I was lucky enough to visit the 2K media room at E3 in 2010, when they showed off their beta of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (then called XCOM). What they showed us was Bioshock-esque first-person shooter set in the XCOM world. What surprised me the most was the design of the enemies. There were no little, green men from Mars running around with ray guns. Instead, there was a mysterious black liquid taking over the environment and killing civilians. Just when we thought aliens were finished, an enormous black pillar appeared in the sky and started shooting death rays. I immediately fell in love with the game and kept an eye out for its release, but that never happened. Sadly, XCOM got thrown into development limbo for the next few years until it was finally release as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. So, did 2K do themselves any favors by not rushing this project? No, they didn’t.
The story of The Bureau places you in the shoes of William Carter, a special agent with the CIA in the early 1960’s. While transporting a mysterious briefcase, he is attacked by a woman who happens to be leaking some black fluid from her face. After the attack, Carter wakes up to the entire facility being attacked by little green men running around with ray guns. He teams up with De Silva, who inducts him into XCOM, a secret organization created to battle a Soviet invasion of the United States. XCOM has repurposed itself to fight the alien (Outsider) attacks. From here, the plot takes a less narrative direction, in favor of individual missions. While the plot is thoroughly fleshed out through dialogue, cutscenes, and notes littered throughout the game, that doesn’t make it interesting. The Bureau doesn’t make any effort to tell an original story, but follows the well-tread path of alien invasion games.
“Oh no! Aliens/Demons/Monsters have invaded my country! We have to take down the mothership/close the portal/kill the leader!”
Have you ever played this game before? Then you’ve played The Bureau.
The Bureau is a third-person cover based shooter, with an emphasis on tactically using your squadmates. The combat itself is boring, repetitive, and worn out. You’ll spend almost all of your time hiding in cover, occasionally popping out to try and score a headshot. Much like the vast multitude of similar games that plagued this generation of consoles, The Bureau will force you to go from area to area filled with waist-high cover. There is an attempt to spice up the gameplay with your squadmates, giving you four different classes of teammates to choose from. You’ve got a soldier, an engineer, a medic, and a scout, but you can only take two per mission. Your squadmates, as well as your character, will level up as you gain experience. As the characters level up, they either gain abilities or increase their current skills. In combat, you can pull up a squad wheel (per Mass Effect) and give orders to your team with time slowed down. Now, giving orders would be a lot more enjoyable if the teammate AI wasn’t so damn stupid. Even when given a simple, “Defend Here” order, they’ll run around the area, diving from cover to cover, instead of staying in one spot. Attempting to use your squaddies “tactically” is like herding panicked, blind cats. Usually, you’re better off trying to pick off the enemies yourself.
From your HQ, you can choose to take on “Minor Operations” (side missions) and send squadmates you’re not using for “Dispatch Missions”. While it’s nice to have a place inbetween missions to level up characters, check out new gear, and review information,The Bureau turns the HQ into a hellish, dialogue-riddled maze. You spend way too much time slowly jogging from one corner of the XCOM Dept. to the other, attempting to talk to a character and unlock a side mission. The building is designed like a maze and the only guide you have is an optional objective marker. But, the marker doesn’t show you how to get to your objective, it just has an arrow you can see through the walls. There are games that make dialogue between missions interesting, but this isn’t one of those.
Surprisingly, the graphics look pretty good. You can tell that, while the rest of the game is mediocre and dull, there was a fair amount of effort put into making the game pretty. Of course, to give it a retro feel, they drown the entire game in a fuzzy, sepia filter. Thanks, Instagram. The voice acting is above average, but not enough to save you from the droning dialogue. Your squadmates will occasionally speak when you’re on missions, but they tend to keep quiet. I’m alright with this.
In the tradition of games that go through development limbo, there are no other modes of gameplay. There’s no multiplayer, challenge modes, or anything. You get the campaign and that’s it. Not to say that anyone would really want to play a multiplayer version of The Bureau, but it would have been nice to see something, anything else to make the game worth its price tag.
For you Achievement Hounds out there, you may want to take a look at The Bureau. It won’t be a fun 1,000/1,000, but it isn’t a difficult game to max out. On one playthrough, I was able to net 780/1,000. There’s only 34 achievements, so you can imagine that the only difficult part will be forcing yourself to play this game for an extended period of time. Also, most of the achievements are cheesy references to Men in Black and Independence Day. I can never tell if that’s a good sign or a bad omen when the developers have enough time on their hands to make up cheeky names for their achievements.
The Bureau had a hell of a lot of potential to be a very cool game. Fan backlash and development troubles took a cool idea, then beat it mercilessly, crushed it down, and dressed it up like a run-of-the-mill cover based shooter. The only interesting thing The Bureau did was a little plot twist at the very end of the game. If there’s only one point in the game where you are interested in anything going on, you’ve done something wrong. The Bureau brings nothing unique or noteworthy to the table, instead becoming one of the countless games on the shelf. What a damn shame.
I give The Bureau: XCOM Declassified 2 “Men in Black” out of 5
By Blake Edwards