The story starts with you, William Carter, tasked with the delivery of a mysterious package. It slowly builds to a satiating climax a bit inspired from Bioshock 2. Outside the narrative, the switch to third-person works brilliantly. It’s like being a soldier in XCOM, albeit during the agency’s early years. The game revolves around combat, which is well thought out. A radial wheel handles commands, slowing time, but not stopping it. Giving orders and manipulating the environment is a must, as flanked units take extra damage – the brilliant enemy AI will flank you, too. The shooting feels satisfying.
The more fun skills are saved for the player: summoning a ball of alien goo that seeks out enemies like an attack dog, mind-controlling even the biggest enemies and turning them against their allies, or calling on a hovering drone which heals the good guys while blasting the baddies. Once you reach the level cap – 10 for the player, five for recruits – combat is genuinely fun, filled with possibilities and with just enough tactical edge to keep it from mindless mayhem.
Your teammates’ AI doesn’t help. In a game where staying in cover is paramount, they have an annoying habit of wandering into open space or taking ridiculous routes to safety. This means that you have to micromanage them, calling up the radial dial and issuing orders every few seconds. Rather than contribute to the game’s tactical leaning this gets annoying, breaking up the pace of the action.
You can get stuck in frustrating revive loops too, where you continually have to run across the map to heal a teammate, only to find yourself downed in the process, waiting for him or your other ally to return the favour. And on and on it goes. It’s especially grating when you consider that dead teammates stay dead, meaning you’ll be tempted to restart checkpoints every time an ally bleeds out.
All of which is a shame because it’s a nicely presented game. Corners have clearly been cut with the voice acting and some of the cut-scene animations, but the character models look great and the mix of 60’s Americana and cheesy sci-fi works. When this combines with the occasional flashes of fun, you get a glimpse of what could have been. It’s almost a good game. The truth, however, is that for chunks of the game The Bureau feels like a slog. The achievements are inoffensive enough, but they lack in creativity and there’s only 34 of them as opposed to the maximum 50, which suggests a lack of ideas on the developers part. It’s a fitting tribute to the game itself then, as both could have gained from a little more thought.
Considering The Bureau’s difficult creation, however, it’s perhaps surprising that it made it onto shelves at all. The Bureau is an interesting fusion of Mass Effect’s combat with the trappings of XCOM: Enemy Unknown , but it fails to live up to either. Add in a 1960’s setting and a story that becoming quite intriguing over time, and you’ve got an interesting package that’s worth playing, regardless of your past experiences with the XCOM name