Game Review: The Bureau – XCOM Declassified [PC/PS3/Xbox 360]
For those that might not be aware, The Bureau follows the story of Agent “William Carter”, who is recruited by Dr. Faulke into a secretive bureau that was established to deal with a major scale Soviet attack on American Soil. However, once the threat appears to be extraterrestrial, XCOM is found by Dr. Faulke and with it begins William Carter’s treacherous journey, where he must learn the enemy, lead his operatives, and adapt to the aliens strategy in order to keep earth safe from an impending disaster.
The story begins on a high-note with this game, where you see William in charge of transporting an unidentified object to Dr. Faulke. However, some complications arise and the object is destroyed when it saves Carter’s life. Glad to be alive after that, he continues to find the doctor in hope of some answers. After he finds the doctor, and briefly but successfully leads a squad against the enemy, he is chosen to be an operative of the Bureau. Now, the story is for the most parts is really interesting, with narration that is told from several perspectives, ranging from the environmental ambiance that is created for the missions and notes that are left around by the previous inhabitants. If you are wondering what I mean by environmental ambiance; allow me to enlighten you.
In an early mission as you enter an abandoned town, you see a banner eerily falling down in front of you. You can see that the town was definitely bustling once, but something tragic has recently happened and left the town in a broken shape. In my opinion, this kind of design tells a story of its own and mixes with other narrative angles to create a bigger picture. You can even compare it to Bioshock, in terms of how it is presented. Especially with the little face boxes that pop up during a radio message.
Unfortunately, there are still some problems with the story. For example, what happened to William Carter in the past is revealed really loosely and does not feel dramatic or suspenseful enough to draw you in. It really makes you wonder at times, if some twists could have been better presented for a stronger impact to the gamer, but sadly that does not happen and the story misses its mark with some twists that could have led to amazing outcomes. In fact, it simply ignores them, and they fade into the void as if they never happened. Secondly, whenever you pick up notes or memos that relate to the characters, you don’t get any feed back from them. One prime example of a game that has done this well is The Last of Us. You see, whenever you find a note or memo in that game, you will get the affected characters feedback. It makes the characters feel real and responsive rather than just another bot to control. I hope that more developers will follow suite and use it to add more depth to their storyline. For now unfortunately, this game doesn’t.
Another thing that really bummed me out story-wise is that cover-ups were not emphasized. They did not show how all the destruction and chaos was hidden, but in fact just threw a lazy ending explaining what happened after the invasion. It just doesn’t make sense. I was pretty sure it was going to be much more, after they got Nick Pope to help with the games storyline. For those that are not aware of him, he used to investigate UFOs for the British government before being invited to work on the game. So you can see why this might feel disappointing, especially considering how stellar the live action trailers were for this game. Remember that heartbreaking Ennis Cole trailer?
However, one thing that is particularly outstanding about the game’s main campaign is the stellar voice work. You can really tell that each character has a different personality according to the way they are portrayed by their voice actor. You will have a dominant and cautious sounding voice for Carter, an intelligent one for Faulke and an enthusiastic sounding voice for the scientists. Basically, the voice acting is believable and truly breathes life into the characters, providing you with an enjoyable experience. In fact, you can even talk to them and ask questions you’d like with a dialogue wheel that is similar to the one used in Mass Effect. It lets you get a better understanding of their back-story and situations. Now if only the story was as interesting as the characters themselves, it would make for a flawless experience, but from where it is now, it is a rather dull affair.
The gameplay is probably the best part of The Bureau. The game is mainly a third-person cover based shooter, with strategical features that allow you to command two operatives of your choice during combat. You can say that it is somehow similar to the Mass Effect Trilogy. The operatives you choose to bring to the field will have specific abilities that are each unique to a particular class. The choice will depend on how you would like to play the game, whether as run and gun, or slowly and strategically. While I was playing the game, my favourite classes to bring along were Recon and Engineer due to what they had to offer. Once you find that special combo for yourself, you will be having a lot of fun dispatching the enemies as efficiently as possible. Fortunately, even the A.I. works in this game, so you won’t have to yell at your team mates to dodge explosives or run away from enemies as they can do that themselves. Saving you the unnecessary trouble.
Impressively, this is all possible due to the line up strategy system that works like a charm. If you have played games like XCOM or Jagged Alliance before, chances are, that you have experienced a similar system where you can queue up actions and they are performed one by one. I would really advise you to get used to the line-up system as it will grant you some interesting tactics. For example, one of my favourite tactics is to levitate an enemy out of cover, then order my Recon operative to snipe it! If this successfully lines up, you get a combo score that rewards you for your efficiency, and efficiency is probably the keyword with this game’s strategic functions, as the fun comes from clearing an area as fast as you can. It truly makes you feel intelligent and gives you bonus points that go towards your promotion.
