XCOM is a touchy franchise for me; I loved the style and gameplay of Enemy Unknown, but never really got in to the older XCOM titles. I know some of you might be all “what? This guy never got in to classic XCOM! Fuck this review”, but before you get all pretentious on me please compare The Bureau to older XCOM titles, you’ll find that the only similarity is in the name, XCOM, and the fact that there’s aliens invading, that’s it! The Bureau strays so far from familiar ground in the series that it’s basically a new game altogether (as was apparent when I preordered it and it took 15 minutes for the service desk to find it on their computers because it was not filed under the title of XCOM). But this doesn’t make The Bureau a bad game…
Set in late 1962, The Bureau starts off with CIA special agent William Carter sitting in a dingy hotel room having a drink by himself. Carter is tasked with delivering a secret package to Groom Range, that is until all hell breaks loose and pissed off aliens start raining down from the skies, tasking you with the mission of getting the hell out of there! Although The Bureau grabs players right away with action from the moment you start up the game, it felt kind of rushed, as there was little time to get to know the protagonist and not much time to get used to the controls before you were faced with five or six aliens trying to blow your brains out. The controls were a big thing for me as I found them to be a bit tight at the beginning, making it harder to aim and making fights one hell of a chore to begin with (thank god for auto aim). But the game lets you know early on that it doesn’t want you to focus on combat yourself, it puts more emphasis on being a commander. With the press of a button you can open up a command wheel mid fight, with the command wheel open time slows to almost a stop and you have the option to select orders for the two agents you have fighting alongside you or use your own abilities. This may turn quite a few players away from The Bureau, because instead of focusing highly on squad based combat (like the Mass Effect series), The Bureau basically demands it with idiotic AI that will run in to the middle of an open area and constantly complain that it doesn’t have any orders until you give it orders, then even giving orders can have its downsides when your teammates get stuck somewhere because they don’t understand how to run aroundyou to the cover you told them to go to (luckily they can shoot through walls). The combat picks up after the first mission though as you’ll be more familiar with the controls and able to help out your team in the heat of battle, it becomes quite enjoyable actually as you discover new technology and earn new abilities for yourself and your team. The Bureau is quite a story heavy game so if you’re not in to talking to everyone and reading every letter you find along the way, maybe this isn’t the game for you, as you’ll be missing the full experience of the alien invasion and might start to get annoyed when spending time at headquarters with the talkative characters that dwell within.
The Bureau has some pretty mediocre graphics, even when set on the highest settings on PC, but it can still look beautiful when it really wants to. The characters movements can be pretty stiff in and out of battle, and you’ll start to notice that Carter seems to fiddle around with his hands constantly while talking to other characters, in an infinite loop of awkwardness. The game also has some pretty good voice acting and an intense soundtrack to really get the adrenaline pumping when in combat.
Overall, The Bureau is a great game, complete with a strong story, fun combat (due to its command system), and interesting collectables to come across. But it does falter in quite a few ways: if you want to experience the whole story you will need to be prepared to read every single letter and look at every single photograph you come across, otherwise the story will still be good but it may feel a little empty with quite a few things being untold or not told as well as they could have been, the AI can be a bit difficult to deal with at times due to their reliance on your orders and ability to make stupid moves in the middle of combat which can result in you having to dive in to the middle of gunfire to revive them before they bleed out. I did also find a few bugs throughout the time I played the game but none of them were anything too major.
So, if you’re looking for the next best XCOM title, avoid The Bureau and wait for the expansion to Enemy Unknown. The Bureau doesn’t stick to typical XCOM roots but is still a great game for what it delivers, and although it lacks replay ability with no online mode and the ability to collect everything in one play through, I would recommend it to those looking for a filler title or just a great, story driven game.
Time played: 9 hours 23 minutes (game not complete)
Played on: PC