Many say that the videogames industry still suffers from a summer lull, a thinning of the release schedule due to a lack of interest in staying in doors when the sun is out. Electronic Theatre has long argued that this is no longer the case; publishers have been made aware of the gap in the market and are aiming to fill it with titles that may suffer up against the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield in the busy Christmas period. Nintendo have Pikmin 3, Deep Silver are launching Saints Row IV, and perhaps most interesting of all 2K Games are set to expand the XCOM franchise with The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
‘Interesting’ is the most appropriate word as, for all intents and purposes, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified functions as a very similar third-person shooting videogame. This is at its most basic level, with a roadie run and cover system that wouldn’t feel out of place in Gears of War. However, given a lick of elegantly placed 1960s nostalgia and a tactical design that burrows into it’s core, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is looking set to offer something more than just a ‘me too’ action experience.
The videogame begins as the American government are finally convinced by their extraterrestrial research team that alien lifeforms are not only watching Earth, but have also visited. What’s more, they appear to be preparing for an invasion. William Carter, a storied agent that has fallen on hard times, has been tasked with protecting an alien artefact found here on Earth, and having been commanded to bring it to the Pentagon we find that not all is as it seems.
The ‘outsiders’ are after the device and you are honour bound to deliver it. Unsuspectingly you invest your trust in another agent, only to be fooled and taken down. The device reacts, killing your would be assassin and healing you. You awake to find the city in chaos: the enemy has technology that far exceeds the firearms at your disposal, but you’re on home turf. This isn’t going to be an easy fight, but a fight it is.
It’s not long before you meet an ally that you can trust and are taught the basics of team command. This is an important aspect of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified just as it was in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, with players able to issue commands to their teammates on via a wheel not too dissimilar to Mass Effect. Here however, it’s more than just special abilities (though these are included too) as the player can determine where their teammates move to and the position they take behind cover. This allows for some decisive tactical play in the real-time combat, especially when taking into account the differing abilities that each teammate has.
In this first part of the videogame you meet with Thomas Nils, a recon class that is not only a good shot with a rifle, but also has the ability to call in an area-effect fire mission; effectively a grenade with pin-point accuracy and no bounce. A second recruit not too long after has the ability to throw scatter grenades that hinder the enemy accuracy and also to set up a sentry turret, which although it is short on life it’s very much an effective means of keeping groups of enemies pinned down.
From these few entry level abilities it’s easy to piece together some impressive combat puzzles: forcing enemies into your line of fire with a scatter grenade, creating a cross-fire by dividing your team across the area, throwing a grenade into groups of enemies pinned down by the suppressive fire of the sentry turret. These are the most basic of tactics that prove useful in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and even in the opening hour of gameplay there were plenty more objectives available.
Outside of combat this preview build allowed for the first hands-on look at The Bureau itself; the hub upon which the videogame is centred. At this point The Bureau remains a busy location with little to do, but as the videogame progresses many important decisions will be made here. The first of which are your squad selection and the equipment they will carry. You can monitor the progress of your team through the ranks and equip the two weapons that they will start with when next taking to the battlefield. You can also see which abilities they have and when they will unlock their next, as well as customising their appearance. Very little of this was actually available in the preview build, but it did hint at a deeper customisation than many would be expecting of a third-person shooter that largely follows the template established by Gears of War.
With The Bureau: XCOM Declassified set for release next month it’s highly likely that 2K Games, together with Deep Silver and Nintendo, will help dispel the two myths of no summer releases and poor summer sales. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is looking every bit the tactical-action experience we would hope it’s going to be and a perfect compliment to the existing XCOM lore. The sun may still be shining, but Electronic Theatre can’t wait to get to spend a few evenings sat on the couch fighting this alien menace.