Saturday Crapshoot: Bureau 13

Richard Cobbett at

Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. Today... if there's something strange in your neighbourhood, who are you definitely not gonna call? These morons!

When aliens attack, we now know that The Bureau handles the investigation until someone finally invents XCOM. But what if the threat comes from elsewhere - from myth and magic, horror and hearsay? In that case... well, honestly, it's probably best to call the BPRD. But if Hellboy happens to be busy that day, the world can at least turn to Bureau 13 - the organisation whose idea of cleaning up after a rogue agent drawing too much attention to them involves dispatching a vampire in a cloak and an angry woman in bra, pants and a stomping great mech suit to save the day. Stealthily!

Really, it's not so much a secret agency as one everyone just wants to forget exists.

'Do you feel as awkward as I do?'

Bureau 13 is a really dumb game with some clever ideas - one of the kind that doesn't actually work, but really should have. It follows in the wake of games like Maniac Mansion and... actually, very few others... by offering a whole team of agents to choose from, and allowing a choice of two - a hacker, a priest, the aforementioned vampire and underpants mech lady, a witch and a thief. Each have unique skills to bring to the mission, but unfortunately very little common sense. This is a game where your first destination should obviously be the police station to find information, being an official organisation and everything, where the aforementioned vampire, hacker, witch and so on are immediately blocked by a desk clerk wanting to see some ID. "We don't carry badges. We're a top secret organisation," they tell him... rather missing the point of the words there... and as such are dismissed as a bunch of random nutcases. Yes, including the lady stamping around in Dr. Robotnik's hand-me-downs.

You know what else they don't have? Resources. The first puzzle in the game... well, really more a 'puzzle'... involves getting a newspaper out of a machine. You can smash it if you have Underpants Mech Lady or steal it if you've got the Thief, or get a quarter out of the coin slot if you have one of the others, but that choice doesn't seem to explain how Bureau 13 is so strapped for cash that its agents need to crime their way into buying a newspaper. This actually happens.

Don't stand too close, you don't want to boil that thing...

And to get past the desk guy? It's amazing. You don't provide an ID, you don't talk him into it. Instead, you openly take some superglue from his desk, glue shut a fire extinguisher case right in front of him, then casually knock his ashtray into his own bin. I know this is becoming a theme here, and I promise I'll stop, but this includes if you do it with the lady in the stompy mech suit. You can't be stealthy in a stompy mech suit. But no. He's completely oblivious, and despite being about ten feet from the door, the fire being confined to a dustbin and two civilians being in the room, he tries the case and then immediately pegs it into the night. Why do I suspect he has a bright future ahead of him in Bureau 13? Maybe even in the official Bureau 13 RV, with "The Mystery Machine" crossed out on the grounds that the only mystery is how a vampire got a driving license. Unless the photo is drawn in pen.

Breaking into the evidence locker proves that the Vampire is no better. "I can't be photographed, but I show up very well on video," he warns. Wait, what? At least he does have some use though, being able to see in the dark well enough to do things when you turn off the power to deactivate a security camera that only exists to be annoying. Bureau 13 ruins even that most basic concept though, by also darkening the interface to make it hard for the curser to even see the cursor.

Hey, this doesn't look like a villain's office, with the painting of the Dark Lord behind the desk there...

Investigating a plot about as thick as water leads the heroes to a nearby corporation, AI, where a guard has to be dealt with not by violence or vampire mist powers... those are so important that they have to be saved for breaking into a hardware store to steal some wirecutters... but by digging a box out of the trash and going "I'm here to deliver this. This works. This actually works. Even though before doing it, the characters openly say "Guards always make breaking and entering more complicated."

Also... and I'm not sure if I mentioned this... but what the hell kind of courier wears power armour?

Ahem, said Fallout New Vegas.

Okay, point taken. But it's still stupid. Though at least at this point, it couldn't get much dumber.

This is a good moment to laugh maniacally, incidentally.

After a puzzle that involves literally taking a battery out of a smoke detector to power a remote control, despite being next to a hardware store that you can break into, it's on with what loosely calls itself a plot. How sloppy is this? In the same room, you find a safe behind a painting.

And what description do you get if if you Look at the safe for more details?

"Unlike most safes in movies, this one isn't hidden behind a painting."

Also, it's unlocked by tapes in a VCR. Of course it is.

I could go on and on about this one's stupidity, but the trouble with that is that it might make Bureau 13 sound awesomely bad. Well, it's bad. It's really bad. To enjoy the eye-rolling though means dealing with one of the clumsiest interfaces ever inflicted on the world, and one of the dullest worlds - a barely populated town where people only seem to show up to get in your way. Admittedly, not usually for long. Go into the gym for instance, and the attendant will order male characters not to go into the women's locker room - fair enough - and then walk away so that there's nobody to stop the suspicious, y'know, obvious vampire from wandering in. Though that's perhaps not quite as odd as the aforementioned vampire then being kicked out on his non-sparkling arse by the lady inside.

An over-eager Twilight fan, or someone who'll call the police?

What really hurts about all this is how clever the basic idea was, and how much promise it had - a promise with all the dedication of Casanova writing a limerick ending "So how about a shag then?" There's practically a drinking game in how often the Bureau 13 idiots blow their cover. Specifically, that drink should probably be dishwasher fluid.

But some things... some things don't work out. Not least publisher Take Two's other attempts to crack adventures, with the truly hideous Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller, Christopher Walken's starring turn in Ripper, and Black Dahlia, which if I remember correctly was the first game that came on four hundred CDs. I may be mistaken about that. But not too much. Lots of discs, that's what I'm saying.

As for Bureau 13? It's too sad to continue, but take my word for it, it gets worse. If you won't take my word for it, I pass you to this fine Let's Play that covers it in scorn. To finish though, I've managed to dig up this exclusive section from the Bureau 13 Handbook that explains exactly how to solve common problems using the team's powers and sense of commitment to professional spycraft.

How To Catch A Criminal: Locate the fugitive's house by walking around until you find it. With your vampire, switch into mist, but not too close to the air conditioning unit again, you morons and ensure target's presence. Then, explore the town to find a sheet of newspaper, a pencil, and a cuddly ocelot that will not be used for anything, and combine them, aside from the ocelot, to poke the key out through the door. Belatedly check that the key is in the door, and when it is not, nuke the entire neighbourhood from orbit. If anyone asks, you weren't there. Nor were they.

How To Prepare Dinner: Send the first available hacker to the supermarket with a comprehensive list. As he realises he has no money, have your Witch cast a confusion spell on the nearest available driver, forcing them to smash into his legs. When he wakes up at the hospital, the hospital will feed him. Do not attempt this with your underpants mech lady, as the damage to the car will not be covered by our insurance. In fact, the stamp rejecting our insurance application was not covered by our insurance. Should you find 30p or so on the ground, hold onto it. We need it. Thanks.

How To Eat Glass: Actively try not to eat glass. We can spare five minutes.


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