I grew up on old sci-fi from the Invasion of the Body-snatchers, the Invaders, Project UFO and so on – so when I found out there'd be a 60's XCOM game I was pretty interested. Then it was revealed to be a First Person Shooter and my interest evaporated. There was a change in tactics later on and it became a third person shooter, but one which caught my eye since it reminded me of Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway and well – I enjoyed that game.
So what do we have now with the Bureau: XCOM Declassified?
A surprisingly cool third person shooter with tactical play, one which charts the course of the XCOM organisation from its roots in the 1960's and illustrates a battle with superior alien numbers using technology which in many ways firmly outstrips the current generation of XCOM alien-human tech.
I guess back in the 60's, XCOM was its own thing without the shadowy Council sticking their oar in. So it was free to concentrate more on resources than having to worry about defending a whole planet from sectoids and mutons.
So... is this XCOM entry by 2K Marin any good? The short answer: yes, it is – it's a bit repetitious but solid enough as a game.Story
You're Agent William Carter, CIA. You're about to deliver something pretty important when all hell breaks loose, very quickly you're introduced to the concept of things not of this Earth and thrown into a rollercoaster of a ride – joining XCOM and learning about little green men from mars, only they're not little or green and they don't come from mars.
End of story, because really – this story is told through in-game recordings, notes, letters and brief cut-scenes – dialogue wheel choices.
It's well done and I enjoyed the story from start to finish.Gameplay
The game has several systems in play which bring together the whole experience, for starters you have a base you can explore and find out more information from. You can talk to the NPCs at the HQ and get side missions which unlock new packs for your in-field missions and agents, these are very simple little things but often lead you to a deeper understanding of the fledgling XCOM and its place in the world in the 60's.
You have a mission map, which highlights main story missions, side missions (short 10-30m forays into the field) and dispatches which are a kind of meta-game in the main game. You send out agents based on the mission's level, so if it's a 4th level mission you can send a combination of agents which equals/exceeds that number. The agents are gone for your next in-field mission and return with XP, gear and usually a level up.
There are different agent types, from commandos and support, to recon and engineers. Each agent has different perks/abilities.
You can also customise the name and colours of your agents, as well as equip them and select any perks they may have unlocked as they rank up (rank 1-5).
Agents can die too, if you lose all your agents its game over. Agents can be replaced in the field at certain points, and once they do die they're gone for good – only remembered on the monument wall in the HQ.
There are conversations to be had via a dialogue wheel, and some responses can alter certain things in the game later on or mid-mission. These are only minor things, but it's nice and again fleshes out the story somewhat.
Once you've gotten an objective and you're ready to rock on the in-field mission of choice, be it a major or minor operation – it's time to go out there and give the aliens a blasting!
The game plays like a cover-based third person shooter with refined solid controls, and a direct orders interface to order troops to attack or return to the squad leader (you). You can also use a direct order to send them out together to a point in the level. For finite control you can switch to the Battle Focus mode where time slows down, and the agents powers/abilities are highlighted on a simple and elegant battle wheel. It also highlights enemies and points out weak spots, it's pretty neat.
In a few moments you can queue up a series of complex orders and bring to bear various tactical options. Order a recon agent to snipe an Outsider, whilst you order another to bring in a turret and lift that turret with an ability of William Carter's unlocked later on. You can throw down a drone and order the same agent to throw a mine; in fact you can use all abilities on the wheel in one battle if you want.
They'll just be unavailable as they cool down.
Agents can also equip backpacks, which can offer bonuses in combat – better recharge times on abilities, better damage and damage resistance and so on.
Thus each mission plays out with agents taking on various types of enemy force, using tactics to defeat superior numbers and unlocking new weapons (as you pick them up in field) to defend against the alien menace. These missions do tend to get a bit repetitious now and then, but so does Gears of War, Gears of War 2 and 3...and most people love those.
With a mix of tactical play and cover shooting it's possible to really get some good battle plans as you engage the Greys, fight back and learn the way the game works. The odd cut-scene or dialogue heavy conversation helps to break up the fighting into manageable chunks, but a few dodgy placed save points hamper the experience as some battles can be tough until you get into the spirit of the Battle Focus mode.Graphics
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified evokes a 1960's era with a solid colour palette, great aesthetic design and some good quality models and textures. There are a few graphics glitches now and then and some textures can appear to be a little flat, but overall the game's pleasing enough on the eye.Animations
The animations for the game are good in combat, walking, running and shooting are all top notch. There are a few issues with facial animations and some of the characters can be a bit stiff when they talk. William Carter has a fair few idle animations and spends a lot of his time scowling and growling out his lines.
It has an almost Noir feel to it, evoking that era and the likes of Mad Men. Not a bad comparison really, Mad Men meets XCOM.AI
It's a mixed bag, your squad mates can be pretty good or they can be as dumb as a bag of hammers. With the order wheel though, it's not too hard to manage this and keep them in top fighting condition. The enemy AI is ruthless and presses the advantage, takes account of battlefield conditions and your resistance. It generally provides a good challenge and gives you a run for your money even on lower difficulties.Physics
Things explode, things have impact based hard-points and weak points – the physics of the game doesn't blow your mind and there's no destruction like in XCOM EU.Sound
The sound work on the game is good quality; with a lot of 1960's style B-movie/TV show special sound-effects, including the odd alien signal which often heralded the arrival or audio cue for an alien to appear in shows like the Invaders. It's classic stuff and builds the atmosphere nicely.Music
With a suitable 1960's style soundtrack, with some old-time songs as well as a proper ambient music score the game does a good job of immersing players into the era via the music.Voice
The voice work is pretty good, with some great performances from the various cast of characters. Agent Weaver especially shines and so does the head of XCOM. Dialogue
It is suitably 1960's in style, women are called broads and people talk about aliens as Greys. It works and there aren't really any dialogue missteps. UFO
It's not a terrible game, it's not a great or perfect game but it's not a cash-in to the XCOM name either. If you take your time to look and take off the hate-anything-but-standard-XCOM glasses you might find an enjoyable 13-15 hour game here with a curious and interesting story, with some neat twists and turns.