Warning: This post contains SPOILERS for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. You Have been warned.

On February 5th, at roughly 4:30 PM local time, I finished my first game for my Four in February: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. There's a bit I want to talk about with regards to the game.


What Is It About?

In brief, The Bureau is a third-person squad-based tactical shooter, like the Mass Effect series, set in 1962. The protagonist is one William Carter, ex-CIA special agent, who suffers from PTSD as a result of a tragic accident in which he lost his wife, son, and father. He blames himself for the accident, even though he was in a completely different country undercover on a year-long assignment.

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Agent Carter (I presume no relation to Marvel's Agent Peggy Carter) is at a science facility at Groom Range, about to deliver a briefcase, when all hell breaks loose. First, the security detail assigned to accompany Carter attempts to kill him and steal the briefcase, then everything explodes, and the Outsiders, a strange alien force, invades.

That sounds like a hell of a way to start the day. It's about a 6/10 for typical game openings, though.

After Carter regroups with a few Agents and one Myron Faulke, they swiftly retreat to a secret base and Carter is inducted into the ranks of XCOM. At this point, Carter starts to fight aliens and recruit soldiers to help him in his fight.

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A Few Good Things

I quite enjoyed the game overall, a few glaring issues aside (which I'll get to later on). The plot was your typical sci-fi fare, and I feel like knowledge of XCOM wasn't entirely necessary, but it would have helped a bit at times.

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There's a huge reveal near the end that you're not actually playing as Carter, but instead the incorporeal alien (called an Ethereal, for those of you who have played XCOM: Enemy Unknown) that woke up when the security detail tried to kill Carter in the opening cutscene. This is probably the absolute best thing in the game, which winds up explaining why Carter can slowdown time and issue commands to his crew (the tactics screen doesn't pause all the action, just slows it down a whole bunch), and also why he appears to be the only human with telekinetic and psychic abilities.

As Carter realizes this, he starts to reject the alien, and he threatens to kill the alien and himself if it doesn't relinquish control, which is the last time we control Carter, and then we finish the game as somebody else, your choice of one of three other major characters introduced in the game. Since it was you, the alien who actually gained the levels throughout the game, and not Carter, the new character winds up getting the same abilities that Carter had at the moment you controlled him last.

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The gameplay itself was quite fun, playing a lot like Mass Effect 2 with fewer powers and slower recharge times. This oddly enough, reinforces just how important the powers that you and your squad have are. With recharge times of 30+ seconds, you're often just trying to survive until you can use an ability.

That's not to say the guns are bad, it's just that the good powers usually distract the enemies, allowing you to get flanked kills or easy headshots. The game starts you off with your usual bullet-based weapons, an SMG, a pistol, a rifle, a sniper rifle, and a shotgun; then slowly upgrades you to the alien weapons, all laser based. This leads to a few moments where you've got to assess the situation at hand and guess whether or not the mission you're going to go on will be more bullet-based or more laser-based, then adjust your loadout accordingly.

Another great thing about the game was the squad/recruits. Just like in XCOM, you can customize your recruits, so I took every opportunity to rename all of them Agent Jenkins. Why? Well, in my XCOM, everyone should be stripped of their first name, and it should be replaced with Agent; and everyone is a brave soldier, but could die on the battlefield at any given moment, just like Jenkins in the first few seconds of landing on Eden Prime in Mass Effect 1. (RIP little buddy, you'll be missed). There are four different classes for your recruits, each with their own abilities and weapon selection. The Recon units are sniper-type guys; Engineers have turrets and mines; Support units have combat stims and can revive others quickly, and Soldiers pull aggro and have an AOE burn ability.

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A Few Bad Things

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I know I said I'd be putting up links to my Steam Broadcasting page every time I played the game, but The Bureau's PC port is extremely buggy. A few people reported crashes as soon as the game started, with others unable to watch the opening cutscene without crashes.

Me? I got hit with crashes tied to checkpoint saves. You see, the game uses a checkpoint save system, instead of a manual save system. The game itself wasn't playing nicely with some piece of hardware on my PC, so it would either crash or not every time it tried to save at a checkpoint. My eventual workaround was to play it in 720p windowed, which was not appreciated, but it wound up working. It made the first two missions rather difficult to complete.

Other bugs included: the game soundtrack randomly stopping in the middle of combat, some voice cues not firing off (but the subtitles going), and other sound-related bugs.

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Unrelated to the bugs, I said I was looking forward to a harder Mass Effect, because my current Insanity run (which is on hold for February) is going mostly okay, with me only getting really stuck in key bits. What I didn't realize is that I may have wanted a harder Mass Effect, I wasn't quite ready for one. The game by default suggests that you play the game on the second hardest difficulty, but in the middle of the second mission, I had to turn down the difficulty in order to actually make any form of progress.

Also disappointing: Carter is a very clichéd man. He's a no-nonsense loose cannon with a tragic past that plays by his own rules, but he gets the job done. As Zero Punctuation's Yahtzee says, this guy wears huge cliché pants. In fact, almost everybody that actually gets to speak is extremely clichéd.


What's Next?

Overall, I enjoyed the game when it didn't crash on me, and it almost enticed me to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which I'm still hesitant to play because of a lack of patience with TRPGs.

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With one game down, and three to go, I've set my sights on Bastion, a isometric action game with a (from what I've heard) great plot, and (from what little I've played) a great narrator. I've literally only played until you get to the hub world, and then I stopped, so I'll be restarting and playing the whole thing. See you next time!