It has been said many times that the summer period is a time of release schedule abandonment for the videogames industry. Keen to maximise sales and without a holiday buying period to centre launch periods on, many publisher prefer to wait for when the sun is drawing earlier in the evening before unleashing their big guns. 2013 was said to be no different, but to put it simply, those suggesting this are wrong.
Following the likes of Remember Me, The Last of Us and Animal Crossing: New Leaf we have Deadpool, New Super Luigi U, Saints Row IV and, of course, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. That’s an impressive line-up for any period, and given that it’s only a fraction of the new titles being released this summer it would be more appropriate to consider 2013 the turning point: a time in which content delivery has matured to the point where fresh new gaming experiences can be offered all year round, rather than being lumped into an tense eight week window.
However, with such a turn around of fortune for the consumer comes a more anxious time for those competing. 2K Games’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown performed incredibly well amongst the critics and core audience, but its retail results weren’t quite as fruitful. The forthcoming The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is arguable a more enviable prospect, building on the franchise’s welcoming premise of a tangent timeline from 1960’s America and enveloping it in a modern third-person shooter template. It’s the best of both worlds: an inviting setting for the core gamer and an accessible design for a more mainstream audience.
Of course, as a modern third-person shooter The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does borrow heavily from Gears of War, as has near-every release in the genre since 2006. Featuring a sprint that acts similarly to the infamous ‘roadie run,’ a cover system and visual presentation of damage being sustains, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is undeniably a product of genre conditioning. However, it’s not a simple cut-and-paste job: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified remains unique in many ways, most noticeably in that of its squad commands.
The player is never alone in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. They have a small team that always follows them into battle, but they can also recruit new allies on the battlefield when the mission allows. All of these comrades are reasonably clever, able to spot openings in enemy lines and position themselves accordingly. However, the player is also able to direct their movement in a fashion similar to the cult classic Freedom Fighters. Simply select the character you wish to command, the command you wish to issue and then the location you wish to move them to or the target you want them to shoot at. It’s a simple system inspired by Mass Effect’s abilities wheel: another asset which each character has.
As you progress through The Bureau: XCOM Declassified both the player’s character, William Carter, and your squad mates will earn experience which will grant access to new abilities. These abilities are commanded from the same wheel as movement and target practice, and despite the cooldown period are very flexible in their use. Indeed, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified positively encourages experimentation, with the combination of multiple abilities in a single attack potentially dealing far greater damage to an increased number of foes.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does feature a strong connection to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, most noticeably in that of the weapon and enemy types. The Bureau itself – the base of operations that acts as the videogame’s hub – provides the player with information and the ability to research new weapons and technology in a familiar fashion, as well as presenting opportunities to customise loadouts and even the aesthetics of your squad. Icons, skills and even locations will be recognisable, if not identical in their portrayal, which only strengthens The Bureau: XCOM Declassified as a prospect for returning fans. As a videogame that’s famously walked a rough road to retail, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is looking to be on surprisingly good form, and for that Electronic Theatre simply can’t wait to get back into the shoes of Carver and fight the alien menace.