The year is 1962, and in the midst of the Cold War, a new enemy has emerged in the form of alien invaders called the Zujari. With a covert military organization already in place to defend against an attack from the Russians, CIA special agent William Carter is recruited by the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command and tasked with neutralizing the extraterrestrial threat without creating mass panic across the country. But while aliens and the 1960s seemingly go hand in hand, whether or not it makes for a great gaming experience is another question. Though “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” looks pretty good for a title that’s been in development since 2006, it lacks the polish and quality that you’d expect from a studio like 2K Games.
Most of your time in the game is spent doing one of two things: going on field missions and running errands around Bureau HQ, the latter of which is mostly comprised of boring dialogue sequences that might not feel so laborious if any of it actually mattered. But despite a deceptively intricate storyline, most of the information you receive over the course of the campaign is supplemental at best, but generally just a big waste of time. Thankfully, the missions themselves are fun, although not incredibly difficult once you get a hang of things. Though there’s a bit of a learning curve at first (especially in regards to keeping your fellow agents alive), as your squad mates level up and receive increased health and new abilities, they become even more powerful than your enemies. Case in point: One of the big boss fights was practically over before I even had the chance to pull the trigger on my sweet alien grenade launcher.
How’s that possible, you ask? Well, similar to the “Mass Effect” series, “The Bureau” utilizes a radial menu called Battle Focus that slows down time and allows you to assign controls to the other two agents on your team. You can give them one simple task (like marking a specific target) or select a series to be completed in that order, but some abilities carry restrictions on how often they can be used. Every agent (including Carter himself) is categorized into one of four classes – Support, Recon, Engineer and Commando – each with its own unique set of skills (like levitating enemies, building turrets, healing teammates, etc.) and sub-classes to further customize exactly the kind of agents you want in your squad. How these otherwise normal humans are able to access these special powers is never really explained, but it probably has something to do with the bulky cyber-gauntlets that all of the field agents wear on their wrists.
Controlling your squad’s every move is something that you’d certainly expect from an “XCOM” game, but unlike the other titles in the series, “The Bureau” is a third-person shooter first and a strategy game second. There’s obviously still some strategy involved, but it’s not of the turn-based variety, and as a result, the “XCOM” name feels like it was tacked on simply because the developers had the rights to use it. Sure, the threat of permadeath still looms if you’re unable to revive downed teammates in time, but between the generous checkpoints and the ability to create new agents like they’re coming off an assembly line, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot at stake. That’s bad news for fans of the “XCOM” series, but for those who enjoyed the “Mass Effect” trilogy or other squad-based shooters, you could do a lot worse than “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.” Unfortunately, you could do much better as well.