Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bureau: X-COM Declassified

Despite Wally McChestyhigh's frequent appearances, I am enjoying The Bureau

The Bureau: X-COM Declassified

As this game got closer and closer to release, the general consensus in various game journalism circles moved from one of contempt, due to concerns that the franchise in returning was going to jump the shark, to hopeful curiosity. Thanks mainly to X-COM: Enemy Unknown defusing the concern about another X-COM title that was yet  another shooter instead of a tactical turn-based strategy game, interest in The Bureau turned to curiosity and interest at what it was actually trying to accomplish. More recent discussions actually made the game sound like it was actually offering something worth investigation. Green Man had a decent promotion going for it, so I bit.

Here's the deal about The Bureau: it's a cover-based third person perspective shooter. It's literally and definitively part of the game play style characterized by Gears of War. It also happens to be taking a remarkably heavy hint from Mass Effect and contains dialogue wheels, lengthy interludes of discussion, exposition and exploration, stuff you click on to get pieces of the story and clues, and even requires you to use a tiny portion of your brain on occasion to solve some story puzzles (albeit of minor nature so far, but that's way more effort than any other game of this generation usually commands).

When I started playing The Bureau the introductory level was basically non-stop gung ho action and despite the fact that I was enjoying it I was also getting a bit concern being that I would be once again facing a game where all talking is done with the guns, and the slow, quiet moments in between are all chopped out because teenagers can't stay focused, apparently. As it turns out, the introductory level concluded and the game then moved to the hub of the Bureau....and I suddenly spent twice as much time just talking to people and walking around checking things out as I previously had doing the old run and gun. It was refreshing...very refreshing.

Other details worth mentioning so far:

There is a tactical element. You have an easy-to-use combat wheel that lets you direct your squad mates, and you can set the game's difficulty to make this feature more or less important. I am not a big fan of tactical direction anymore (that interest burned out in the '90s) and so I have set the play level to "rookie" so I don't have to worry too much about what my cohorts are doing--most of the time, anyway.

The game's graphics are really impressive. Not in a "wow this is realistic" sort of way, although it does go for a distinctly appropriate celluloid-film grainy photorealism style with real-looking humans instead of cartoony people. Rather, the entire aesthetic of The Bureau is meant to invoke the look and feel of the early 60's, from the tech to architecture to dress styles. You can search hard to find anachronistic elements, or lazy art design, but you will search in vain. The graphic designers did a fantastic job here. Not only that, but the story writers (for there is a lot of story buried in the game waiting to be found) did an equally good job. It's a level of attention to detail that I haven't seen in a period title like this before, and it adds immensely to the sense of immersion the game offers.

The immersion is so good that I only spotted two bits so far that annoyed me: you can occasionally find tape reels which, when clicked, will play a recording, despite no tape player being present on which to spool the reels. With so much other attention to detail this seemed kind of odd. Second, the woman manning the Bureau's radio room has what seems to be an unusually hip, modern haircut. That's it so far after about four hours in. (EDIT: on second thought, her hair style looks a lot like the style Liz Taylor and other women of the time sometimes favored...I think it's the coloring that makes it look modern).

Finally, your character, Agent Carter, is clearly modeled after Robert Patrick's John Doggett from the last couple seasons of the X-Files. The character, conceptually, works really well here. Carter is a tough, no-nonsense former CIA agent with a past who gets recruited into the spanky new Bureau just in time for the Mosaic to come knocking at Earth's door. He's got just a tad more character then the usual protagonist we see fighting space aliens (the crew cut space marine dude), and between Carter and the President from SRIV it's this refreshing change in Who I Get to Play that makes these games more interesting despite the cliched alien infestation problem.

Obviously I've got a long way to go with the Bureau; I'm a father, and fully employed, so games take me weeks or even months to finish at times, waiting for that golden conjunction where interest, opportunity and free time converge simultaneously to allow me a chance to plow through this stuff. I suspect I'll keep the Bureau high on my list of "must finish" titles though, it's got all the bells and whistles in a game that I like (short of being a pure open sandbox title).

I reckon he were an alien, ayup

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