The Bureau: XCOM Declassified PlayStation 3 Review
When going into my The Bureau: XCOM Declassified review I had a few things on my mind. One, I’d just finished XCOM: Enemy Unknown in July, so that experience was still relatively fresh in my mind. Two, 2K Marin was behind the development of The Bureau, which had me all kinds of excited as the original BioShock is easily in my top five games all time. And I wasn’t worried about The Bureau’s long development cycle based on what I’d recently seen with BioShock: Infinite. Needless to say, I was ready to see what 2K Marin’s XCOM had in store for me.
XCOM is well known for it’s turn based strategy gameplay and character class customization. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified departs from the typical gameplay and framework we’re accustomed to and instead throws us behind the shoulder of William Carter in a third person perspective for the duration. This drastically changes the ebb and flow of action as well as our post mission preparations, and interactions with the XCOM base of operations. You’ll be running all over the XCOM base to interact with characters, complete small side missions, and even snuff out spies. Once again, this added a different flavor to pre and post mission time, but I found the traversal of the base to be more tedious than anything. Another change comes by way of how alien gear and weapons are acquired. Gone are the days of research and reverse-engineering. Now you’ll find all weapon and gear upgrades in the field. The retreat from the norm was to refresh the franchise and help us differentiate this story from past iterations. However, agents are still insanely fragile and the threat of permadeath is always present. The Bureau deals with the 1950’s inception of the XCOM division in the face of Earth’s first confrontation with an invading alien force. The events and subsequent operations are all concealed under the guise of the Cold War.
The deviation from turn based strategy makes The Bureau’s gameplay considerably different than it’s predecessors, but your three man squad is still built on a strong character class system. In that way The Bureau retains some of what past XCOM games brought to the table. If I had to compare The Bureau’s combat mechanics, I’d say the closest association would be with the Mass Effect series. Each confrontation plays out relatively similar as level design was more about pushing the 1950’s theme than anything. You’ll know there’s a firefight impending anytime your squad approaches a maze of sticky cover objects as they’re pretty much absent from slower paced mission segments. Enemy types and AI styles are well varied, forcing you to constantly adapt your combat methods. That’s where character classes and Battle Focus come in. Battle Focus allows you to slow the passage of time and issue orders to your subordinates in the field (much like Mass Effect). Each character class has their own specific set of perks that can be combined in devastating fashion. I typically found myself running with the Engineer and Recon classed agents, as they offered a diverse skill set for me to exploit. Combining Carter’s lift ability with a critical strike and deployable turret was one of the more effective tactics I used.
Graphically The Bureau leaves a lot to be desired, but brief moments of greatness happen while engaged in one on one conversation and cut-scenes. 2K Marin did a great job with male facial animations and subtle movements during dialogue to add life to character models. On the other end of the spectrum, female characters suffered from very strange facial movements, more specifically the mouth. The only way to describe this easily is, all teeth. Character movements are otherwise stiff and uninspired. Actions like sprinting, vaulting over cover and the act of taking cover itself are all very rudimentary. You’ll also be enduring a decent amount of screen tearing and small moments of framerate dips throughout The Bureau.
What 2K Marin did a fabulous job with was the 1950’s aesthetic. Characters sport dress pants, loafers, fedoras, and suspenders. Vehicles are true to the era, even Skyrangers have a noticeable downgrade due to the time period, but they’re still completely recognizable. Each location you visit is accurately depicted, and helps to delve you deeper into the mythos.
One of the more enjoyable aspects of The Bureau was it’s narrative. William Carter is a tormented and conflicted protagonist and most of the people around him have seen their fair share of hardships. Most of the details are found within notes, photos, and case files strewn about the XCOM facility, but some are spoon fed to you when they tie directly into the plot. I became invested in Carter’s struggle due to his checkered past and the not so hidden theme of redemption that lurks throughout The Bureau’s tale. Things get a bit convoluted later in the story with the addition of about twenty plot twists. Some of which are executed better than others.
After my time with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified I can say one thing for certain; 2K Marin stayed true to the series while exploring a different way to present it. A strong plot and characters are complimented by a well executed Cold War theme. The Bureau slips up with it’s character animations and some performance issues, along with some rather odd pacing later in the game. My hope is that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does well enough to warrant a sequel. I have no doubt in my mind that 2K Marin could polish the hell out of the experience and offer up something truly fantastic in the future.
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