The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a squad-based shooter set in the XCOM universe

If you’re an XCOM fan, your years of waiting for a shooter set in the wonderful world of post-extra-terrestrial-invasion-Earth are over. That’s the only absolute positive, however. On the flipside, you were (most likely) spoiled by last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown from Firaxis and 2K Games, which is arguably one of the best turn-based strategy games ever made, and a wonderful reboot of, and spiritual successor to the classic. Therefore, the latest squad-based shooter, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will have one of two effects on you. One, you’ll see it for what it is — a shameless attempt at milking the franchise for what it’s worth, piggybacking on the success of last year’s game. Or, alternatively, just the game you were promised and have been waiting for all these years — a shooter that stays true to the franchise, incorporating all the best elements you know and love, all the while satiating that itchy trigger finger you’ve kept tucked away.

But which is it? Let’s go over what developers 2K Marin have done to make things interesting. First, they got rid of XCOM’s near-future setting, opting instead to explore the XCOM initiative’s origins during the Cold War, because, the Cold War just comes packaged with free mystery, conspiracy theories and awesome hats. So, in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, you play the role of William Carter, a CIA agent, whose mission requires him to deliver a special package to Myron Faulke, the Director of the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command, a division of the government set up to guard against invasion from the Soviets (who, it must be pointed out, really get their thunder stolen). Of course, when all hell breaks loose, the division is rechristened “XCOM” and begins handling matters of an extra-terrestrial nature.

Going back to our protagonist, Carter, who is now ambushed and loses his package, but is expectedly curious about everything that’s going on after having to fight his way through a minor alien invasion, first on his own (with you, the player given full control in third person), and then with squad mates who can be given orders. This is where the second interesting addition from the developers comes in: squad control delivered via the “Battle Focus” mode. Combat slows down to a crawl where you will be able to give orders to your squad members — activate special abilities and buffs or simply move to a strategically advantageous position on the battlefield. Additionally, you will be able to use your abilities as well, but unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown, combat is not turn-based, so you can still get killed if you or your squad are not hunkered down while Combat Focus is active. There’s a character progression system in place as well — score kills and earn XP by completing missions, and unlock class-specific abilities (support, scout, commando and engineer). You will also be able to send recruits on their own missions so that they can level up, ensuring their survival in the game’s core missions.

Weapons are not dissimilar to those in Enemy Unknown either — you’ll start off with Cold War era gear such as the M14 rifle and pump-action shotgun, subsequently graduating to scavenged alien hardware like the Laser SMG. The other preserved signature element (although a part of this is determined by your chosen level of difficulty) is that your squad members remain dead after missions — how you deal with this is up to you, but if you’re a true fan, you’ll mutter a prayer and move on.

So, let’s sum up by breaking down the parts. The setting and conspiracy-laden plot twists are a definite positive, as is the combat. The squad command system, while not perfect, gets the job done if you’re able to overcome the slightly unintuitive interface. It’s decent from a graphics standpoint, with new character models and facial animation adding much-needed believability to the over-the-top setting. And quite significantly, the game remains available at the now-forgotten standard prices of Rs. 999 (PC) and Rs. 2499 (PS3 and Xbox 360). You should probably get this if you’re a fan of XCOM, squad-based shooters, or hats from the 1960s.