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The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Preview

by Diogo Miguel May 13, 2013

It has been a long time but 2K’s much anticipated XCOM title has finally seen the light of day. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified went through some some changes during development. The team at 2K Marin has worked hard and seems keen on showcasing the origins of the XCOM team. But was it worth the long wait?

The year is 1962 and an America weakened by its war efforts during the Cold War is on the verge of another crisis. Paranoia is at an all time high and so those in power are trying to keep the population from panicking.

That’s where the newly set up Bureau agency is set up to deal with strange events happening all over the country. But it turns out that the enemy isn’t exactly what the Government expected. It’s nothing less than a good old Alien invasion. The Bureau is swiftly re-organised and renamed to XCOM, so it can deal with this new and strange enemy.

Carter is the main character that the player gets to control. He is fairly new to his job as an agent at XCOM. One of the his first objectives is to set up a team. Carter can take two agents with him during a mission. Each of these agents has a specific class role which encourages the player to carefully select a team before starting a mission.

Two of these classes are Support and Recon. Interestingly enough, each class also has unique abilities. The Engineer class for example has a turret that is deployed in battle. The Commando class can send a pulse wave that knocks enemies back. Carter himself has abilities too, such as a being able to briefly lift enemies in the air and healing himself.

It doesn’t seem like there is a limit to how many times abilities are used. However, there is a cool down time period after using any ability. What this means is that the player must effectively use abilities and only when they are absolutely necessary.

But just how can the player make sure that agents use their abilities efficiently? The Bureau development team introduces the concept of a command wheel that the player uses to give orders to agents. The command wheel’s interface, like the rest of the user interface, is simple and extremely easy to use. In fact, icons used to represent the team’s health and so on are similar to those found in the BioShock video-games.

The wheel itself is split into three segments and one has a set of commands for each agent. Bringing up the wheel causes anything happening in the background to continue in slow motion. It’s extremely important since this makes it possible for the player to give orders to the two agents. The fact enemies and allies are still moving slowly in the background, means it’s important to change tactics all the time.

The player can also give simple move orders to agents, by pressing one of the directions on the d-pad. It felt more natural to use the command wheel, but these are handy for when moving about outside of combat.

Some abilities may seem insignificant, but even they can prove handy in the heat of combat. Combat isn’t as simple as ordering an agent to use an ability and expect it to wipe out a whole group of enemies. It requires using abilities as a group to effectively wipe out every alien in an area and move on.

The focus on team work is one of the Bureau’s best ideas. Weapons are just as important in dealing with aliens. Players can order each ally to focus fire on a specific target. Carter can also tell allies to move into a certain location. This is all done via the command wheel. The developers have certainly provided players with a powerful tool. Each player will surely react to a situation in a different way and that makes it interesting to see how alien encounters play out.

It’s extremely rewarding to successfully combine all the abilities provided. At various points, an agent taunted an enemy out of cover, which made it possible for Carter to defeat him. In another instance, an engineer successfully used a turret, so Carter could sneak behind one of the tougher enemies found. It’s interesting to think that the command wheel only has a few options per agent, yet it manages to make the player feel completely in charge of the team.

Characters can make use of weapons from the current time period. Interestingly enough, they can also make use of alien weapons. It’s all part of the efforts to defeat an enemy that has technology that is vastly superior to anything the American government has. Carter can hold 2 guns at a time and pick up any weapons found.

It’s fairly easy to rely on the more powerful alien alien weapon technology. However, these hold less ammo than standard human weaponry. It’s a good trade off so players make use of different weapons. This is particularly useful as each enemy type is weaker to certain weapons.

As usual, there are various upgrades to gain or improve abilities. Interestingly enough these were found in packs over the course of the mission. The level of agent customisation is impressive. The player can change everything from the agent’s name to the colour of his outfit.

Conveniently placed Resupply Stations make it possible to make various changes to the team. It’s very handy as it means being able to make changes that will improve the odds of surviving the next Alien encounter.

Each agent is unique. Those not taken on main operations can still earn experience by taking part in optional dispatch operations. It seems like a handy way to ensure that agents are on the same level of field experience. This may prove particularly beneficial for those who like using some agents more than others.

It may come as a shock but any agents that die in a mission are gone forever. This brings about the potential for repercussions as the fallen characters may have played a part in the story. It’s nerve wrecking to try and successfully keep the whole team alive in a mission. The AI does a decent job of handling enemies, but they work at their best when given orders.

The aliens themselves, named Outsiders, are resourceful and adapt quickly. It’s definitely not a good idea to just run and shoot with them around. It’s best to stick to cover and analyse enemies to find out more about them. Selecting an enemy to attack also reveals information, such as the probability of damaging an enemy from the current location.

It’s not always easy to get into cover There are times when the character got hit a few times because it wasn’t possible to get behind cover quickly. This is due to how the controls are mapped. It’s also because of the fact that it’s used in a different way from the typical shooter. The goal of cover is to get nearer to enemies and make use of abilities to create strategies.

Aliens range from standard minions to ones that have shields. Some of the smaller aliens are fairly easy to defeat. Regardless, it’s important to approach each enemy with caution, since they walk around in groups.

The mission played is set in a small town. The objective is to find and retrieve the field operative Da Silva. Along the way, Carter and his team find that the aliens are infecting the town people with a strange virus, that make it seem as if they are sleepwalking. The only problem is they are also leaking a distinct black goo from every orifice in their heads. It was mentioned during a presentation that some of these humans are made to attack the team further on.

Makes sense as the Outsiders are a race that specialises in enslaving other species wherever they show up. It’s disturbing to initially witness the look of those infected close up. It’s but one of the many remarkable sights in a world where alien technology is a common sight. At a certain point alien towers rise from the ground right in front of the team. It’s interesting to think how the newly formed XCOM is able to hide such sights from the general public. Not that they are new to it since Carter and his team make use of alien technology. Carter himself has a fancy gadget round his arm that he uses to hit enemies.

But most interesting is thinking about what kind of objectives the team will have to complete in further missions. This initial rescue mission focuses mainly on combat. It consists mostly of engaging groups of enemies and using different strategies to gain the upper hand.

A conversation towards the end reveals the opportunity to potentially influence the story. Carter find out that Da Silva is infected(not fully converted) by the sleepwalker virus when he finds him. Chatting with him brings up a few dialogue choices. Reasoning with a desperate Da Silva results in Carter convincing him to come back and subject himself to various tests – in an attempt to find a cure.

It may seem like a small difference but there is a chance this outcome may end up in a cure being found. Would Da Silva have committed suicide if the player had gone for the less optimistic dialogue choices? Would this influence the story further down the line? It’s one of the many mysteries surrounding The Bureau.

The very idea of experiencing an alien invasion in the 60’s is both unusual and exciting. Specially seeing as the team has put a lot of effort into making sure that everything like the clothes(waistcoats) has an authentic feeling.

If anything, The Bureau is fantastic take on the third person shooter. It shows that there is more to this genre than merely making aim a gun and shoot. The use of the command wheel is implemented exceptionally well. It’s done so well to the point that it feels natural to bring it up whenever engaging enemies, throughout the course of the mission. Most importantly of all is that it is also accessible to those who aren’t used to this sort of experience.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is certainly looking promising and could potentially introduce even more players to the XCOM video-games.

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