Projects born out of adversity can either shine or disappoint. That adversity can only serve to light the creative fire or snuff it out completely, only to be shoved out the door -- unfinished -- into the light. Video games are a complex collaborative art form, but when too many people have their hands on the code, some things are bound to go awry. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified did not have an easy birth, but can it possibly live up to the glory of its older brother, XCOM: Enemy Unknown? Let's gaze into the unknown in the hopes we find some life out there.
The Bureau began life as a first-person shooter where, from the footage released, it looked to be an intriguing departure from the omniscient strategy games that came before. It still had elements of strategy, but it was firmly rooted in adrenaline-pumping FPS action and a bit of horror. The 1950's/1960's setting made it even more interesting. Pitting advanced aliens against a technologically-inferior human race made for some fascinating gaming.
But, ultimately the FPS wasn't meant to be. Instead, The Bureau ping-ponged about in development hell for a while until it became the third-person strategy shooter that you see today.
The Bureau serves as a sort of origin story for the XCOM franchise. You enter the boots of Agent Carter as first contact is made with the aliens. He acts like someone straight from a Raymond Chandler novel, that sort of hard-nosed investigator with a murky past and focus on the present. Throughout the game, he and his squad mates are clad in suit and tie with advanced tech accessories. It's a nice change of pace from the usual super soldier battle armor and lends a bit of class to the characters. It reminded me of Mulder and Scully from the X-Files, always looking dapper while taking down mutants and little gray men.
The tutorial mission helps you to familiarize yourself with the shooting and squad commands. The shooting itself is unremarkable. You point the cursor at things, press a button and their alien heads spurt in a shower of emeralds. It is neither sharp and responsive, nor leaden and dull; it is plain-flavored functional.
The aesthetic of the game is essentially the same flavor as well. The setting is interesting enough, but somehow it doesn't feel alive. It doesn't function like another character, as it does in so many other titles. It is simply something between you and the sections in a firefight. Also, the sudden appearance of chest-high cover tips you off to the coming combat section.
You can also slow down time and open the action wheel to delegate orders to squad members. Each of them have their own special abilities based on class and how much you've ranked them up. This aspect of The Bureau is what really sets it apart from the generic third person shooter. It asked you to assess the situation strategically and quickly. This isn't turn-based like Enemy Unknown and some of the aliens are quite powerful.
While you're not out on a mission, you're going to get familiar with the base. Very familiar. Too much of your playtime is taken up with running around some bunker talking to people. It is like a brick wall in front of any momentum the story or gameplay might have made up in its 1950's Chadic.
Sadly though, The Bureau is like an old bike with only one working gear, but so much potential. It tries to smash together too much to create a cohesive whole and each part of it seems to detract from the other. The result is multiple, but mediocre, game mechanics. It would have been a much better title if it focused like a laser beam on one type of gameplay. Right now, the strategy bogs down the shooting, and the shooting detracts from the strategy.
Like a public restroom tap handle, The Bureau reeks of having too many hands involved. The result is something that is completely functional, but it does nothing exceptional. Much of it became quite boring to play. If I wasn't writing this review for all of you lovely people, I'd have put it down after an hour and never gave it a second thought.
I was so looking forward to a new and innovative XCOM game. I loved Enemy Unknown for its bold choices in being strictly turn-based and frigidly difficult. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified had a ton of potential to become a great addition to franchise. But it is mired in a bog of dullness and scattered to pieces.
This review is based on a copy of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified for the PlayStation 3 was provided by the publisher.