According to your rank, which is basically this games levelling up feature, you can choose from a variety of perks that will either net you or your teammates new abilities or enhance the ones that you already have. However, when you have to choose from two perks at the same rank, you will have to make a thoughtful choice because you will end up locking the one you don’t pick for the duration of the campaign. So be sure to pick something that you know will help you out later. Also, to fully rank up during the game, you will have to take on side-missions where you will be given objectives ranging from intercepting valuable cargo from a destroyed train, to stopping a nuclear launch from happening. They will not only net you and your team more points, but will also give you the chance to find special backpack schematics to use during gameplay. You can also send your recruits on missions, similar to Assassin’s Creed where according to the risk, they’ll be rewarded experience points.
As mentioned earlier, the backpacks are not the normal ones you see kids or adults lugging around, but are in fact performance enhancers. These backpacks have been crafted using the advanced extraterrestrial technology and are used to give boosts to specific abilities that you or your team mates might have. For example, some backpacks will grant your sharpshooter weapons more damage while some might give you more physical resistance towards enemy fire. They can work wonders if matched with the right user, so it is more beneficial to give the Recon a sharpshooter pack than an aggressive one.
Another interesting thing about the recruits is that, like in XCOM, you can hire people then name them yourself, customizing their looks and clothes too. You can even customize Carter’s apparel colours according to what you like. The welcome feature though is like in previous XCOM games, being able to choose a specialist character. You can choose from, Commando, Support, Engineer and Recon. After which, you can emphasize a special aspect for them, according to your playstyle. So if you are someone who wants an aggressive person, you will be choosing the combat field, or pre-med if you want a medic. It really helps a variety of gamers find their favourite recruits.
Moving on to the third person aspect; the game plays like any other third person shooter where you can take cover and even switch from them. However, one thing I really like control-wise in this game is that there is a separate button for switching corners or sides. Sometimes the fight gets really hectic, and you will see the enemy coming in from everywhere, so having a separate button for changing the direction of your cover is a really handy feature, one that should be implemented in more games. Furthermore, other than your typical guns like a rifle or shotgun, you get to use alien weapons as well. The alien weapons are an interesting addition, but in my opinion could have had more features attached to them to truly make them feel outstanding. You can also only carry two guns at a time in this game, which is realistic considering that our hero does not posses the equipment to hold a lot of arms.
Related to the guns, one problem that was really frustrating was how quickly the ammunition evaporated, and how aggressive the enemy was. It didn’t matter if you were playing the game on the easy difficulty or hard, the game would still throw aggressive scenarios at you. I mean, I would understand if this was on the hardest difficulty, where the enemy was constantly trying to flank you and spin-kick your face (yes they pretty much do that), but it doesn’t make much sense on the easy difficulty. From what I understand, easy difficulty should be either for casual gamers or people who are playing through for the games story, not for those who are looking for an insane challenge. Still though, the squad system saves it from getting impossible, as even if you go down, you can rely on your teammates to fulfil their orders which you can give even after being knocked down.
Now I would like to address a major concern some people had with this game. The concern was that, there are no explanations given for the weapons or technology you acquire, and you just start with them on their respective missions. However, one thing most people forget while playing this game is that mainly, it’s still an XCOM game. So more than half the story lies around the base you are in. You have to explore different departments, talk to different people to get what’s actually going on, or what’s in development. Only then will you see where the technology is coming from. Otherwise you will be lost on what is actually happening, and realistically speaking, will just get new equipment out of the blue. So be sure to go around, talk to people and explore, as you will not only get a better grasp of the situation, but you will get to play interesting side-missions around the base too.
Lastly, lets talk about the music. For those of you that don’t know me, understand that I absolutely love video-game music and unlike most other reviewers, pay a lot of attention to it. The music in The Bureau is fairly dynamic, you will hear hectic and grim themes when you are knocked out and exciting yet ominous themes during combat. The music is orchestral, and makes heavy use of snare focused percussion to give a military feel towards the game. The only thing that’s a bit lacking is the main theme, which even though you hear a few times in the game, fails to make an emotional connection. So all in all, the music is well made, just nothing special.
In conclusion, what The Bureau loses in its story, it makes up for in gameplay. Gamers will be glad to know, that the squad and A.I. features work amazingly well and according to how you play it, keep the game fast, and intelligent. On top of that, you will find some really interesting side-missions around the base and country that are fun to play. However, there are some hiccups concerning the difficulty on some levels, but you can overcome it by using clever tactics. It is just a shame that the story doesn’t live up to the atmosphere and scope it sets, ultimately failing to deliver on the promises it makes along the way with its clever but short-lived twists. And also while leading to a lacklustre main ending that feels lazy. Still though, if you were looking for something with strong gameplay, I would personally recommend this.