The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Review – A Potpourri of Tropes

The Bureau Review
The Bureau Review

2K Games breathed fresh life into the XCOM franchise by releasing a surprise hit in XCOM: Enemy Unknown for consoles back in 2012. This successful experiment paved the way for the long in development The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which takes the franchise’s tried and true formula of turn-based strategic gameplay, and flips it on its head with the implementation of a more traditional third person shooter presentation.

The Bureau oozes XCOM lore, but its use of Gears of War meets KOTOR meets Mass Effect meets XCOM gameplay formula bothered many long time fans of the classic PC franchise. While The Bureau doesn’t manage to offer the same type of tense gameplay found in previous XCOM branded titles, it still provides a solid back story for the series, and nearly 15 hours of sometimes tedious, yet enjoyable gameplay.

One of the best aspects of The Bureau is its story, which finally sheds light on how the XCOM organization came to be, and how they first dealt with an alien threat. A bulk of the tale is told through the eyes of William Carter, who is the character you take control of for a majority of the game. Carter is a special agent who is assigned a high priority task before the game even begins, which is to deliver a secret briefcase to Director Faulke, who is the leader of the US government’s secret agencies, and eventually the XCOM organization. Carter’s mission goes to hell in a hand bag faster than you can say “little green men” when he finds out that alien forces have embedded sleeper agents at the highest levels of the US government. One of these agents attempts to kill him to steal the briefcase, but the scene is quickly ended with a fade to black transition, which helps to setup the mystery laden plot that The Bureau showcases.

Agent Carter is at the center of The Bureau's plot
Agent Carter is at the center of The Bureau’s plot

Once Carter comes to the world is already in chaos, but thanks to the 1960’s setting, most of the United States has no clue that an alien threat has invaded the country. In this day and age of instant news cycles and social media news casting, it was refreshing to live in a game world where news doesn’t travel at the speed of thumb clicks. The Bureau does a fine job at crafting a tale that works for its time period, while also infusing some futuristic concepts and technology to make the game feel 1960’s authentic with a touch of science fiction magic. With that being said the main plot threads throughout the entirety of The Bureau revolve around keeping the alien invasion a secret while also trying to uncover a way to put an end to it.

For the most part The Bureau does a fine job providing a great backstory on how XCOM came to be. Its Mass Effect inspired dialogue mechanic helps to fill in the gaps via long winded expositions that are full of decent information on the game’s world and characters. The increased focus on talking to NPCs while at the XCOM base helps to make the story feel more personal, while also giving its main characters some life so gamers can establish a connection to them.

The only time the story of The Bureau gets a little wonky is during the closing hours when another alien species is introduced, which changes up the landscape of the players involved, but also adds choices to how you want your campaign to end. There’s definitely a replayability factor provided by the change of events at the end, and multiple different conclusions can be reached based on the decisions you make.

The Bureau’s story is one of its biggest upsides, but the strategic third person shooter gameplay is also a high point worth discussing. Imagine Gears of Wars’ cover mechanic mixed with KOTOR’s time slowing battle management system with a sprinkle of XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s focus on strategy. Those are the ingredients that make up The Bureau’s gameplay recipe, and for the most part they all add varying elements to the experience.

Battle Focus in action
Battle Focus in action

When on the battlefield Carter can enact Battle Focus, which nearly stops time so he can assign actions to his two squad mates using a command wheel not too unlike the one featured in the Mass Effect games. Carter can have his squad use their special powers, which are based on their class, he can move them into flanking positions, and he can also assign their targets while in using Battle Focus. You must use a mix of their skills and the map to help stem the tide during each alien gun fight.

At times, especially on the easier difficulty settings, Battle Focus nearly removes any sort of tension, or fear of being overrun by the alien forces. The ability to stop time and lay down devastating attacks, such as carpet bombs and rocket turrets, can wipe out any threat encroaching on your squad’s position with extreme effectiveness. Unless you play on the Commander setting, the wide range of deadly abilities that you and your squad build up through experience can become so formidable that they lessen the overall challenge of the game itself.

The repetitiveness of each skirmish also hampers the gameplay experience of The Bureau. There isn’t much variety in terms of mission structure throughout the 13-15 hour campaign. Each alien encounter can be tackled the same way, and rarely do they entail anything more than scripted gun battles in locations built to showcase the game’s penchant for strategic cover-based gameplay. It would have been nice to see more variety in mission objectives, rather than just new environments packed with the same types of gun battles over and over again.

Battles do get repetitive, but the gameplay is still enjoyable
Battles do get repetitive, but the gameplay is still enjoyable

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will surely polarize both new and long time fans of the franchise, but overall it provides a unique blend of gameplay tropes found in some of this generation’s most popular video game experiences that offer entertaining moments throughout the campaign. Its story is definitely the high point of the overall package, but the strategic gun battles, although repetitive, still provide hours of fun, and on the right difficulty setting they can definitely challenge your skills as a leader on the battlefield. If you love the XCOM franchise and want to learn more about how the secret organization came to be, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is definitely worth playing even if it’s a slightly dumbed down experience.

[schema type=”review” name=”The Bureau: XCOM Declassified | Review Summary” description=”The Awesome: Great back story, Alien weapons, 1960’s setting | The Not so Awesome: Repetitive gameplay, Lack of tension” rev_name=”The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” rev_body=”The Bureau: XCOM Declassified manages to tell an interesting tale of the XCOM organization’s beginnings. The characters are believable and have detailed histories, all discoverable through deep Mass Effect inspired dialogue wheels. The 1960’s setting provides a nice contrast of futuristic tech, and time period appropriate attire and environments. The gameplay features a mesh of tropes from some of this generation’s most popular franchises, and is entertaining, but repetitive towards the final few hours. Overall, The Bureau is a solid entry in the XCOM franchise, but its unique presentation may turn off long time fans of the turn-based, strategy focused series.” author=”Matt Heywood” pubdate=”2013-09-02″ user_review=”8″ min_review=”0″ max_review=”10″ ]

The reviewer received a review copy from the publisher for the Xbox 360 platform for review purposes.

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Tags : Game ReviewThe Bureau: XCOM Declassified
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.