The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified hands-on preview -- What I liked and didn't

Evan Lahti at

xcom the bureau

Like Enemy Unknown, shield indicators are overlaid to help you evaluate the quality of your cover.

Mixed feelings - PC controls

Though The Bureau’s PC control scheme mercifully avoids porting the console version’s radial menu, I can’t shake the impression that XCOM felt slightly more comfortable to me on a controller. That isn’t an outright indictment of the PC controls--2K’s adaptation of the Battle Focus system to a mouse and keyboard is far from bad--but the amount of variation inherent to XCOM’s combat that aligns better with a gamepad, a device with more natural asymmetry between its inputs.

Short of completely ripping out or reworking fundamental mechanics like Battle Focus, I think this is the best implementation we could’ve expected. Spacebar activates Battle Focus, slowing combat to a crawl and raising a horizontal UI element that shows the status of your squadmates and their abilities. From there, you hit A, S, or D to select a character, then a number button to select one of their active abilities, then you target and cast the ability with the mouse and WASD. This four-step sequence is a decent chunk of input, and while it got more comfortable over time it rarely felt completely effortless. The most awkward element was using WASD to pilot targeting point for area-effect abilities (like Shield Sphere, a combat stim grenade, or a land mine) around the map in 3D.

On the upside, two context-sensitive quick command keys (awkwardly default-assigned to F1 and F2, though they can be re-bound) are welcome shortcuts for telling your agents where to move or which enemies to target. Holding and then releasing the F1 command sends both of your agents to a position, while selecting an enemy with it tells your shoot that target. F2 cancels existing orders and issues a “regroup” command, similar to Rainbow Six: Vegas.

xcom the bureau

XCOM HQ is visually detailed but there didn't seem to be too much to do inside it.

Didn’t like: Watered-down metagame

Absent from The Bureau is any base-building, research trees, economic management, or equipment manufacturing. On the surface, that’s disappointing, but I actually think it’s foolish to suggest that The Bureau would be a better game if it mimed Enemy Unknown. Shoehorning in some sort of XCOM Council mechanic, for example, wouldn’t have made sense in the context of a mysterious, shocking attack on the United States--why wouldn’t the USA give XCOM a blank check to prevent our extinction? Duplicating aspects of Firaxis’ metagame would prevent The Bureau from pursuing designs that suited it as a third-person action game, but unfortunately the verbs you’re given in place of these traditional XCOM base activities weren’t very interesting to me.

By design, your HQ mirrors Mass Effect’s Normandy: a series of social zones that you jog between in third-person. Scientists scrutinize clipboards in the laboratory; operators man bulky, olive-colored control panels in a Strangelovian mission control center; guns can be tested in a firing range; secondary characters sit in their offices as plot dispensers. I have no problem with The Bureau borrowing Mass Effect as a template (it’s a great template), but what was missing from the introductory hours that I played was something to do in the base that affected what happened in battle. There may be some of that buried further in the game, but I would’ve loved to’ve simply, for example, told the science team which Laser Pistol upgrade to research (there’s no weapon progression or customization, seemingly).

Beyond that, it’s a drag that you don’t seem to have meaningful interactions with your squadmates. Because your agents are swappable, randomly-generated, rename-able people who can permanently die, I think it’s safe to say that won’t get to know them as people through dialog or something like Mass Effect-style loyalty missions--it was unclear if they physically existed in the base at all, actually. Relatedly, it’s also a letdown (though depressingly era-appropriate, I guess) that there aren’t female soldiers, crushing my dream of watching Peggy Olson ruin Sectoids with a Scatter Laser.

xcom the bureau

The Bureau is a boy's club.