Posted: January 24
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified isn't bad, it just isn't very good. It's a bit threadbare, feeling like several incomplete ideas that have been rushed out the gate.
Realistically, I suspect The Bureau was completed on a small-ish budget after lingering around in development hell for a few years. Something about the game makes it feel like it's ten years or more old, if it wasn't for some of the DirectX 11 effects looking so sparkly it'd be easy to think it was from the early 2000's. Many of the locations are bare and empty places, feeling like they've been built in a rush, and often with several such vacant sets stitched together without any combat or events to distract, assumably to give the impression of covering a lot of ground in a mission. Other areas have clearly had some time and attention spent on them, and the locations and missions waver back-and-forth on this attention / quality scale, leaving the experience feeling quite jarring. You'll wander from a well-realised street, strewn with debris, bodies and signs of previous life... into an area that feels like it's been imported from a PS2 game.
The mechanics of the game basically play out like Mass Effect's combat, or Mass Effect 3 more specifically. It's a cover-based shooter where you run around with two squadmates, you have abilities with cooldowns, can issue orders and give movement directions to your squad. Enemies come in multiple varieties, some with shields and some with armour, with a few enemy types creating interesting tactical choices (a unit that supplies shields to all other nearby units, for example, if taken out the shields drop and make the fight easier). Unfortunately, where Mass Effect shines in making you care for your squad, here they are just flat cardboard bodies waiting for you to pull their puppet strings. They also keep respawning in front of you whenever you cross through a 'loading door' (frequent area transitions where the game loads the next section as your character very slowly opens a door and looks left and right before giving you control again), which is a bit distracting.
In fact, I felt the game lacked polish in general. I fell through the level geometry and died twice in eight hours of play, once whilst just running down a straight corridor. Audio logs can be found and played, although walking away from them they fade until inaudible (if I have to stand still to listen to them, they may as well be written text!). The controls aren't terrible, but movement feels clunky and stiff, for example; when you run there is absolutely no strafing, not even in a limited fashion, leaving you to clumsily course-correct with your mouse as you charge forward. You also tend to pop in and out of cover randomly at times, especially if strafing in cover, and controlling your squadmates feels awkward (fortunately the game slows down time during this).
Much of the story is told over radio as you run between fights, although there are some cutscenes that deal with exposition. The game also uses a dialogue wheel, just like the Mass Effect series, allowing you to choose between being vaguely rude or agreeable, it's a nice enough touch, although it felt a bit redundant with such small scope for actual meaningful choice. Levels are basically linear paths that open into combat arenas, the main missions last 30 to 60 minutes each, with side missions from 15 to 30 minutes roughly (I only did a couple, they felt fairly pointless). The game isn't overly long with six main missions, the story is mildly amusing with some interesting characters (although the main player character really started to grate on me). The plot felt like it tried to raise the stakes too high a number of times implying that Earth has basically been wiped out and already lost by the midway point of the game, then later claiming it's not as bad as implied, which breaks the suspension of disbelief somewhat.
Imbetween the missions, the game flirts with the idea of being an XCOM-style strategy game where you pick missions and kit out your squad, but with only six main plot missions and (I believe) seven side-quest 'minor missions', it doesn't feel like there's a lot of variety or choice. The equipment feels limited, with only a handful of weapons to equip and the only other equipment slot being a 'backpack' which acts as a kind of modifier for ammo, health regen, or ability cooldowns.
Overall, not a bad game, just not a particularly good one. It feels like it didn't succeed at being the mixture of genres it wanted to be, and it's not particularly good at being any ONE genre either. The plot is so-so, and the clunky and unpolished feel doesn't help. But if you don't mind all this and want a simple squad and cover-based shooter, this might entertain.