The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Preview 
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Zoe Hawkins
July 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

It’s the 1960s: Cold War is in full swing, aliens have crashed in Roswell, and you’re a Clint Eastwood look-and-sound-alike. What could be better? This new XCOM is designed to explain and reignite the franchise. It is very different in its gameplay, and offers players deeper understanding of the XCOM origins. The Bureau takes place in the 60s, something that was hammered home throughout the evening I spent getting hands-on experience with the game, and it will have permadeath.

There were lots of 1960s details that I liked: the men wore hats and waistcoats, and everyone smokes. Awesome. However, certain 60s aspects were conflicting. If you bother to listen to the recordings (collectibles?), you can hear men talking down to women and telling them to go back to reception. Meanwhile, there are several high ranking women throughout the American military – something that just was not a reality in the early 60s. When I asked the representative from 2K Games about it, I was asked, “Well, isn’t it great to have such awesome, strong female characters?”  Ummm, yes, but it breaks from your 1960s vibe. Sure, I can suspend my disbelief to accept that aliens are invading, but at least explain how some of those women got to be so high ranking in a period when they were expected to coordinate their lipstick and nail colours. It sorta feels like they’re riding the Mad Men trend, rather than actually picking a time period because it’s worthwhile – wonder if I’ll feel the same about the new Wolfenstein.

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Another element that was stressed to the point of beating a dead horse was that of permadeath. When your squad members die, they die. The end. As it was explained (excessively), your actions have consequences. This means that you don’t want to just focus on your “favourite” squad members – you will need to level-up your other guys in case of accidental death. However, apparently this will follow a similar mechanism as Assassin’s Creed does with the recruit assassins – you can send your lower levelled squad members out on missions while you’re busy doing the real stuff.  I didn’t get to play with this feature, but it sounds nice to me. Also, you can fully customize your squad members – from name to clothing to skills and attributes.

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I got to play through about an hour or two of content, with pretty mixed feelings about the battle system. At first, it felt a bit like Valkyria to me (a game I thoroughly enjoyed). You can direct your squad and flank enemies, plus your squad will continue to fire from cover while you attack.  However, XCOM is much faster paced. Time doesn’t stop while you’re in battle mode, figuring out what to do. Yes, it slows down a lot, but you can still get shot and the enemies are also moving around to try and kill you. I really enjoyed queuing up my squad’s actions – run there, then kill that guy, then plant a turret – leaving me to hide behind cover and do my own pew pew.

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However, I found the battle system’s interface clunky, and rather frustrating at times. Your squad mates may be the first ones to notice the evil alien invaders charging at you, but they don’t bother to duck down behind the wall they’re a step away from. No, they’ll just take gun shots until you get into battle mode and tell them to take cover. It would be nice if they built self-preservation into their AI.

There were still some bugs that need to be worked out of the code, and I really hope that when you walk into the room you don’t aim at walls in the final version. Plus, it’s irritating that every time you open a door it does a little cut scene of you walking through with your gun raised. Cool the first time, but thereafter it gets lame.

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The Bureau seems to be striving for a more character and story-driven game play. We get a lot of hints about William Carter’s (the main character) past. You can explore it more deeply by reading his file, and engaging in all the dialog trees – which you can also skip if you just want to get on with the pew pew. That said, I found the character development to be rather heavy handed.  I know it’s not the final game, but I hope they find a way to be a bit more subtle about the whole thing.

It seems that the goal of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was to move the franchise in the direction of Mass Effect. You operate out of HQ, where you chose your missions, customize characters, organize side missions, and research new weapons and technology. There’s plenty of room for chatting to NPCs and you can select from a range of conversation options to be as much of a good cop or bad cop as you like. I just hope that it is well executed in the end product.

