I'll get straight to it. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified suffers from an identify crisis, it's wearing its older brother's clothes, but its not fooling anybody.
For anybody who doesn't know, XCOM is a series based around a task force that defends Earth from alien invasions. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is the tenth entry in the series (and the second in the reboot). The Bureau took a different approach to its predecessors, wanting to give the audience a new experience whilst keeping the solid conventions of the series. The game is a prequel being set years before in the 1960s. It follows the story of Agent William Carter and his fight against the aliens on their first invasion of Earth.
The Bureau strives on bringing in a new approach and the visuals are no exception. The game is a graphical feast, alive with 60s vibe and dull colours (dull colours I mean in a good sense, honest). The characters, the buildings, the cars are historically believable (even if historically inaccurate) and a perfect juxtaposition against the bright lights and sounds of the hostile technology. The animations on the other hand aren't so spectacular. Stiff facial expressions take away what little life Agent Carter (and his wooden voice acting) already had making it near impossible to distinguish what emotion the protagonist is feeling even when he is angrily cursing at everyone (I'll give you a hint, he's angry). Awkward animations cause characters to flip out and slide into cover from several meters away, in many cases the wrong cover causing you to be at a disadvantage not being able to see your enemy or being an open target and getting pummeled until you are nothing more than a pile of dust. This is a huge shame as work was clearly put into the visuals.
Another huge format change is the gameplay. Instead of opting for the original "turn based strategy", The Bureau ops for the "over the shoulder generic cover based squad shooter" (or "squad based shooter" for short). For fans of the XCOM series this is a huge detachment from the original games, including last year's 'Enemy Unknown' but for gamers that The Bureau is their first outing, this could be a good thing. Unfortunately it isn't. Compared to Enemy Unknown, The Bureau is generic. Extremely generic infact. The Bureau follows every other cover based game before it and every game before them. You move from battlefield to battlefield within each level where you will meet several enemies that you must vanquish before they destroy you. Each encounter is either you ambush the enemies or they ambush you, rolling on and on until you reach the end of that mission. At the end of the mission you return to your HQ (in comparison to previous XCOM games, your HQ might as well have been a cave) in with you pick your arsenal and your comrades who shall join you on your next outing. As the game adopts "permadeath" from previous titles (which it still can't get right) you would believe you'd be choosing and levelling up your team quite often. Unfortunately this is not the case. Playing my first playthroughon Veteran difficultly I managed to lose nobody in my squad, not due to sheer skill but because the "permadeath" in The Bureau isn't quite permadeath. Your squadmates can die, but your main character Agent Carter can not. Everytime you die you are reset back to a previous checkpoint in which, both you and your squad, are revived to refight the battle. This can be "spammed" to the point that nobody ever dies because you can keep rethinking your tactics for the second push, not only that, reviving a squadmate is extremely easy, especially if you keep them close.
Looking at the gameplay is a positive light, there are a few aspects that could have been expanded on to create a better experience. The shooting (this will sound hypocritical but stick with me) is actually quite solid and a good foundation to work from. Running from battleground to battleground is boring but when you're actually fighting, its enjoyable. Aiming is simple and quick and the gun mechanics make the shooting seem good and heavy. Each hit packs a punch, whether it is the enemy taking hits or you. The cover system also works well (when you can get it to). Keeping your head down waiting for the shot adds a tactical system to a fast paced battlefield. Picking your shots is essential and popping up too early can leave you wide open for a massacre (especially on higher difficulties). The tactical system also works well, its just unfortunate that your squadmates don't seem to understand the orders given and get pounded with bullets until they duck for cover and keep their head down. There is a wide range of options to choose from and each order is used in depth. The "move" order isn't a simple point and click, time slows down around you and you move a sheild around the battlefield into cover wherever you want that specific squaddie. This gives a perfect tactical edge over the enemy and gives you options to not only flank them, but use your team as 'bait' so you can move up for the perfect shot.
Touching briefly on the story, there isn't much to go by. XCOM is a fantastic futuristic series that a prequel like The Bureau could really touch on the foundations of the series and show the origins of theXCOM team. Unfortunately it fails miserably to touch on anything that the series has to offer. It throws around small ideas willy nillyand just becomes confusing and laborious as the game goes on. The campaign will take you between 12-15 hours but I found it a struggle to keep going, just for the sake of completing it.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a step backwards for the XCOM series but it has laid foundations for what "could be" a future for theXCOM series. To throw out the idea of changing the formula on one bad game would be preposterous. I would recommend The Bureau to anybody looking to shell through a solid shooter, but not at full retail price. Anybody looking for a repeat of 'Enemy Unknown' might just have to keep waiting until Firaxis deliver again