In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom puts on a fedora and enjoys the ambience of XCOM HQ, and then takes the fedora off and burns it in a bin.
The Bureau proves that even bad games can be loved for something. A long, troubled development phase marred this third person shooter with tactical squad management, layered over a shallow RPG with conversation wheels and persistent team management system. It's a curious Frankenstein's monster of a game, if the monster wore suspenders and a nice hat, and if one of Dr. Frankenstein's interns accidentally put a bit of dog into the formula along the way.
I love the control room that serves as home to the XCOM project, because it's like peering through a portal into a better game. It's a little pressure cooker: stuffy, smoky, noisy, and cluttered with period artifacts and paranoid staffers. These poor imprisoned admins think that every other significant military site in the country has been lasered to ash. Now they're stuck in humanity's final fortress—a cramped, unfinished hole in the ground—and forced to work all hours in service of the government. It's a neat counter to Enemy Unknown's vision of a throbbing, high-tech ant nest.
It's really hard not to feel sorry for the staff. The X-Ray invasion is in full flow, and the NSA has rounded up military talent from all over the country to form a chain-smoking, rye-drinking, shirted troupe of bored avengers to counter the threat. You see them tapping away at machines in every corner. You can even talk to some of them to generate sidequests and dig into their personal lives.
Meanwhile, banks of chunky monitors and cabinets of whirring tape decks rub sit uneasily in wood-paneled offices with slatted window blinds. The Houston set from Apollo 13 has collided with LA Confidential's police station, and now a squad of crack military personnel have to work, eat and sleep there together. The facial animation is stiff and the level of detail gives away its age, but there's a musty, lived-in feel to the place. It's functional and dingy, but after a while it becomes a comforting beige womb that you return to between missions.
It fits The Bureau's anachronistic fedoras 'n lasers thing, which it doesn't play on enough. In early videos the aliens were balls of squiggly black gloop that could wriggle up your nose to destroy or manipulate your brain. Scenes showed these horrible villains hiding away in Stepford Wives suburbs, to be flushed out by private eyes with proton packs. It was a ghostbusters horror movie period drama with inventive baddies and Brothers In Arms style pin-flank-kill combat.
I want to play that game so badly that I linger in the control room, where the veil that separates our world from the world that made The Bureau GOTY 2013 is thinnest, and I try to pretend.