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In general, I was excited by what I saw.  The graphics are pretty, the game play has some fun aspects, and you get to kill all different times of aliens, from massive blobs to little sectoids. If you’re looking for a new take on turn-based strategy shooting, this is your game. However, I’m just not sure it has all the story and RPG elements that I was promised. Also, with the exception of seeing people smoking all the time, I didn’t see anything that made its being set in the 1960s worthwhile.  It just adds inconsistencies to the game. Although it does open up some awesome Roswell and J. Edgar Hoover jokes. In the end, I was happy with what I saw, but just not ready to board the hype train.

Wielding my lasso of truth, I am the combination of nerd passion and grammar nazi. I delve into all things awesome and geek-tastic. I believe people should stop defining themselves and just enjoy playing games, so let's get on with it!

  • Admiral Chief Groot Wors

    WOW!!!

    Also, I’m with you on your niggle points, hope they sort those out!

  • Sageville

    Hey, what platform were you on Zoe?

    • Admiral Chief Groot Wors

      Looks like EggsBawks FreeSixty

  • Admiral Chief Groot Wors

    I leave this here for anyone else still at work or where ever.

    Have a power weekend dudes and dudettes!

    GAME till you pass out, then game some moar

    • Vampyre Squirrel

      Hope you have an awesome weekend too!

    • RinceWind

      You too buddy, nice chatting earlier!

  • Unavengedavo

    I haven’t played any of the XCOM games and it feels like I am missing out

    • Sageville

      GASP!

      Hole in culture.

      • Unavengedavo

        Does anyone know where I can pira… Uh… I mean purchase it?

        • Argentil

          Pfft, wait for it to come on sale. I got it for cheap. It was also on PS+ so no excuse unless you don’t have a PS3 :P

        • RinceWind

          It was R169 on Xboxlive the other day.

        • Skyblue

          On Steam for $10 atm

        • BacchusZA

          Pre-order The Bureau on Steam for $44, & you get *all* the XCom games, and a copy of SPec Ops: The Line thrown in for good measure.

    • RinceWind

      You are! :)

  • Sageville

    1960’s not a worthwhile setting???

    I disagree, frankly I’ve never seen any game in this setting before, smoking all the time, developers get to use all those antique 3D car models they FAP to, Trilbies, women kitted up like Jackie Onassis, hippies, flower power. Some good stuff there for something different.

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      she didnt say the 60s is not a worthwhile setting, just nothing from the game made it being set in the 60’s being worthwhile.

  • Argentil

    I was ready to disagree, the AI lacking self-preservation comes with the system being more like XCOM: Enemy Unknown than Mass Effect. This game seems like a fusion of the two.

    That said, I also would have preferred a more Valkyrie Profile type of game. That game was AMAZING, and it had permadeath, unique character recruitment, and an in-depth RPG progression system. This game feels like a lesser VP – but still worth a play.

  • RinceWind

    Nice article as usual Zoe! I see I am going to have to send out the flying monkeys to ‘convince’ you to stop writing so I may step in, and usurp your deserved throne! *Waves fist.

    • Zoe

      thanks so much, although not sure it’s much of a throne – the guys keep reminding me that as far as pecking order goes, i’m actually in the LG kitchen! ;)

  • Trevor Davies

    The more I see of this game the more interested I become.

  • http://lazygamer.net/ OVG

    I LOVE YOU ZOE… You are so much better looking than Brenda :) I do not care if you are married or lesbian or whatever.

    In another universe angry OldFart is happily gaming with a chick who does know her shit, DAMM who would of thought that after 4 years of trolling on LG that a (GOOD LOOKING FEMALE with intellect) and full blown nerd passion would throw a 38 year old gamer back into his place.

    Darn I thought all gamers were fat teen living in mums basement with spots and anger issues.

    Well done Gavin, you got a good member on board.

    BUT I STILL LOVE YOU DARRYN :) Just a little bit smelly tho :)

    • Zoe

      awww, loving the love! glad I can restore your faith in nerd passion! :)

  • Aussious

    So far it sounds good I just hope the game is better than the name…

  • Astro Gopher

    No research, no base building!? Seems as though they are trying to profit from a classic name “XCOM”. I don’t think this title will deserve the name “XCOM” on the tin…

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