Review by The Purple Pantywaist

Reviewed: 11/10/14

Mediocre game with a few flaws

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a squad-based 3rd-person cover shooter, where you are part of an elite US-agency, fighting an alien invasion in the 1960ies. There is not a lot good about that game, and a few bad things.

Gameplay and controls
You have your base, where you can walk around and talk to a few people. Sometimes you have to look for someone or something, and it can get tedious. But the main part of the game of course is fighting aliens. As said, it is a cover shooter, so cover is king. There is a twist in the mechanics, as you do more damage if an alien is flanked (and you receive more damage, if you are flanked). This leads to the frustrating effect, that even if you shoot at some aliens head, it might take you up to a whole magazine to kill it that way, if it is not flanked. To flank aliens, you are supposed to use your squad mates. Problem is, they are not very smart: If you try to flank the aliens yourself, in most circumstances, your squad mates follow you automatically, so everybody again ends on the same side of the aliens and no flanking. By pressing space you can enter command mode, where time is considerably slowed. In this mode you can order your squad mates and use abilities. So you can tell your squad mates where to go eg to flank the enemy. Again, problem is, then they do not watch out, if they are flanked, so you end up micromanaging their every move. This was what ruined the whole flank/cover thing for me. As mentioned, there are abilities, like Heal, Mine, Shield etc. All those abilities have to be activated manually. I felt they were not well curved, meaning abilities which were very useful when you get them become ineffective later on, but there are often no new abilities to replace it. If health reaches zero, the characters do not die, they start to bleed out. You have a short time to revive them, otherwise its permadeath for your squadmates or game over if its you. Reviving team mates is one of the few things, your squad mates do even if not commanded (sometimes). By killing enemies you gain experience and level up, which means more health and new powers. Controls are okay, there are a few little things, which I found annoying, like if you want to plant a mine, you have to move the cursor there as if you were walking, that means around covers and barricades, although mines are thrown within a indicated circle; you can assign buttons to functions, but some are fixed. There are quite a few different enemies, but besides that some are a little stronger or have shields, there are only 4 different types. The covers might be on different places on the battlefield, but again, they are always similar - so most fights feel the some as the one before or after.

I found the music forgettable and underwhelming. The voice acting was as good as can be expected, although I found the characters and their execution somehow generic. Also your squad mates always have the same voice actors, no matter who you pick - it feels lazy, when you hire a Russian agent, who does not speak English, but as soon as the mission starts he speaks with the same American voice as everybody else. Graphics are technically up to par, as far as I can judge. The surroundings are generic - there are basically three different kinds of surroundings in the levels, and although they obviously tried, they seem the same. The faces of the characters, including some of the aliens, are well done, but as there are only very few alien types - partly with generic variations like "elite" or with shields - they again lack variety. I found the resolution of the pre-rendered cutscenes surprisingly low - but there are only very few.

Story, game length, replayability
As said, you defend the earth against an alien invasion by being part of some semi-clandestine organisation and characters are somehow generic. The story has its moments, but on other instances has plotholes and dei ex machina and is not improved by being told very elliptic. The first 2/3 of the game the story is as can be expected by the setting. But then there is a plot twist and the story becomes something very different. Not bad, but the two parts don't fit well together. Also there are multiple endings - at some point you have to choose, but you have no idea, what and why, and no indication, which decision brings which ending. As the game saves automatically, you can not go back. It took me a little over 10h to beat the game including all side missions on Veteran (2nd hardest) difficulty. I already mentioned, that the game feels rather repetitive, therefore I do not feel any inclination to every replay it.

Difficulty and DLC
You can pick between 4 difficulties. Two extra missions DLC are available, with both of which I did not bother. But there is an extra weapon DLC. Is the game intentionally unbalanced, so you need this weapon? I personally found the game unbalanced, but mostly in the end: As said, several of the abilities lose their usefulness later in the game, but there are not enough to replace them, while the enemies become stronger and more numerous. So the final battles are frustrating, but the extra weapon is only useful in the first half of the game, before you get better weapons "conventionally".

Overall 5/10
The basis of the game is mediocre, with a few good ideas sprinkled in here and there, but more flaws - some very minor (controls), some a matter of taste (story) and some unexpected (unbalanced and extra weapon DLC). I played it with very low expectations, even those where not fulfilled: 5 of 10.

Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Product Release: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (US, 08/19/13)

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