The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

September 7, 2013

What a ride it’s been for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. Originally revealed as a first-person shooter in 2010, the game has been chopped and changed several times since then. The completed version, a third-person shooter with tactical elements, has finally landed on shelves and into the hands of gamers everywhere.

The Bureau takes place in the 60s and follows William Carter, a CIA agent tasked with delivering a package to XCOM director Myron Faulke. Through a sequence of events, Carter, along with a handful of other agents, are forced to defend the world against the alien ‘Outsiders’ who have invaded their planet. Conspiracy buffs, you’re out of luck – the events in The Bureau are tied strictly to the in-game universe, meaning that there are no references to Roswell, Area 51 or other similar tidbits about extraterrestrial life. As it is, The Bureau doesn’t do an entirely convincing job of portraying its subject matter seriously, particularly in the latter half of the game, though its intentions are well meant. The game’s story also suffers from poor narrative pacing, which does keep you guessing if the game has truly finished or not, but it also makes you question whether or not this was done to pad out how long the game is.

Carter and his crew.

Your mission takes you to various locations across America, where you are tasked with defending towns or gathering military intelligence to use against the invaders. Heading into enemy territory alone is suicide, so you can bring two other agents into the fray with you. Agents can be randomly generated by the game or you can roll your own, choosing from four classes: Commando, Engineer, Support, and Recon. Each class grants agents specific abilities, with more available from a skill tree as they level up. During enemy encounters, you’re able to activate Battle Focus Mode, during which time slows down and you can give orders to your squad, whether it’s basic attacking, movement, or use of special abilities.

The theory is that you should use different classes for different purposes, while commanding them via Battle Focus Mode. For example, if you have a Recon agent in your squad, you can command them to flank an enemy and activate the ‘Critical Strike’ ability to pull off a powerful attack on them. It’s a great idea that is well within the spirit of the XCOM series’ tactical nature; however, the problem with is that the AI in The Bureau is incredibly stupid. Your agents will run around like headless chickens on the battlefield unless you give them explicit orders for every second of the encounter. You’ll soon realise that this isn’t possible given the way damage stacks – after all, you’ve got to keep yourself alive too – so most of the time it’s much easier to just kill the Outsiders yourself. As a result, you’ll more than likely be the one scoring most, if not all, the kills. The irritation caused by the woeful AI is compounded by the voice acting, with your companions wailing for help at any given opportunity. That said, agent death is a very real threat in The Bureau. Agents who take too much damage during a firefight will be downed and eventually bleed out and die if not tended to in time. Depending on the difficulty level you are playing on, this can mean the permanent loss of one of your party members, but you can just generate new ones and level them up (which doesn’t take long during the later parts of the game).

Battle focus mode in XCOM Declassified.

To its credit, The Bureau does have some very nice set pieces that give you a real feel for the game world. Towns are clearly ravaged by catastrophe, with missing section of roads, car crashes and the occasional gruesome discovery, all while keeping to the cheery 60s theme. The later stages are equally impressive, especially those that take place on the Outsiders’ homeworld. The architecture on this foreign planet is unique, intimidating and swathed in a strange shade of blue. In spite of the repetitive AI calls, audio quality is of a decent standard as well, with The Bureau including the least cringe-worthy Aussie accent I’ve ever heard in a video game. The quality of the cutscenes damages this immersion a little, with some of them looking rough and as though they were stretched to fit the screen resolution.


The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is an interesting game, not least of all because of the long journey it’s been through over the years. Although it can come across as trying to be Mass Effect at times, it possesses the soul of the XCOM franchise. Thus, its release is justified, despite its lengthy development cycle and the chagrin of the series’ fans. Unfortunately, the game’s flaws are likely to hinder any praise, grudging or otherwise, that players were likely to have for The Bureau. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the game has its heart in the right place.



Solid ideas true to the XCOM name | Interesting, intricately detailed set pieces


Woeful AI | Poor storytelling and pacing | Dull gunplay

Overall Score: