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The Bureau XCOM Declassified Review

The Bureau:XCOM Declassified is set at the height of the Cold War, in 1962. The bureau spoken of in the title is a secret U.S. agency, organized to coordinate resistance in the event of a successful Soviet invasion. They soon find themselves facing a much greater threat to the American way of life than the Russians - an alien invasion.

They pull off the 60's setting excellently, with the soundtrack, characters, and levels all feeling believably from that time period. There are often audio records or notes to be found lying about, telling of civilians reactions to the attacks. This, and that the motive behind every mission is well explained, makes them feel like actual places.

The main character is William Carter, a CIA agent who was tasked with transporting an extraterrestrial object to a military base. He gets shot by an "infected" human, but after being exposed to the aforementioned object, the wound heals itself. The base is immediately attacked by aliens dubbed "Outsiders," who easily kill most of the bases garrison. Carter and a few others escape, then join the aforementioned bureau.

You'll often be confronted with dialogue options, but they seem to have had to cut corners on this aspect. There isn't much impact in the majority, and it seems as if they only got it half-done. You can be the captured aliens best friend, and it won't change the outcome of an event late in the game. You can choose options as different as endorsing genocide or opposing it, and the characters act the same regardless.

That aside, the story is good. There's a brilliant plot twist late in the game, and it's not just genius in the context of this game. It has to do with the entire medium of video games, and it puts a question over the remainder of the game. The climax is the high point of the game, with the most powerful squad you'll have, brutal but fair firefights, and choices that actually have an impact. There's even an optional 'final boss' of sorts, that I immediately ran from in terror and finished the game.

As much as The Bureau is criticized for not "being XCOM", it feels as much like XCOM as a rushed tactical shooter could. It has challenging, tactical battles, permadeath for lost agents, and the constant feeling that you're fighting a vastly superior enemy, in both numbers and technology. Even at the end of the game, they still have a few technological advantages. It lacks the research aspect, but it wouldn't really make sense, given that you're only the leader of a field team, not the whole operation. I'll redeem this paragraph that I normally wouldn't have written by pointing out that nostalgia blind idiots are one of the most useless kinds of human beings, and should be ashamed of two things: judging things by something other than their own merit, and wasting precious oxygen.

The core of the game is combating the alien threat, which is a combination of strategy and shooting. The control scheme is mostly standard, but circle causes time to slow down and lets you give orders to your soldiers. You don't just give them a single order, but can set up a queue. It greatly rewards pre planning and enables strategies both complex and simple, either of which are better bets than turtling.

Your can have two soldiers along with you on any mission, and as they level up they gain three abilities. They differ depending on the class, and aside from that there are usually two abilities to choose between when they level up. The ability you choose carries a lot of weight, and makes the optimal use for that soldier very different than if you choose the other. 

There are four classes, Engineer, Support, Recon, and Commando. The Engineer deploys turrets and mines. Support boost other soldiers, deploy shields, and can do heavy damage to armor or enemy shields. Recon are snipers that do high damage to unarmored targets, turn invisible or deploy a diversion, and call in artillery strikes. Commando's are the least useful of the bunch from a strategic standpoint, because their abilities are mainly combat focused, and inconsequential against end game enemies, and they have opportunities to have higher health than anyone else. They're essentially the standard, front line soldier in a game where you can only choose two soldiers to go with you.

Level design is excellent, with plenty of different nonlinear areas to fight in. There are areas ranging from open to claustrophobic, with cover ranging from sparse to heavy, close range and long range combat, and areas that combine contradictory aspects. You can always fight however you want, so long as you do it well. Flanking or slowly pushing forward while using your abilities to complement your plan, or making abilities the focus and making well planned, devastating attacks are all practical.

You'll need to come up with a good strategy, considering how strong your adversaries are. There's a lot of enemy variety; Heavily armed and armored mutons that advance your position head on, blob and drone spawners, rank and file foot soldiers, walking tanks, teleporters, cloaking enemies focused on flanking, enemies that deploy turrets, and several others. They all fill a niche in the enemy forces and work together as a strong, cohesive war machine that'll mop the floor with you more than once in the course of this game.

As I mentioned earlier, they have greater numbers and always have the technological edge, but they also have very aggressive, intelligent AI. Any poor plan will leave you without any breathing room, as they're quick to flank and attack. In the final battle, I tried to hold my position several times, and I'd consistently find myself flanked and gunned down from every side.

Ammunition is relatively scarce, so you're always hard pressed for accuracy. It adds to the tension of the game, and you'll often have to scavenge weapons off fallen enemies. There are two kinds of ammo, for human and alien weapons, which ensures that their's always more than enough if you adapt and use multiple weapons.

The list of guns is long, and they have a wide range of stats and differences. The two sniper rifles are both worth using, and the only gun that really makes another irrelevant is scatter laser against the M1897 shotgun. The only complaint I have with this aspect is that the alien weapons don't really feel alien. Sound effects and projectile color aside, almost all of them would work as a ballistic weapon.

The Bureau clocks in at about 12 hours depending on difficulty, but it's fairly replayable. The difficulty options result in drastic changes in how you have to play, and since you can only take two soldiers at each mission and there are four classes, you can focus on a different combination. The highest one doesn't even let you revive downed soldiers, just stabilize them. Like Enemy Unknown, there are four options. Two relatively easy ones, a hard one, and a brutal one. Unlike Enemy Unknown, the hard ones are actually fair, and when you fail it's your own fault, not the random number generator deciding you don't deserve to win.

8.5/10

Comments
  • Well you put it in a way that appeals to me... I'll look into it but I gotta lot of stuff I need to buy

  • Aye aye, capin' crunch!
  • *Sigh* Another game I need to play. My backlog is intimidating.... Good review as always.
  • Wow, excellent review. As divisive of a game as this is (and we've had a LOT of those this year), this certainly sounds quite good.
  • So, you think the game is good, but most apparently did not... Hmmm... Maybe I will consider it once again. Also: How the hell did you get a blog up?
  • Mod
    This makes me want to play Kill.Switch. Anywho, I'm always looking for a third-person shooter with good AI. And this is pretty cheap as of late. I may look it up on Cyber Monday and see what the sales are. I'm really getting sick of Borderlands and GTA V.