Long ago, in an E3 far, far away, there was revealed a game simply titled XCOM. Planned as a first-person shooter reboot of the classic strategy series, the denizens of the dark depths of the Internet emerged from their collective cave with the sole motivation that this game, being the shame that it is, never see the light of day. And through months of b*tching and moaning, they succeeded. The tyrant of creativity was defeated and XCOM slunk back into hiding for the next few years. Later, retooled as a “third-person strategy” game, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified emerged in an attempt to please those who had scorned and abused it so many years ago. Story + Characters The story of The Bureau takes place in the 1960s when your standard alien invasion occurs and its up to XCOM to stop the invasion all while covering up any and all evidence to avoid public hysteria. The player controls Agent William Carter, former government field agent working a desk job at Area 51 when the aliens show up. Agent Carter also possesses a tragic past gradually revealed through these manic cutscenes/dream sequences, in which Carter is isolated in a black and white room while the camera spasms around him and sounds from the past collude together to torment Carter. Outside of these cutscenes, Carter’s nothing but a gruff, grumpy government guy and they do nothing to help his rationalize his case. After escaping Groom Lake, the mission structure sends Agent Carter across the country in order to defeat the aliens and find out just what they’re up to. Along the way, he must rescue mission-critical personnel and equipment, all while discovering the aliens’ true intentions. Turns out they’re just terraforming. Never heard that one before. In all honesty, it’s about as cliched of an alien invasion story as you can get. Aliens show up, do a bad thing, government heads in to hush it up, super-secret megaweapon, etc. Gameplay On the exterior, The Bureau plays just like any cover-based third-person shooter in existence. It attempts to set itself apart from the genre by featuring a Mass Effect-style squad control wheel. This wheel can be used to control the movement of your squad in units like Enemy Unknown. It is also used to select your squadmates’ class-specific abilities. Unlike Enemy Unknown, the classes of specific squadmates are assigned and you can only choose from a very limited ability tree. These abilities by themselves are rather useful, but, like most of the gameplay, is hampered by the legendarily stupid AI. Squadmates continuously back up and run forward into the chest-high walls they should be taking cover behind. They shout, “GRENADE!” as a grenade lands right next to their feet only to stand perfectly still and get blown to ***. They tank damage like a feather pillow, and Carter is the only character with the ability to heal. Characters start off with stupidly low health and Carter heal ability takes 60 seconds to recharge. Do the math, and its more efficient just to take the Engineer and the Sniper with you on every mission, throw down a sentry during every battle, tell those morons to stay in cover as you and your sentry buddy kill everything in sight. As if this game didn’t feel like failing to be Enemy Unknown enough, there’s also a little bit of a base management minigame, which is so hashed and tacked on it’s almost insulting. So useless in fact, that you can play through the entire game without even giving it a first glance, and you’re better off doing so, as it just wastes your time. Another extreme time-waster is the stupidly pointless conversation sequences between other characters. They make use of a Mass Effect-ripoff dialogue option wheel. The whole system is pointless because there’s no moral choice system, so forcing the player to stop and choose dialogue options is a waste of my *** time! Audio/Visual For as tumultuous of a development cycle that this game had, it should come as no surprise that this is not a good-looking game. Environments are muddy and washed-out, textures are bad, and shadows look like 16-bit sprites. The human and alien models look pretty good, but characters’ mouths flap erratically around during dialogue and all the characters have these rocky “gestures” that they repeat in conversation to the point of nausea. The sound design of the battle sequences is pretty good too, but the explosions and alien machinery sounds (which are pretty convincing) are drowned out by the incessant pew-pew-pew of lasers and guns that sound like *** bubble wrap. Voice acting and music are functional but unimpressive. Conclusion In conclusion, boring gameplay, awful characterization, cliched story, shallow strategy elements, pointless time-wasting, monumentally stupid AI, and the sad fact that this game had to be compared to the amazing Enemy Unknown all culminate to create a game that is full of effort, but fails to execute on every level. And you know why that is? Whose fault is it that this game is the piece of garbage that is? It’s not 2K, and it most certainly isn’t the game’s fault. It is once again the gaming community, backing developers into a corner and forcing them to scramble something together for the sake of appeal. And you know what? This is the same exact community that berates Call of Duty for being the same game every year but a game shows up one fateful day that DARES to call itself XCOM and not be exactly the same turn-based strategy it has always been, suddenly it’s unacceptable. Suddenly a group of people who DARE call themselves gamers devote their entire existence to making sure this game doesn’t exist. And you know what else? It probably would have been a decent first-person shooter, but the same community that begs each year for variety shoots something down for trying to be different. The *** hypocrisy is palpable. And its a damn shame. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, DownPlay Reviews.