The Bureau XCOM Declassified Preview
I tried playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I really did. I even watched it played through to the end. There’s just something about it that didn’t appeal to me. No matter how many times I tried to pick it up and play it, there was this nagging feeling in the back of my mind that it wasn’t for me. Not everyone will agree with me, obviously, as there are those out there with more than a hunger for the game, and I honestly can see the appeal; naming the troops after friends and family, hoping they don’t come to an untimely demise, while researching and customising your base and facilities, tactically taking out the alien antagonists. It just wasn’t for me, and I’m sorry for that.
When writing about this new instalment, however, I wanted to make sure I did it justice, not only for the fans of the franchise, but also for myself. There are people out there that will give me stick (you know who you are) if I mess this up. Sci-fi fans are a proud race, and one you definitely shouldn’t cross. This isn’t just a warning to myself, but to 2K Marin – if they don’t get this right, there’s going to be issues.
The new addition to the XCOM family comes in the guise of The Bureau XCOM Declassified – once touted as simply ‘XCOM’, the game has been batted around from 2K studio to 2K studio, rumoured dead at one point, and has now re-emerged as the third-person tactical shooter is has now become. The ideas from 2006 (2010 reveal) have changed somewhat, with the view from first to third-person being one of the main alterations. Will this create a more ‘XCOM’ ambiance, or is this still a bit of a stretch from the 3D isometric world of Enemy Unknown?
Another change to the original format sees you fighting your way through a far more story-driven narrative in the 1960s, following main character – William Carter. He’s pretty hardcore, and has been sent to investigate and take on the alien threat that is sweeping America. Unlike previous titles, you’re not globe-trotting to rid the world of invaders, but confined to specific areas of the country.
With your squad of three, you take on the alien race that now inhabit the streets of rural America – but instead of turn-based action you’re faced with a similar style of squad tactics to those found in Mass Effect. Your ability wheel highlights the skill set of each of your team, and controlling them effectively can be the difference between life and death. In The Bureau, and any XCOM game for that matter, it’s not about being the hero – charging in and gunning everyone down. Every move is thought out and combining your squad’s abilities can create a very positive outcome. Using your taunt skill on an enemy, for example, while telling your squad mate to place a mine in it’s path is a great little combo, and also draws hard to reach aliens out from hiding. Finding these situational combinations causes the combat to flow smoothly, and makes you feel pretty awesome when it all goes to plan. While in combat, everything happens in real-time, although the action slows to a crawl when choosing your next move from the ability wheel, giving a moment’s breather before continuing. Although you’re now amongst the action, the tactical element is still in full swing, and your team shout at you if you’ve ignored your duties to direct them – I found this out as I was laying in a pool of my own blood and excrement after a bout of running and gunning.
As with Enemy Unknown, you can customise your squad, but not quite to the same extent. Outfits and equipment can be changed to provide the right kind of effect you’re looking for in your team, but to add the personal touch you can only change their names. Facial customisation has been removed, so characters fit with the flow of the narrative. Although this is a brave move in some respects – everyone who played Enemy Unknown created family and friends at one point or another – it definitely brings the importance of the story to the forefront.
As you progress there are certain collectables to… collect. These help with research, or add to the plot in the way of notes and diaries. This exploration adds depth and intrigue to the surroundings that is needed in a narrative-driven game. The research facilities back at base are similar to what you would expect having played Enemy Unknown, although in The Bureau you can walk the corridors, converse with other workers… it’s like being given permission to walk around the Enterprise. Another link to Mass Effect gameplay comes in the form of conversation trees – depending on your choices, as well as squad fatalities, these could lead you down the path of alternate endings.
Aside from the main missions, you can also undertake side-quests, during which you choose two combatants. There’s also the option to send out unused members of the team to collect experience elsewhere – missions (in a way similar to Assassin training in Assassin’s Creed) are on offer to level up your rookies without having to take them out on the front line with Carter.
Although 2K Marin have changed up the XCOM formula in a variety of ways, it still has that underlying tactical element that will keep any fan amused for hours. For me, this was a far easier experience to sink my teeth into than Enemy Unknown, but that’s just personal preference. I’m more inclined to play action-based shooters, and The Bureau delivers that in spades, while also introducing premeditated decisions. They kept me striving for more intricate plans via the combination of abilities, and with the research facilities in full swing I can’t wait to see what else they have in mind for the squad.
This was only one mission though, and it will be interesting to see how the story unfolds. 60s America is portrayed wonderfully, and the mix of third-person action with tactical, squad-based decisions is definitely one I know I will enjoy. We’ll just have to wait until August to get our hands on The Bureau XCOM Declassified, to see just how well it fairs – I personally think 2K Marin are giving it the justice it deserves after so long.