The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

A Slightly Musty Odor

We took a trip through time with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: September 12, 2013
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Before late 2012 you would have had to been a veteran gamer to have the name “X-Com” mean anything to you. The original X-Com franchise had lain dormant for close to two decades (at least in terms of being a relevant game) prior to last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Thanks to the hard work of Firaxis the name of X-Com rose back to the top and a whole new generation got to experience the finest in tactical turn-based combat.


Unknown to most, while Firaxis was toiling away on Enemy Unknown there had been another attempt to revive the franchise. Seven years ago Irrational Games started work on a tactical strategy game known as X-Com. Eventually 2K Marin broke off and respun the concept as a first person shooter set in the 60’s. THAT plan eventually morphed into The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which finally released as a third-person shooter last month.

When you have a troubled development cycle with complete reboots multiple times during the project you often end up with a game that feels like it has no solid identity. Therefore it isn’t all that stunning that The Bureau ends up feeling like a mix of multiple ideas that don’t seem to fit together quite right. There are moments where both the story and the gameplay are excellent, but then both suffer from extraneous and tacked on bits that feel like filler.

It’s inevitable that you’ll end up comparing The Bureau to Mass Effect as you go through radial conversation menus, third person cover based combat with a 3-man squad that you issue orders to through a radial menu with some low-level RPG elements. Imagine that style fused with a noiresque 60’s story about the genesis of X-Com with shoe-horned in connections to Enemy Unknown. Nothing is broken in The Bureau, but the disparate ideas just never coalesce into a satisfying experience.

The story weaves the tale of William Carter, an early recruit to the fledgling XCOM unit who quickly proves himself in battle and soon finds himself commanding a squad and taking on the most sensitive missions. It’s a dark tale that features the requisite rise and fall and unexpected twist before culminating in another moment that will remind you of Mass Effect. I found the story really compelling early on, and during your extended time back at the base between missions there are a lot of folks to talk to really give you a look into the world. Numerous documents and recordings further serve to draw you into the lives of your fellow agents.

Unfortunately as the game goes on the story starts to go all over the place and I could no longer really follow it. Lots of weird stuff happens, and then you’re left with the impression that maybe this could possibly connect to the fiction in Enemy Unknown. It’s a shame because I was pretty into the series of live-action videos 2K released in the weeks leading up to the game and the whole motif was something I really dug. They managed to spin it off into something more like a D-movie storyline from the 70s.
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