Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified - Final Round Review

Since 1962 XCOM has been protecting the Earth from alien invasions, and 2K Games has just released the game showing where it all started, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.  Playing as Agent William Carter we are recruited by the newly revealed (though not to the general public) XCOM after an encounter that left him not only near death, but then brought back to life via a strange and advanced technology that was destroyed in the process.

From the moment the game starts we are receiving story; about the Outsiders, other Agents in the Bureau, and Agent Carter himself.  Only a very few of these snippets of information will be useless and even then it adds to the believability of this alternate universe.  Finding a Russian spy in the base and convincing him of alien life, testing out new and improved weapons, even trying to find a cure to an extra-terrestrial infection, are all in a day’s work for Agent Carter.  Oh, and hunting down and killing aliens as well.

The missions are a blast.  Ranging from short Minor operations chasing down escaped Outsider prisoners, Dispatch operations for your squad mates to bring civilians that may be of use, and finally to the Major operations that send Carter to destroy the main force of the invasion.  It is easy to lose time between these and helping around the base; you constantly find new technology, and spend time cultivating your team mate’s abilities, more time is again spent fitting them with the best.

One of the saddest, and best, things about Declassified is the fact that if your squad mates are killed there is no reviving them as in previous XCOM titles.  If they are downed you can help them back up, but once they are killed they are gone forever.  If this happens you have to start with a level one squad mate all over again and if all them die, game over.  This makes gearing them right (which isn’t hard) and using their abilities properly in the midst of battle highly important. 

There are four classes of squad mates: the commando, with taunts and area of effect abilities; recon, with a sniper rifle, cloak and diversions; the engineer, who can deploy turrets and mines, and finally; the support, with combat stimulants and an ability to either disrupt a shield or destroy armour.  They all have their perks but a team consists of three, including you, so it all depends on your play style as to who you choose.  You could even have two supports if you so wished, but I tend to stick with an engineer and recon.

Using your team mates on the field is a lot simpler than I was expecting, using battle focus slows down time and allows you to position them and choose targets with accuracy.  Slowing down time doesn’t detract from the action though, and the team managing that can be done adds to the combat situation.  Not using your team isn’t an option as missions would be barely possible without them.

There are quite a few faults with Declassified, unfortunately.  Even though the battle focus is great, it is easy to hit the wrong command and lose an ability (like heal) and can become slightly annoying in hour long missions as it feels like half the mission was just in focus.  The graphics, though bright and enjoyable often clip, cut and seam, with missions flicking to life before then jumping to the cut scene.  The audio can clip just as badly, which is highly distracting but thankfully this does not happen as often as the visual problems. 

My main gripe with this title has to be the controls, with only a southpaw and default setting and no customisation the controls feel unpolished.  Not every game should have the same control configuration, but sprint and take cover/duck between cover should not have the same input.  Getting stuck on cover is one of the most annoying things that can happen in a game.  Melee and dodge will rarely be used, and they probably would with a different layout.  It is not a massive issue, but nevertheless causes an annoyance where there shouldn’t be one.

As a newcomer to the XCOM franchise I have been delightfully surprised by the scope of the story and interaction available.  Having been somewhat intimidated by the predecessors, picking up Declassified has been easy and I plan on finding some of the earlier titles for more story.  Fans of the franchise may not be as content with the latest entry, but for anyone that hasn’t played an XCOM title before, 2K Games have created a game that will draw in new fans.


 - Steff Webb

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