Before Firaxis Games' sleeper hit XCOM: Enemy Unknown debuted last year, 2K Games announced another entry in the series, simply titled XCOM, that would take the franchise into a new third-person action/adventure perspective. Fans had mixed reactions about the decision, and as a result, the game was put on the back burner, with others wondering if we'd see it again. Next month, we will.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified resurfaced earlier this year, bringing all the kitsch 60's style that we saw in that initial 2010 release, but adding vital elements that we've come to expect from the strategic action series. Gone is the idea of straightforward action, in favor of a system that blends alien-shooting tactics with balancing your team. In fact, some of the elements may look familiar to longtime XCOM fans – or those that became hooked on Enemy Unknown.
In the game, you portray William Carter, a member of an elite underground government agency that exists in the 60s. You and your team have been assigned to eradicate an alien threat that made its way into Central America. However, you're not assigned to study them – your orders are to put these creatures down by any means necessary. You'll stock up on your weapons, assemble a team and attempt to take your country back.
Like Enemy Unknown, The Bureau puts you smack dab into the midst of battle, where you call upon your team members to make the right decisions when it comes to defeating enemies. Sticking around in the open isn't a good idea, as you'll die within a few seconds. Instead, you'll need to rely on your tactics to survive, which includes placing your teammates in the right spots and issuing the proper commands.
You do this with the help of a selection wheel. Once activated, the real-time action slows down through a Battle Focus system so you can get a better view of the area, as well as where your potential targets are. From there, you'll tie the command of your choice to a particular soldier – moving, shooting, etc. – and then watch the order execute.
However, with each decision, there are possible consequences. For instance, if you send your soldier running into the open where a squad of alien marauders lies in wait, they're dead meat. On the other hand, if they reach safe cover and stage an assault that brings down one or more of the invaders, you're headed in the right direction.
At first, The Bureau has you starting with basic weaponry from the 60s, including shotguns and rifles – depending on what you feel is necessary for the mission. However, with the help of a tech lab, you can build new items to add to your arsenal. For instance, the engineers could easily create portable turrets, ones that your character can throw to provide cover – or maybe even mow down a few aliens in plain sight.
When you activate Battle Focus, numerous stats appear on-screen. Even though the action still moves at a slow rate, you're able to see what degree your choices will take, such as the percentage stats you have with aiming at a specific enemy, or open positions for you and your squad. You're also able to keep track of your squad at any time, gauging their health meters and skills to decide how you want each battle to unfold.
Loss is an important factor in the XCOM games. You may recall Enemy Unknown’s permanent death. The Bureau works similarly, forcing you to make rough choices with your team to keep them alive however you can – even though there will be times where you can't save everyone.
You'll grow with your team in The Bureau, as you have the option to level up their stats throughout the game. You can improve their skills, give them new outfits to wear and even supply new weapons when needed.
Following the game's initial reveal three years ago, The Bureau has shaped up into something that pays tribute to the long-running XCOM series. Only time will tell if it manages to be as good or better than last year's stellar Enemy Unknown, but we're excited to find out.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will release August 20th for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.