Xbox 360 Review

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

2K treats us to the story of the origins of XCOM

Reboot is a bad word, especially when it is applied to such a revered intellectual property as the XCOM series. Even so, 2K Games decided to try and open up the XCOM universe to a wider audience by creating a shooter based on the classic strategy games.

Set in the 1960s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a third-person strategy-action hybrid that charts the origins of the world's last and only line of defence against extraterrestrial threats.

Players don the mantle of Agent William Carter, a capable yet disturbed former CIA agent that was drummed out of the agency after the loss of his family in a house fire while he was away on a mission destroyed his life. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Carter is recruited by XCOM to transport an artefact to a top secret meeting of agency heads and the US military top brass but and accident with the artefact casts him into the middle of a life-or-death struggle between humanity and an alien race known only as the Outsiders.

Leading a team of two agents Carter must deal with the Outsider threat in the only way that XCOM knows how – surgical operations to defeat the enemy and acquire their technology for adaptation to use again in the field.

There's plenty here that's familiar for XCOM fans. Aside from the strategy elements of each mission agents must be recruited and can be customised down to their names and their outfits. There are four classes of agent - recon, engineer, support and commando – each with unique skills that could prove useful on the battlefield.

The Bureau also has a levelling-up mechanic for both Carter and his supporting agents allowing the team to grow and learn new abilities as they gain more experience. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Engineers are particularly useful as they can learn the ability to throw down an automated turret to add a bit of extra firepower in a spot.

Weaponry is features the familiar three tiers – human, laser and plasma – with each tier boasting a significant damage upgrade over the previous one.

In missions players control Carter directly and can access his abilities and squad commands from a handy radial menu brought but with the press of the B button. This doesn't pause the game but it does slow down time enough to make issuing commands a fairly simple matter.

2K Marin has been quite cunning here as far as friendly AI goes. If you try and play through the game without issuing orders to your team they will die. In fact the friendly AI is exceptionally limited with squad members seemingly willing to commit seppuku on the laser rifles of the enemy if they are ignored. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Issue them orders and the game comes to life allowing you to avoid what is quite a decent enemy AI. In complete contrast enemies are fairly smart and will seek out decent firing positions with cover and will even attempt to flank you.

As the game progresses it proves exceptionally challenging dealing with multiple enemies especially when some can cloak and others can even teleport short distances.

In this respect, The Bureau remains faithful to the original series providing a decent strategic challenge with each mission filled with strategic options to be exploited by both sides.

Pacing is a problem though and this is largely down to level design. Each level is well-constructed up to a point but they become exceptionally predictable. There are very few occasions where combat occurs in tight enclosed spaces. Every instance of combat is scripted and occurs in a wider section of the level with ample options for cover. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

This essentially telegraphs every combat situation losing the tense atmosphere that has been a trademark of the original turn-based strategy entries in the series up until now.

What it lacks in tension and pacing it makes up for in visuals and storytelling. It has very refined look that evokes a combination of the X-Files and classic sci-fi of the1960s. The story too evokes the X-Files wholesale with the idea of a whole scale war against alien invaders being carried out covertly seeming like something out of Chris Carter's concept notes.

There is one thing missing from The Bureau and that is multiplayer. While 2K Marin should be applauded for not trying to shoehorn in multiplayer just because every game now seems to have some kind of multiplayer, the game may have benefited from the opportunity to play through the campaign in co-op mode. The action-strategy elements of the game would have worked well with Ghost Recon-style co-op multiplayer.

Still, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified remains a competent effort at redefining the borders of the XCOM series and  it serves up an interesting prologue to the Firaxis-helmed strategy game that arrived towards the end of 2012 to boot. All in all, not bad for a reboot.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is out now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.