If you could smell games this title would reek of Bryllcream, cigarettes and the sixties. That’s not a bad thing really.
The Bureau has been a long time coming, and like a chameleon it has changed its appearance settling on a distinct visual style that captures the era it is set in. From memory it was once an FPS set in the sixties that charted the early days of XCOM, now we have a third person shooter with squad tactics and some very XCOM overtones. Interestingly there is enough of the flavour of Enemy Unknown in this package that you have to wonder if the success of last year’s strategy title caused something of a style rethink with The Bureau. If that was the case it shows in the game today.
The Bureau throws you in at the deep end, escaping from Groom Range and signing up to join the ranks of XCOM on the back of a mysterious encounter in your motel room. It’s standard nefarious sci-fi stuff and the handholding through the tutorial mission is just as rote, as a tool for introducing you to the combat and it’s use of a command wheel that brings back some memory of Mass Effect.
As the game progresses the combat can become brutal and checkpoints will be frequently reloaded, the strategy in The Bureau is more along the lines of flanking, moving, shooting. If a team of agents spends too long bedded down in cover they will become easy meat more often than not. Add to this the mix of abilities and special skills your agents can unlock and things move up a gear, setting your two man team up with a sequence of orders while time is slowed to a crawl ups the anxiety, but it soon becomes second nature and certainly turns the tide of battle. If left to their own devices they do suffer from a little idiocy here and there, but show me an AI buddy that doesn’t.
The combat and ambush sections are pretty much in clearly designated areas and it’s not long before the might of the invaders best are thrown at you, all well and good, but remember you are not Rambo, even getting a decent aim on a target can be somewhat wobbly. The upside of alien hunting is the experience your troops gain and the unlocks they can earn, a modest skill tree that doesn’t really hold a candle to the Enemy Unknown approach, but enough to spice things up as you progress. And every little helps when faced with Mutons or Sectopods for the first time.
The Bureau also relies heavily on its narrative, as most titles do, a little spin is thrown into this by the addition of dialogue choices with NPC characters as you wander around the base and in-mission. Sadly these conversations are not enticing enough to sit through and as with most games I find myself hunting for the ‘skip’ button all too soon. Personally I believe the game has enough legs to be enjoyed direct from the base, picking missions and getting the odd memo, I don’t want theatrical entertainment, I want to get on with the battle to follow the objective marker, then deal with whatever it may be. A range of narrative and side missions are thrown at you from the operations centre in the XCOM home base, but there never seems to be any great cost of choosing one over the other.
Overall The Bureau is a bag of fun and a fascinating ride for anybody with a passing interest in XCOM, the choice of setting and the theme of an ‘Overt all out invasion’ set a different pace, but the story should really just be a bunch of mission briefings. It is also interesting to see a game committed to this time period, the slick haircuts, the visual style, the basic weapons and the fact that everybody seems to be chain-smoking all add to the ambience. The Bureau has the beating heart of its pedigree siblings and refuses to be a Call of Duty clone, it’s worth a look.