It isn’t that The Bureau is a bad game. It isn’t; it’s a reasonable game. But coming on the heels of a great game such as Enemy Unknown, that’s a bitter disappointment.
Box – The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Third-person tactical shooter
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Version tested: PS3
Star rating: 3/5