The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Features for PS3

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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified screenshot
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified screenshot

Nico Bihary, producer at 2K, looks very tired. He's got that just-off-of-a-plane, please-no-more-interviews look. Which could be a problem, seeing as I'm essentially here to talk to him. At one point he tells me that during the interview, he felt like he was floating above his body, watching the conversation happen. Which is weird...

If you're experiencing supernatural phenomena it might be time to calm it down, or at least leave a message with Bill Murray – but it's also understandable. This is the London leg of a tour that has stretched across Europe, in a mad dash to promote The Bureau before its August release.

You get the feeling that, like Rico, The Bureau is against the clock. It's been a long time coming now, and hardly been the smoothest of rides - delays, design changes, another game called XCOM coming out and being critically acclaimed have all worked, in one way or another, against it.

But now it's been re-re-revealed, the question isn't just whether or not it will live up to the series name, as it was three years ago. Now, there's also the real consideration that 2K Marin may simply run out of time to fulfill its vision.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified screenshot

Having played about 30 mins of the game, it's difficult to say for certain just how much it will live up to the legacy. Squad-based elements are still front and centre, despite the fact that players take control of one character and can move them - and the two troops that comprise the squad - freely instead of in turns. Attempting to play it like any old third-person shooter will usually result in the death of you and your team, and as such there's still a strong strategic element in play.

As squad leader Carter, there are various tactical options open to players. In the demo I was accompanied into battle by a commando and a tech. Pressing B pulls up a radial wheel and slows the game down to a crawl. Each soldier has special abilities: the grunt could taunt opponents into stalking him, lowering their defenses, while the tech can lay down turrets to suppress enemies, among other examples. Carter himself can launch enemies into the air, exposing entrenched foes, and combining your troops' powers is the key to victory.

There's a nice tension to proceedings, and having a plan come together is satisfying. There is the danger that it could all fall between two stools, of course – not enough of a third-person shooter, not enough strategy. I tell Rico that I have been relying on certain strategies, and they've proven effective – maybe overly so. There's a wealth of customisation in the game, which I can appreciate is difficult to convey in a relatively short press build.

Still, it was hard to shake the feeling that the environments feel static: fine in a turn-based game, not so much in a game that, at the very least, is presented like a third-person shooter. Other elements felt like they needed work, including, worst of all, twitchy shooting. Other players at the event I attended grumbled that it was too easy. (Perma-death is still a thing, but only on hard difficulty do squad mates need stabilising if they go down during missions. On normal, they bounce back up.)

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified screenshot

Time will tell how the game itself fares. What is clear, however, is that it was either now or never for The Bureau, and that pressure could be to its detriment. The game initially piqued interest in 2010, but over the years has faded into the background. It feels like 2K Marin had big ideas for the title, but couldn't get them quite right, and now time has run out on them. 2013 is already half over, and there's no more room to manoeuvre: this generation is nearly done, and it feels like The Bureau has to release now, vision fulfilled or not.

Will XCOM fail? I hope not. The '50s is the perfect setting to tell an origin story, and I really want the various battles - chosen from a very cool, mission control-style map – to build to something dynamic and interesting: especially given that players get to choose how they interact with friendlies on-site, via a Mass Effect-style dialogue wheel. It's impossible to tell what concessions were made to get it finished, but I hope that this one comes through.

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Game Stats

Release Date: 23/08/2013
Developer: 2K Marin
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: Third-person shooter
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 1,363 1
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