Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Release date: August 20
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified takes the rich conspiracy theory canon of the XCOM universe and plunks you right down in the thick of it. No longer is the player the world-builder with a godlike view of the battlefield; now you’re part of the war machine. You won’t be building any bases in The Bureau, you’ll be building soldiers who you’ll spend the rest of the game trying desperately to keep alive.
The Bureau is set in 1962 America, a country and world split by the Cold War and in the midst of racial divide. While the story addresses these issues, some directly and others more off-handedly, in the end they're non-essential to the story, but add to the ambience of the era.
We start out by meeting agent William Carter, a Clint Eastwood-like Korean War vet who’s worked for the CIA keeping the Red Menace off our backs. Carter is transporting a mysterious package when he’s caught in the opening engagement of an alien incursion, to use classic XCOM vernacular. Carter seems like a generic character in the beginning and this isn’t helped by his corny, everyone I ever loved is dead type back-story. Which is only truly revealed in readable notes that are located around the world that give personal insight into events. Carter’s redemption evolves as the game goes on, turning him into a more complicated character than we’ve seen in most games of the genre. The difference being that while Carter may be out to save the world he’s ultimately out to save and understand his own personal demons.
With last year’s success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown many gamers got their first taste of the XCOM universe. I would also consider it required play before you pick up The Bureau for two reasons: The first being that unlike all other information heavy XCOM titles, The Bureau just throws you into the thick of it without explaining too much about the enemies you’ll face and doesn’t contain the huge info databases of previous games either. Secondly, after becoming proficient at Enemy Unknown there is something ultimately terrifying being face to face with a twelve foot tall Muton in The Bureau.
A Dark World
The first thing you’ll notice about The Bureau is that the world it takes place in is much darker than its predecessors. The developers intentionally toned down the comic colors and turned up the creep-factor, the game gets quite dark. From the opening tutorial levels you’re treated to a destroyed Groom Lake testing range and offices that have been ransacked by the Outsiders. You’ll come upon scenes of dead soldiers being mangled by Sectoids–little gray men-in dark, smoky rooms.
The art and environmental design is top notch. It achieves a perfect mix of American pie and modern alien noir. One of the first levels illustrates this perfectly; in the middle of a homecoming parade on a college campus, the Outsiders have gutted the entire town. When Carter arrives there are colorfully decorated floats askew in the street, dead citizens sit alongside Sleepwakers, ashen-faced infected humans oozing out black nanite tears, and citizens hung from lampposts by black blobs.
The set pieces provide some of the most memorable aspects of the game. An underwater alien base, a virus production factory built on top of mass graves and detailed alien towers Carter must ascend and take over. Playing through, we had flash backs to our favorite moments of X-Files and War of The Worlds. There are also lots of details hidden in the world to make the story much deeper and more personal, but players could easily skip past if you weren’t looking for them. A dead teen that was hiding in a tree house for days or a family who committed suicide together so as to not be tortured by the Outsiders.