2K GAMES' XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN blasted onto the scene last year, offering gamers a redesigned, modern take on the franchise's classic turn-based strategy gameplay. Letting you take the role of the elite alien-bashing Xcom army, the game chronicled humanity's desperate struggle against a hostile and advanced alien race from a bird's eye perspective.
One year on 2K Games has decided to revisit the world of XCOM, but this time telling the story from a more personal perspective, seeing you take control of elite freedom fighter Agent Carter. Showcasing the war from the single agent's perspective, The Bureau: Xcom Declassified combines Xcom's classic strategy elements with more traditional third person shooter gameplay, creating a similar but updated experience to the Playstation 2 classic Freedom Fighters. Eager to see how this tweaked experience works we got some hands-on time with The Bureau, playing through the game's first two missions.
Jumping into the game we found The Bureau's story is far more robust than Enemy Unknown, heavily focusing on Carter's troubled past and the emotional turmoil and stress as he fights the alien menace. The personal nature of the story is augmented by the addition of dialogue options that let you control how Carter interacts with non-player characters (NPCs).
The Bureau is mission based, seeing you take assignments from various characters at XCOM's central base and then pick which ones to do using a global map in the complex's command station. In the opening mission we found that while shooting is important, with The Bureau featuring cover and shooting mechanics similar to other popular shooters like Gears of War and letting you sprint from cover spot to cover spot, picking off enemies as you go, the emphasis is still very much on strategy.
The game teams you with two squaddies on every mission. You can instruct your team to mount specific actions by entering a separate strategy window, which on the Xbox version we played was activated by pushing the B button. Entering the strategy mode pulls up a wheel menu for each squad member on your team, letting you do things like tell them where to move to, which enemy to target or which special ability to use. One interesting touch we noticed is that you can queue actions, instructing your teammate to perform a specific list of tasks in a certain order. For example, in one section when Agent Carter was pinned down by an alien turret, we told one of the squad to sneak around the turret using a brick wall to our right, snipe it with their rifle and then return to their original vantage point to ensure that we didn't get flanked.
For more impatient players the coders also added basic "CHARGE!" and "RETREAT!" shortcut keys that instruct both your teammates to either sprint forward guns blazing at any enemy caught in their crosshairs or fall back to your position.
The emphasis on teamwork and strategy added an interesting mix to the gameplay and more often than not we found ourselves spending several seconds in the strategy mode planning our attack before entering into a firefight. The game also integrates many of the RPG elements seen in Enemy Unknown, letting you randomly create and develop your teammates at XCOM's headquarters. The Bureau also features the same class and skill system as Enemy Unknown, lumping teammates into Support, Engineer, Commando and Recon roles. Support act as medics on the battlefield, while Commandos are straight up fighters, Recon are snipers and Engineers are, well, exactly what the class name suggests. Each class has specific skill trees that can be added to as characters gain experience killing aliens.
Agent Carter is also upgradable, though he has the unique Team Leader class and entirely separate powers, though sadly during our hands-on we didn't get to develop Carter past level two, meaning we only got to see his basic team leading ability. Outside of its character development mechanics The Bureau also lets you scavenge weapons and equipment during missions. The equipment can then be used to further customise either Carter's or one of your team's anti-alien arsenal or armour. During our hands-on the weapons on offer were standard pistols, shotguns and rifles, though we have been told that later in the game alien weapons will be available.
Summing up, while 2K Games has radically redesigned the traditional XCOM experience, during our hands-on we found that the emphasis is still very much on strategy. While this could mean that some gamers looking for simple run and gun shooting will be slightly disappointed, fans of the original game will likely still feel right at home and we, as avid XCOM fans, can't wait to get some more time with the game. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is scheduled for release in August. Check back with The INQUIRER then for a full review. µ