“The nations of the Earth must someday make a common front against attack by people from other planets.” – General Douglas MacArthur
The quote above is both fascinating and terrifying, but the fact of the matter is that it sure is a lot of fun exploring the outcome of an Alien attack, should it happen. So it’s with that knowledge that we enter the newly formed XCOM game ‘The Bureau’ and explore the beginnings of the XCOM initiative.
The series has seen its ups and downs since the inception of the franchise over a decade ago, but after last year’s title ‘Enemy Unknown’, it shot back into the spotlight. Amidst all the fun however, there was another XCOM game that was slowly coming together and originally being made as a first-person tactical shooter. Sadly though the original concept didn’t quite make the cut, but thankfully a few years on The Bureau has emerged, bringing with it a fresh take on the series with an intuitive third person shooter.
Your journey starts at the beginning of the 60’s and places you in the shoes of an agent named William Carter. Instead of taking the role of a commander and looking after your entire squad from the safety of a chair, you’re instead tasked with a more personal approach by taking hold of one main character. Upon your first encounter with Carter, he’s been tasked with looking after a mysterious box, the contents of which are unknown. To no ones surprise an intruder tries to steal the box and ends up shooting him in the process. In next to no time things turn ugly and extra terrestrials attack the military base he’s been residing in – he wakes up a while later with his wounds healed. What was in the box to begin with? Well that’s up to you to find out. The story then sees the Aliens take over most of the United States, infecting humans and turning them into ‘Sleep Walkers’. The effect doesn’t make them aggressive; it just turns them into bumbling obstacles.
Unlike the series’ first attempt at a third person shooter with ‘X-Com Enforcer’ (widely regarded as the low point of the series) this new take succeeds in many aspects and helps propel the franchise into new territory. This is mainly due to the highly intuitive ‘battle focus’ mode, which lets you take a strategic view of the battlefield and get up close with the enemy. As detailed in our preview of the title, this mode gives you the chance to slow down time and access a wheel of commands for both yourself and your squad mates – two being the maximum number of teammates at a time.
Almost akin to the same combat as seen in the Mass Effect series, you can then line up attacks and orders so that when you resume the battle at full pelt, you can strategically keep hold of your ground whilst advancing forward in a smooth and stylish fashion – you hope. I personally found the combat very rewarding and managed to grasp it quickly therefore allowing me to set up my equipment and mark my enemies in no time. Among the large number of enemies you encounter you’ll need to make sure you take each one out depending on their class. Should you make contact with a group of hostiles and face a shield commander for instance, you’ll need to make sure he’s out of the picture before you move onto the others. If you don’t, then he’ll keep his group protected via regular regeneration of their shields and health. Air drones also feature prominently in later parts of the game, making it a pain to keep your enemies health lower, should a drone hop in and regenerate him.
However, as many enemies as there are, there are also a large amount of abilities to counter each type of Alien. If you find yourself with too many armored Mutons, then make sure you have a squad mate that can weaken its protection via a well-placed ability. Other abilities include being able to cloak a comrade while you position him through enemy lines, as well as the power to turn an enemy on his friends, taking control of his mind. This and many others line your arsenal, next to a healthy amount of traditional and alien weaponry available. Even though the standpoint has switched to an over the shoulder view, it doesn’t negate the fact that all of the strategy is place directly at your feet. If you mess up and plow into a fight without surveying the area first, then expect to face the consequences.
Perhaps the biggest change found in this new era of XCOM is that now you can freely wander your base of operations, as opposed to having a fixed view of everything at one time. Almost in the same fashion as the Mass Effect series and wandering the halls of your space ship, here you can explore the secret underground base of the Bureau, while attending to some smaller tasks at hand and catching up with some colleagues via the newly introduced dialogue trees. Through the use of these dialogue trees you can delve deeper into conversations should you wish to know more of the story. These will also factor into some important decision-making later in the game.
In terms of mission structure, you can choose which you’d like to do first through your operations board. Once open, you have the choice of going straight into a main campaign missions, or trying something a little more minor and going for something smaller. On average a main mission will take you anything up to an hour, whereas the side-missions will take less than a third of that, should you familiarize yourself with the controls fairly quickly. Another notable addition sees the inclusion of ‘dispatch’ missions, where you can send a group of your squad to investigate, in order to help them recover extra equipment and level up faster. The highest level your team mates can achieve is five, whereas you can level up to ten, while you get given the choice of which areas of your abilities you want to focus on through each level.
I can’t stress enough how similar I found this game to Mass Effect. If you called this game Mass XCOM Effect I doubt anyone would be none the wiser, it’s seriously that similar. Nonetheless I did find the game hugely enjoyable, even if a little hard during the fights found later in the campaign. I am, however, a little let down by the fact no multiplayer aspect was introduced. Whether through split-screen or online, I believe it could’ve made the game even better than it already is. Another grip, however small, was the fact that despite the more open environment of the base, I did find myself a little ‘alienated’ (sorry) as to where I was meant to go throughout its infrastructure, as the objective arrow can be quite deceiving at times.
- + Addictive and intuitive combat
- + Cool selection of powers and upgrades
- + Nice change in story near the end
- - Did I mention this title is like a ‘not quite as good’ Mass Effect?
- - Uninspiring storyline