When 2K Games originally announced that the strategy series XCOM would be getting a shooter-oriented spin-off — now called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified — longtime fans of the series didn’t care. But what about those who prefer shooters over strategy (like me)?
Well, as it turns out, you might want to temper your expectations. Once you do, however, and get a handle on having to do so much yourself, The Bureau can actually be a fun and flavorful but still flawed shootout.
Set in 1962, the game — which 2K is releasing on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC — casts you as William Carter, a CIA agent who has his worldview changed when aliens attack. After surviving their initial invasion, you’re recruited into a secret government agency called The Bureau who task you, with the help of two sidekicks, to put an end to the alien’s takeover of the Earth. So it’s a good thing you’re armed with a variety of weapons, both foreign and domestic, as well as the sense to duck behind cover when necessary.
All of which probably has you thinking this sounds like a cross between Star Wars: Republic Commando or Rainbow Six: Vegas and the original Resistance but with even more ’50s and ’60s sci-fi movie tropes and a little Gears Of War thrown in for good measure.
Oh, but only if this was that good. What made those games work well, even for someone who’d rather be a lone wolf, is that your coworkers would, at the very least, defend themselves. But in The Bureau, your cohorts are such company men that they won’t breathe if not given orders to do so in triplicate. So while they’ll follow your commands, once they’ve completed them, they often just sit there — though, thankfully, while staying in cover — waiting for you to tell them what to do next. Which means you usually have to issue new commands while you’re already being shot at.
The irony is that, by adding an element of strategy to this shooter, the developers — 2K Marin (who made the excellent but underrated BioShock 2) clearly thought it would also appeal to fans of the strategic XCOM games. Except now it has too little strategy for strategy fans and too much micromanaging for shooting fans.
Adding insult to injury, when you go into command mode, time only slows down, it doesn’t stop. Which is why you’ll sometimes get shot while trying to decide which of your dumbass partners you want to flank the enemy.
It also doesn’t help that, at the beginning of a battle, your cohorts will occasionally run straight at the enemy (though, in all fairness, there are some aliens who are just as dumb and will run straight into your bullets as well).
Now, this may have you thinking Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction was right when, in the song “Pigs In Zen,” he declared, “Some people should die, that’s just unconscious knowledge.” Except that when one of your companions dies, it doesn’t end the mission and bring you back to the beginning or to the last checkpoint so you can try again. Instead, he stays dead, and you have to finish the mission with one less helper. Granted, you can replace him when you get back to home base, but you’ll still never see him again.
This, of course, wouldn’t be such a big deal, were it not that they each of your minions have special attacks. Some guys can call in airstrikes, for instance, while others carry auto turrets. And all of them, and you, get new abilities by gaining experience in the field. It’s an interesting wrinkle that makes you care a lot more about those dumbasses, though, to be honest, really only for what they can do for you.
While having stupid partners you have to micromanage doesn’t make this sound like a good time, it does get better. After playing through the initial invasion, you get used to how this game works (or, to be more accurate, doesn’t work). And while it never becomes as fun as it could’ve been if your coworkers were as smart and independent as, say, your pals in Mass Effect, it does get a lot less frustrating, especially when you realize you can just put your guys into cover in the back somewhere and take the point position yourself. And that you can heal them in a couple different ways when they get hurt.
Which makes it all the odder that this game is single-player only. You can’t play it co-op with two friends who might actually listen to you, or at least be able to hold their own when they go rogue. This just seems like a missed opportunity.
In the end, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified could’ve been great for fans of third-person shooters, especially those with an affinity for ’50s and ’60s sci-fi movies. Instead it’s just an okay one, one that was undone by stupid coworkers as well as a need to appeal to fans of the strategy series. Y’know, the ones who never cared about this game in the first place.
What do you think of this game (or my review of it)? Please let me know in the comments below.