Well this has been a long time coming since we got our first look years ago at E3 but The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has finally hit the streets. For a while there I was a little scared it wouldn't be coming out given the focus on other titles and a whole different game in the same franchise. But here we go. Does it still hold up to what was shown and/or promised way back when we had our little showcasing? Well let us see.
It's 1962 and the world couldn't be in a better place. The Cold War is still in full swing and Kennedy is still alive and banging hot starlets. The Red scare still has us all questioning our neighbors and outing them as possible communists; all to thwart any kind of alien attack on U.S. soil. Little do we know that there is an attack already imminent from creatures outside of our atmosphere. Little do these Outsiders know though, President Kennedy already had a secret government organization set up to try and handle any and all alien kind of invasion. Alien being outside of the U.S. here again in case you can't keep up.
Any-who, you take on the role of controlling William Carter and his team to go out into the field X-Files style to hunt down the alien threat and keep this full scale invasion under wraps. The American public can never know that we were invaded…
Alright, so if you waded through the above section and find the whole grand idea a little convoluted then you are right on par with me. The story of the game felt very rushed and not very well thought out or presented. I found it hard to suspend disbelief, even given the time era, that no one in the world would have been able to overlook some of the grandiose events that take place yet in the game's world no one is the wiser that whole major cities were attacked and smaller ones just vanished. The only way I can really think this could have happened is if no one in the world read any of the numerous "Top Secret" or cryptic messages littered throughout the world that helped tell the whole story you were playing through. Yes, there where documents scattered abound that tried to help flesh things out.
This brings me to another beef I have with The Bureau. What is the point of having "collectibles" if there is no reward at all? The previously mentioned documents did nothing to add to the story. The hidden back packs stopped giving original bonuses after the 8th one and just kept me searching the world in hopes of something new. Hells, there isn't even an Achievement/Trophy associated with collecting all the items scattered around the game's world. So I ask again, what is the point of having all these "collectibles" to push story/exploration when even the story items don't give you anything that the multitude of conversational cut scenes haven't already glossed over? Just like a lot of the game it felt like there was an idea that was started and then was left to handle the core mechanics only never to be touched on again.
Just like most of you though, and as I have in the past, I can ignore a crappy story or storytelling process as long as the gameplay is top notch. If only it was the case here. I'm not trying to say it was total crap, look below, but it was not strong enough to carry everything else that was limping along. The "command system" had such great potential just as it did in Brütal Legend but it glitched up so many times it was more of a hassle than it paid off. Just to clarify this is the system where you issue commands for your A.I. buddies to go and complete in the dumbest way possible. The best example here, out of the hundreds, is telling an agent to sneak up and flank the unaware enemy but they take it as run right through the middle of the combat field, hop a way placing your back to them, stand still, and get shot to death. Some high class field agent.
Lastly, the game is plagued with audio and control issues in conjuncture with the gameplay issues. Sometimes the audio will cut completely out or "hiccup" during the game. The controls would do the same as well. I got to a point where I thought it had to be my controller or sound system but I completely checked these just to be sure it wasn't on my end. I almost thought I had to buy a new controller at one point as the D-pad would work, then stop working, and then work again for no reason at all. This went into the game menus and not just live gameplay so I am fairly certain this was not "feature" but an annoying bug that was never solved.
I gripped about it above, but at some points I rather enjoyed the "command system." This was mostly during times when I had my character stand back and do nothing and the A.I. fought through the game. In fact the above issues I mentioned really only came up when I wasn't able to give 100% attention to giving orders. Micromanaging every attack and movement in some cases made hammering through the game on its hardest mode a bit more manageable. As long as you queued up each motion and paid attention you could completely destroy the enemy and move along. If this was the only thing required in a few of the levels I would have been completely happy. Then again I do love having complete control over a battle field.
Another thing that I loved would have to be the overall aesthetic of the game's world. It really is a perfect blending between the futuristic look of the aliens with the classic look that was the late 50's and early 60's. Even when the humans received the technology to rival the aliens it still has the piece work to give it its own feel in the world. Even though it all is different than what was first announced, the people at 2K Marin still delivered a great look to the world, both the Outsiders and the "real." I'd be lying if that wasn't one of the things that had me running all around in the game finding all those dumb documents scattered about.
At the end of the day The Bureau wasn't a horrible game. It wasn't the best that has ever come from the developer but it wasn't the worst. I think that if they would have gone with a bit more of what was originally shown before getting placed on the back burner it would have been better; but who knows? That said, I also can't give my full backing for dropping a full game price to pick it up. Seeing as there is also no real re-play value once you've completed everything I can say that it is worth a weekend rental. If anything just to give the game a chance to find a place in your heart so you might buy it when it hits bargain bins in the coming months. That is if you didn't hammer though and beat it in short time.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was developed by 2K Marin and published by 2K Games on August 20th, 2013 for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.