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Hands-on with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

July 19, 2013 • Reviews

Last night a select group of South African gaming journalists had the opportunity to play development code of 2K’s upcoming The Bureau: XCOM Declassified title.

A screenshot of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (image: Megarom)

Before taking to the Xbox consoles, Erica Denning, 2K Games’ Export PR Manager, shared a number of new trailers and screenshot with the attendees.

First impressions

XCOM Enemy Unknown is the last title in the current XCOM franchise, with the turn-based tactical role-playing video game being released in October last year. It was a re-imagining of the original title from 1994, and was well received.

The Bureau takes the franchise in a new direction, putting players in a first-person perspective on a mission to rid small towns in the US from the alien invasion. While retaining a very familiar XCOM look and feel, the first-person perspective actually works pretty well. It would be an accurate description to say that 2K took Enemy Unknown and allowed the player to zoom into a third-person view – minus the turn-based combat.

Attendees of the preview were allowed to start a new game on any difficulty of their choosing, and were given between two to three hours to complete as much of the title as possible – although the code in itself only had about four hours’ worth of gameplay.

Plot

The game takes place in 1962, and the government of the US created The Bureau to deal with a newly-discovered alien threat – a threat that could potentially wipe out the human population. The Bureau’s main task is to contain and eliminate the landing aliens, as well as keep the news away from the public eye.

Gameplay

Players will assume the role of FBI special agent William Carter, and will be at the centre of the title’s action-packed scenes. Carter will take control of all situations on the battle field, and by going into Battle Mode, time will slow down, giving Carter enough time to direct other characters and squad mates into tactical positions through an action wheel.

Although it was development code, the gameplay ran as smooth as one would expect, but some bugs did creep in – which is completely understandable, as the title is only slated for release in August.

Players will deal with the alien threat through the use of period specific weapons as well as some advanced technology. Players will have two main weapon slots, and swapping between them is easily done by pressing one button. Ammunition and different weapons were plentiful in the code, so running out should not be a problem.

But there is a slight annoyance when it comes to ammo – players will have to press a button to collect it, instead of it automatically being added to the player’s inventory. While it is not a huge issue during quiet times, when things start to heat up there is not a lot of time to fiddle without buttons that could have been removed.

Players can also make use of hand grenades, but to throw them 2K went a slightly different route with the controls. Instead of just pressing the shoulder button (as in traditional FPS game), players have to select the grenade with the shoulder button, while holding it down aim in the desired directions, and then press the right trigger to throw.

In what looks a lot like EA’s Mass Effect conversation wheel, players will be given the opportunity to engage in as much conversation as they want. Each time the character triggers an interaction, the player will be given one talking point or response that will expedite the conversation to get on with the mission, or they can explore the other talking points to flesh out the story a bit more.

While it is not completely necessary to go through all the conversational topics, it would be to the benefit of the player – as certain things will be explain in greater detail.

As one would guess, there will be a lot of running and taking cover, but that has also been developed a bit strangely. Carter does not sprint automatically, but rather takes a quick jog when being directed. In order for him to go into full stride, players will have to hold down the A-button – which also doubles-up as the button that needs to be pressed when going into cover.

Through the previously mentioned Battle Mode, players will be able to give squad members orders – which will be familiar to players of the franchise. As mentioned, the turn-based aspect has been removed, so everything happens in real time, while Battle Mode does slow down time a bit.

Bringing up the Battle Mode action wheel by holding down the B-button on the Xbox, players rotate the analogue stick to the desired squad member and then select an order that they want them to execute. Orders will be confirmed by pressing ‘A’ and then ‘B’ again to exit the action wheel. Orders range from Critical Shot, Move, Cover, Cloak and Attack, but vary depending on the character.

Speaking of squads, players will have up to three other members in their squad, who will all level up as they go along. Characters can also be customised with different weapons and tactics, but players should be careful the their approach to danger – The Bureau makes use of Perma-Death, so when a character is killed, they are out of the game forever. It does not matter if they were a level 1 or a level 20 – they will be gone.

Graphics

In the trailer and screenshot below, players can see that the graphics are far better than Enemy Unknown – which is expected. While not a lot of attention has been given to smaller details, the necessary aspects in the title make it enjoyable.

The graphical style also complements the 1960’s feel that 2K is portraying, and similarities can be seen through this title with other 2K games. But in all honesty, when aliens start landing on the porches of rural America, players will not have the time to notice that there is no reflection in the water puddle of the flag waving above, or whether a can is dented or not.

Come to think of it, the graphics are actually pretty good…

Conclusion

Hoping that the bugs in the development code will be sorted out before release, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a fun title with lots of action to keep the player engrossed. If players loved the previous titles in the XCOM series, they should definitely take a look at this one – although it is different to what they are used to.

We really enjoyed playing through a number of the levels, but reading some comments about The Bureau online, we are hoping that it is not going to be a repeat of Command & Conquer: Renegade. Electronic Arts took their hugely-successful Command & Conquer strategy game and turned it into a first-person shooter – with mixed reviews.

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