A New Kind Of XCOM Emerges
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So it looks like the original plan for 2K's rebirth of the XCOM franchise has finally been released. You all know my stance on 2K Marin's XCOM. When it was first announced, it would be a first person shooter set in the 1950s with a unique, if not cartoon-like art style. Needless to say the backlash among fans of the original X-COM series was massive. One incident in particular came from internet personality Noah 'Spoony' Antwiler. A self-admitted fan of X-COM: UFO Defense, he summoned his opinion of the XCOM shooter back in 2010 and summed it up in one word...BETRAYAL!
But that was not the end of the story. Since then, XCOM the shooter entered a state of development hell. The gameplay changed from a first person shooter to a tactical based third person shooter. The cartoon-like graphics were changed for a more realistic setting, and the timeline moved up to the year 1962.
But still, development was in limbo. There was even a time shortly after the excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown was announced that XCOM the shooter would be released as a $30 downloadable release. But those rumors were shot down when XCOM the shooter was renamed The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and released as a full price retail title.
Still, despite the name change, it is still the same tactical shooter. In fact, before I get into detail I will easily state that it is a Mass Effect clone in every way possible. Or it is more like Mass Effect if it took place in 1962 Cold War America.
Gameplay centers on Agent William Carter, who we see delivering a mysterious briefcase to Director Myron Faulke. He meets with a female military officer. There is something strange about her, as we see black fluid in her eyes. It turns out she is "infected" and ends up shooting Carter. But when he regains consciousness, the gunshot wound is healed and Carter later finds Faulke, but is unable to save other key personnel, including J. Edgar Hoover.
It turns out that certain personnel, the female officer included, are taken over by an alien species known as "Outsiders." Carter and Foulke escape via Skyranger helicopter and are taken to a hidden base. It is here where we see the clandestine Bureau of Operations and Command, aka XCOM, put into action as communications around the country go dark. Originally designed as a countermeasure against Soviet invasion, XCOM's actions now focus on the Outsider invasion, and William Carter is put in charge of agent operations.
From the map screen, Carter is in control of three types of operations. The main story campaign missions are classified as "Major Operations," but there are also side missions, referred to as "Minor Operations." For both, Carter and a squad of up to two other agents are sent out in a linear Point A to Point B setting.
Backup agents take the form of four different classes: Recon, Support, Engineer, and Commando, each carrying their own special perks. For instance, Support classes can generate personal shields as protection, Engineers can generate gun turrets, and Commandos can disrupt enemy shields. Special abilities are controlled through a radial menu that also slows down gameplay to allow strategies to be carried out.
And it is the radial menu that is the first serious issue I have with The Bureau. As I said before, this game is almost a clone of Mass Effect, and the radial menu is the first sign. However, for some reason, 2K Marin decided that they wanted to make the icons change size when highlighted. In doing so it caused me to select the wrong item, meaning I would have to go back to cancel, go back to the radial menu, and select the right one, putting my agents who are awaiting orders in a bad situation. I never thought I'd ever say this, but The Bureau strongly needs Kinect voice controls. They work pretty well in Mass Effect 3, but they are not available here.
And that brings me to the squad mate AI. Put simply, they borderline on moronic. While some orders I give are carried out correctly (disabling a target's shields for instance,) they do not understand the full aspect of taking cover. If I tell them to take cover in a selected area, they end up running behind me. Even worse, when a grenade is tossed in the area, they tend to run TOWARDS the grenade, resulting in them being incapacitated. Common sense would say that if you see a thrown grenade...RUN the other way!
My last huge complaint is the reasons the game uses to classify a minor operation as such. There is one mission where the Outsiders take control of a hidden nuclear missile launch facility, with orders to launch on Washington, DC. The mission ends with Carter redirecting the missile to Bikini Atoll, but still, how could this be considered minor?
There is also a third type of mission, called Dispatch missions. These involve sending out agents not on your main squad to carry them out on their own. It's basically just a numbers matchup. As long as the total rank number of your agents is higher that the requirement, they will always return successful. On a positive note, these missions mean that your agents will increase in rank in the field and therefore earn perks that will come in handy later should one of your squad mates be killed off.
That's because in true XCOM fashion, death is permanent. There is no resurrecting the dead, and when an agent goes down, you have to fight out the battle before another unit can be dispatched. Needless to say, those dispatch missions do help out a lot.
I do commend 2K Marin on keeping the iconic units that XCOM is known for. The Sectoids, Mutons, Ethereals, and yes the Sectopods are all back, and the Outsider units that debuted in Enemy Unknown are more fleshed out. But yes, the black goo and the giant Halo like alien from the first trailers are back as well. The black goo is the Silacoid from the 1994 game, but they are nicknamed "blobs." They can also be controlled by Carter as a perk, and they help out immensely in combat.
The storyline also feels close to the Cold War paranoia of the early 60s. While there is no mention of events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, there are a lot of similarities to such, including the previously mentioned nuclear missile mission.
I did give this game a chance. I played it all the way through the end, and believe it or not, I did enjoy playing it. However, there are a lot of issues that prevent The Bureau from being better than a typical Mass Effect clone. Enemy Unknown fans will not be won over with The Bureau, but it is not a betrayal, and should hold us over until the Enemy Within DLC for the Enemy Unknown game is released.
Pros: Many of the key aliens from Enemy Unknown have returned, as well as some from the original UFO Defense. Dispatch missions mean that backup agents will get leveled up. Later level perks are very handy.
Cons: It's pretty much Mass Effect. Radial menu sometimes gets a mind of its own. Squadmate AI borderlines on idiotic. This game NEEDS Kinect voice controls.
Todd Hargosh is GiN's Product Testing Manager. He enjoys any game that gets his adrenaline pumping. Todd can be contacted at : email@example.com.