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

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.
Evan Lahti
Global Editor-in-Chief

Evan's a hardcore FPS enthusiast who joined PC Gamer in 2008. After an era spent publishing reviews, news, and cover features, he now oversees editorial operations for PC Gamer worldwide, including setting policy, training, and editing stories written by the wider team. His most-played FPSes are CS:GO, Team Fortress 2, Team Fortress Classic, Rainbow Six Siege, and Arma 2. His first multiplayer FPS was Quake 2, played on serial LAN in his uncle's basement, the ideal conditions for instilling a lifelong fondness for fragging. Evan also leads production of the PC Gaming Show, the annual E3 showcase event dedicated to PC gaming.