There’s something so sexy about America in the sixties. The middle class man prospered in a thriving economy, the race was on to get man to the moon, and the soundtrack to the era had the world swinging to the American tune.
It was not all a perfect bliss though – the US goverment were steeped in the cold-war, acutely aware of the possible Cuban threat, and conspiricy theories of life from outer-space were rampant. The goverment intent on protecting it’s fellow countrymen from… the truth.
Enter The Bureau, formed as an elite organisation to protect the citizen from what he does not know, and “erase the truth” at all costs. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s premise revolves entirely around this era, authentically so, while serving as a prequel to the XCOM franchise.
Fans of the series will recognise aspects that pay homeage to the series – find bits and pieces they love from the series – but all importantly, The Bureau mixes it up with the gameplay, crossing genres even. I personally have found strategy games in the past to be a little slow for me. I am an action sort of guy, so I love that The Bureau offers a very third-person shooter sort of feel. The action was relentless in the hour or so that I played, and because of this, I enjoyed the strategy side of things as I wasn’t completely clamped down on the sideline, watching my strategy play out. I was getting into the action while it was playing out, commanding my team while playing in the traditional ‘cover third-person shooter’ style. The battles were pretty large, and clearing areas took anything from minutes to a quarter of an hour, depending on the level of enemy I was facing. There’s even speech trees for those of us that want to delve deep into the conspiricies surrounding the narrative.
2K Marin describe the game as a “narrative-driven, strategic shooter that is action-packed,” and from what I experienced, that is exactly how I would describe it. The narrative was instantly absorbing, the mechanics – both shooting and strategy – were sorted, and the gameplay was a blast. Best of all the game makes you think. The Bureau makes you think – if you have formed a relationship with a character for example, levelled them up, then you certainly don’t want to lose them. This aspect is further fleshed out as you can send agents out from your command centre, in order to level them up, and in case you need to replace a fallen agent.
You play as CIA Agent William Carter – a character I would describe as somewhere between James Dean and Clint Eastwood – a no-nonsense, patriotic archetype of a super-agent, that surely finished top of his class. He looks like James Dean would if he were a clean-cut agent, but has the attitude and even gruff voice similar to that of Eastwood. Carter is tasked with leading the defense against the attacking aliens. The agents are armed with weapons that were typical to the era, which pale in comparison to the technology the antagonist aliens are equipped with. This only helps with the pace and difficulty of it all –again, forcing you to thing and work out the best attack or defense.
The strategic radial menu allows you to command your team with actions like: powerful shot, attack certain areas or marks, move the agent, cloak the agent and setting up turrets. Importantly, time slows right down when you bring up the command menu, but does not stop completely, so you are still vulnerable. I played with a small team that had been leveled up a tad, and so the AI was pretty apt – they could function on their own, but I found that battles took longer to clear without my commanding.
The gameplay was addictively fun. There’s plenty to please the XCOM fan, while appealing to a broader audience thanks to the fact that you fully inhabit one character. At the preview event, 2K Games Export PR Manager, Erica Denning also promised that we can expect the 2K trademark – twist in the narrative, which just peaks my interest.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is stylish, a little unique and is being developed by a thoroughbred studio – 2K Marin – who heavily assisted Irrational Games with BioShock Infinite. The Bureau definitely left me wanting more – the next, bigger battle; more of the interesting story; more about Carter; the Alien threat…
I call a potential – somewhat of surprise hit – for 2013.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified releases on Xbox 360. Playstation 3 and PC on 23 August.