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Published on August 14th, 2013 | by Bags Hooper


The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Jumping the Tactical Shark Never Felt so Good

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This summer, XCOM makes the jump from tactical role-playing game to third-person shooter, in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.

When 2K Games initially made the announcement that XCOM was turning into a shooter, purists screamed balderdash (and probably a few colorful four letter words – I know I did). There are some things you just don’t do. You don’t cross the streams in Ghostbusters, unless you’re taking down Gozer of course, and you don’t screw with XCOM.

Here’s the thing. When a developer rips the characters out of a shooter or RPG franchise and thrusts them into a tactical game, I’m usually all on board. Give me Final Fantasy Tactics any day of the week, and I’ll have a Kool-Aid smile from ear-to-ear. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was one of my favorite 3DS launch titles (yeah, I said it). And, don’t get me going about how awesome Project X Zone is – a game that threw together a myriad of vintage characters (over 200 – it’s a freakish abundance I know) from Namco Bandai, Sega and Capcom to create one wholly, rad game.

But, to go the other way just sounds like bad vibes. How do you warp a tactical game into a shooter?

Do you turn it into Call of Duty: XCOM or Halo 6: Return of the Unknown Enemy? It sounds like a backwards concept orchestrated by Superman’s wacked-out nemesis, Bizarro.

Perhaps, you just leave it as XCOM. Take all the great strategic elements found in XCOM’s turn-based combat and turn it into a real-time shooter. And, that’s exactly what the developers at 2K Marin did.

Playing through the first four hours of XCOM was nothing short of cathartic. The developers managed to create the same intensity of XCOM, wrapped around the singular story of special agent William Carter. The story takes place during the 1962 Cold War panic, but instead of Russians, you’re fighting Sectoids and all those other aliens you’ve come love-hate in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Carter may not die during the course of the narrative, but everyone else on your squad is expendable. Unfortunately, they’re not really expendable since you’ll still spend time leveling them up – only to see them die if you don’t manage your team correctly. Then, it’s back to the drawing board – new troops to train, when the luxury of actual training time doesn’t exist. So, yes, XCOM still hates you – . And, that’s why we love it. Much like Dark Souls, it’s sadistic pleasure.

The real-time action in The Bureau is more frenetic than you’d expect. Making the mental jump from turn-based action to real time commands takes a lot of juggling. Players will have to train their brains to think faster than an ordinary shooter game. The Bureau doesn’t employ the shallow team-based commands you’d find in your standard squad shooter. Players don’t simply tell their team to rush in or stand their ground. Instead, you command your squad’s every action – directing their movements, picking their targets and deciding how best each character will support the team.

Using the weapons and ability wheel, you can quickly issue precision commands. Just remember, the combat doesn’t stop. In the first few hours, one of the characters that I built up and had come to rely on bit the big one. Yes, it was my fault. I blame myself. But those darned aliens had me surrounded with attackers swarming in on land and air.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified gives us one thing that Enemy Unknown was short on… a wealth of truly great, memorable environments. Top-down environments are rarely as satisfying as an environment you can walk through in third or first person. The 1962 exteriors are alive, the tension is high and the combat is intense. There’s nothing like a period game that really takes you back in time with smart set pieces, before throwing everything on its back with aliens. You get a full sense of the cover system, as objects are blown away and the alien invaders close in.

While the combat and tactics exceed expectations, development inside felt shallower than that of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I still had the ability to make weapons modifications and manage soldier specializations, but the strategic “game within a game” aspect of the base was lost in this third-person world.

Fans of XCOM or just shooter fans in general should definitely take a look at The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This game is going to force other team-based shooters and established franchises to step their “game” up and stop with the “weak-sauce-edness” … I’m especially looking at you SOCOM (that’s if you ever decide to get your act together and get back to SOCOM 2).

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  • GregorLenko

    Great review, I too was a little worried about this game having enjoyed X-COM as a TBC.
    The Bureau is fantastic, and the combat is reminiscent of Mass Effect (which is no bad thing!) but I feel it has been improved by putting the action into slow-mo rather than pausing it as happens in ME.
    I always wondered what it would be like to be down on the ground facing off against the alien hordes in XCOM, now I know.

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