Only a few weeks ago the newspapers were buzzing after the CIA officially acknowledged the existence of Area 51, the rumoured home of all kinds of UFO-related secrets that has kept conspiracy theorists busy for decades… Just a couple of days later, in yet another case of art imitating life, 2K Games goes ahead and releases its new third-person tactical shooter, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – exploring first contact with extra terrestrials in the US. Coincidence?
I digress. After plenty of procrastination and numerous overhauls, The Bureau is finally available on the PS3, Xbox 360 and the PC. Developed by 2K Marin, it tells the tale of the humble beginnings of the XCOM organization way back in 1962 at the height of the Cold War.
Following hot on the heels of last year’s mega successful XCOM: Enemy Unknown, this prequel sees you take control of gravel-voiced Special Agent William Carter as he takes on the alien onslaught during a time when hats and waistcoats were obligatory and everything had a kind of sepia haze to it.
As the Bureau’s top agent, and accompanied by a couple of occasionally dopey AI colleagues, Carter is clearly the sort who’s rarely ruffled even in the face of adversity. What’s more, despite diving about the place while under alien gunfire, he manages to keep his hat firmly on his head – now THAT’S the mark of a true American hero circa 1960!
The game kicks off with Carter in his apartment before answering the door, getting shot and waking to find himself miraculously healed with his attacker’s charred and lifeless remains staining the carpet. Mmm, intriguing. With sirens blazing and smoke permeating the building, what ensues is a mad dash outside to find out what the hell is going on. Things aren’t looking good, with bulbous headed alien sectoids scampering about the rubble and a heap of corpses left in their wake. Cue the start of a lengthy and enjoyable campaign…
Right from the start, everything looks pretty great visually – the aforementioned yellow-brown hue is well suited to a game set in the 1960s, while the incidental music, voice acting and overall feel of the game is appealing. You really get that sense that you’re being invaded and that no one was really prepared, which instantly reels you in. From the flickering lights and smoke effects, to the piles of debris and splatters of blood about the place, it’s all very atmospheric. The game’s a bit of a slow starter but persist and it’s an enjoyable affair.
On PC at least, the controls take some getting used to – especially in the midst of an alien attack. That’s not so much a flaw in the game rather my ineptitude when using a keyboard and my preference for a console controller. Nevertheless, once you’ve mastered contorting your fingers into the various positions to run, roll, shoot and clamber over debris it all becomes second nature fairly rapidly.
Quickly you learn that charging headlong into combat is not a shrewd move. Instead, using cover and some tactical nous is the order of the day. By employing the “Battle Focus” function, the action slows to a crawl, allowing you to set orders for your team, draw fire, flank enemies and hit them where it hurts. The bad guys’ positions are highlighted by an orange glow, making it easy to plan your next move and perform that all important Critical Strike or deploy laser turrets and call in aerial strikes to turn things a little more in your favour. Make no mistake though, this is a tough game that poses a real challenge on the harder difficulties.
There are various alien creatures to take on – ranging from the impish swollen headed types that leap about the place to the lumbering fellas that take a fair bit of damage before they fall.
The game’s environments are varied and there are some truly standout levels. As you progress, you pick up new equipment and weaponry, with some alien gadgetry available too. Notes and photos littered around the levels allow you to learn a little bit more about what’s been going on and are well worth taking the time to pore over as it certainly adds to the plot. Cut scenes push the story along nicely and a dialogue wheel allows you to glean more details from the people you encounter. Admittedly, there’s a sense that you’ve seen much of these ideas before though.
Carter and his colleagues all have certain attributes and abilities – with those in your charge belonging to Recon, Engineer, Commando or Support classes. Just like the previous game, fail to revive a fallen comrade and their demise is on your conscience – that’s it, they’re gone for good and you’ll have to fill the void with another willing – but less skilled – replacement. Strangely though, the permadeath element never truly leaves you mourning a colleague like it did in Enemy Unknown, which is a real shame.
Personally, I found The Bureau enjoyable and entertaining but it paled in comparison with last year’s epic. It is refreshing, however, when such a popular franchise returns with a different slant to it and, for the most part, this third person shooter is a decent effort and features some good tactical elements and ideas. Overall, it’s well worth a play but falls short of being a classic.
This game was reviewed on the PC.