- Publisher: 2K Games
- Developer: 2K Marin
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Sci-fi Tactical Action
- Pros: Great Concept, XCOM Strategy, Fun Agent Management, Intense Action
- Cons: Dull Dialogue Scenes, Awful Headquarters Design, Some Frustrating Cover Mechanics
What a great idea: How did the world of “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” get that way? Where did this all begin? Starting with that nugget of inspiration, the developers of “The Bureau” expand their universe by providing it history and context. It is 1962 and the world is on the cusp of major change. While President Kennedy turns up the temperature on the Cold War, it turns out the Russians are not the enemy we should fear the most. All that stands between us and alien invasion is The Bureau, led by the steely Agent Carter, his most entrusted agents, and, of course, you.
“The Bureau” tries to integrate turn-based tactical combat with what we’ve come to expect from third-person shooters. You command two agents in the field along with controlling yourself, of course. The agents come from four different types – Commando, Recon, Support, & Engineer – each with accompanying skill trees that are developed through combat experience. The two agents who join you on missions can be swapped out for others (sometimes even mid-mission) and you can send fellow fighters into the field on dispatches of their own.
What results from this agent system is a game that often feels like a co-op title like “Lost Planet” or even “Borderlands” but you’re constantly using a command wheel to dictate orders to your fellow agents. You can tell them where to move, what targets to mark, and even how to initiate special abilities. One agent can move to the left to flank, throwing down a shield sphere on his way, while the other goes to the right and uses his cloaking device to remain unseen. Even Carter gets to wield increasingly powerful special moves such as “Lift,” which propels an enemy into the air and out of cover, or “Heal,” which is pretty self-explanatory and something you’ll have to do a LOT.
Shouting orders and maintaining your place in the battle yourself can be incredibly difficult. You will die. Your agents will die. (And you can even set the difficulty high enough where reviving them is not an option). It leads to a lot of trial and error but also an impressive sense of growing strategy. All-out firefights early in the game became more entertaining when I became more accustomed to the command wheel – taking cover, planning a strategy in seconds, and then watching it go off well can be incredibly thrilling. There’s a sense of accomplishment in the combat of “The Bureau” that’s missing from a lot of generic shooters.
Sadly, those great action sequences are buffered by a lot of nonsense. You will spend a stunning amount of time moving around headquarters, talking to superiors and employees, and simply going from point A to point B. Go somewhere to learn we have a Russian in custody. Go to talk to the Russian. Come back to point A. It can be numbing in its tedium and makes one long for the interface of “Enemy Unknown.” It doesn’t help that the dialogue trees seem like last-gen material. You get a lot of info that doesn’t really change the flow of the game or add to the narrative in substantial ways. You’re just wasting time. It also drains the piece of its urgency as the game goes on. The world is being invaded as we speak, so why do I have to the stairs to Faulke’s office 56 times over the course of the game? Like an action movie, the set-pieces work but the connective tissue – the dialogue & plot – fails.