By Rob Valentine
You remember how Superman used to be Christopher Reeve and he had a red cape and was goofy in his Clark Kent alter-ego? And you know how now, Superman is a darker, semi-emo guy who doesn’t even wear his underpants on the outside? It’ll help if you think of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (or TBXD as I’m calling it to sound cool) in those terms. While it’s certainly in the same genius as the previous X-Com games, it’s not really the same animal.
And in some ways, that’s good. Unfortunately, they’re rather outweighed by everything else.
A lot has been written about the 1960s setting for TBXD so I won’t go too much into that save to assure you that the air of male chauvinism and mandatory cigar smoke remain largely intact. I willingly leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
The hero of our game, Agent Carter is thrown directly into the deep when a “package” he’s delivering gets him into a bit of a tangle. All hell breaks loose across the world and sooner than you can say “little green men”, it’s time to go out and shoot some aliens.
Mechanically, the game has been worked to more or less resemble an XCOM/Mass Effect amalgam with a series of flat encounters in each mission leading ultimately to the mission goal and some plot exposition. Graphics and models are acceptable while not being actually excellent. There’s some visible clipping in close ups, the fingers are a little weird and lip-syncing was obviously not something that the development team put a lot of stock in. Oh, and Agent Carter looks permanently constipated – that may be a sign of his personality though.
I should warn you – if you go into TBXD playing it as a straight shooter, you’re going to have a bad time. You do need to show a certain level of finesse and, although the alien AI isn’t really much to be write home about, they can still give you a run for your money and occasionally have absolutely withering firepower to throw at you.
A lot of work could have been done on the actual targeting system that you’re forced to use – while Combat Focus (almost frozen time in which you can give your squad instructions) is quite slick, trying to target any of the many flying drones while they swoop ever closer to your head is a nightmare.
Speaking of the Combat Focus system, this is something that was genuinely great to work with. It’s great fun to queue up your team’s commands and watch them gang up on the poor aliens.
Detracting from this though is the fact that if you don’t give them orders every couple seconds, they will simply stand and get shot while whining like little girls. “Help, we need orders!” and “They’re killing us out here! What do we do?” became dreaded words to me and some missions turned into babysitting rather than an elite operation.
Unfortunately, the permadeath feature also falls pretty flat from the get-go. I felt little to no connection to the agents with me – and really, if you can’t get to your squaddies before they bleed out, you’re better off just scrapping and starting from the last checkpoint, all healthy again.
The plot feels tacked on and clearly has to be forced forward ham fistedly every now and then by amazing revelations that no characters seem particularly amazed by. Even Agent Carter keeps up his “manly” stoicism all the way through betrayals, surprises and wholesale slaughter. Actually, that may be constipation again – see above.
Despite a couple of challenges along the way, it soon becomes obvious that things are actually pretty heavily stacked against the alien race. You and your team get access to more alien tech than you can shake a stick at (it’s not adequately explained how).
Even retiring to your base and talking to the various NPCs around gets tiring after a while. Especially as the base doesn’t offer much in the way of entertainment; there are some puzzles but conspicuously absent are weapons research, base management or really anything besides setting up your squad in increasingly lurid colours.
Overall, TBXD makes a reasonable shooter with some quite clever tactical stuff thrown in. The interface for Combat Focus is great; the combat itself grows stale quickly and the squad never feels as cohesive and essential as it did previously. It’s almost as if the game was scrapped halfway through and then rushed through production.