Ahh, the 1960s. An age of spiffy fedoras and three-pieces, fat smoking cigars, and a smoky, mysterious atmosphere while jazz plays in the backdrop. A time where CIA and soviet spies dodged about one another, using only wit and smarts. If you’re going to set anything anywhere, make it the 1960s.
This new instalment from the XCOM franchise does exactly that, with a twist – aliens. Seriously, is anyone surprised? Aliens are definitely XCOM’s favourite thing. But do aliens in the midst of the great Cold War bring about any sort of rejuvenation into a timeless (and yet increasingly abused) troupe?
The Bureau is positioned as a third-person tactical shooting game, where you order two other guys around to get into position and shoot. You know, sort of like Mass Effect. In fact the entire game is strangely reminiscent of ME, complete with a conversation wheel to pull out more information, or to just progress. I’m sure ME is not the first and only game to design a game like that, but firing up the game and playing it certainly makes one think, “Oh, this is like Mass Effect, but not Mass Effect.” That’s exactly what the game feels like.
There’s a button that you can hit to bring up the command menu. You know, just like ME. Instead of the game going into pause for you to strategize though, it just slows time down instead, so if you take too long to move your guys behind cover, they’ll end up getting shot (on that note, ally AI is a bit… dull) That’s an element that I quite enjoy, since it forces you to think on your feet, and not mull over stuff slowly.
At the same time, as you progress further into the game, you and your squad mates gain abilities, like launching missile turrets or calling for airstrikes, or, in the main character’s case, getting telekinetic abilities that let you lift enemies out of cover. It’s probably meant to be exciting, but seriously speaking, all it does is remind me of a certain game.
Playing on higher levels also forces you to be more conscious of your squaddies, because this is a death-is-permanent kind of game. They won’t magically recover when the enemy’s defeated, and when the difficulty is pushed up your guys will bleed out faster, and, you know, die faster.
Plot & Setting
Aliens in the 1960s is one of those things that you think about, but never really imagine that it’ll happen. Mainly because it just sounds silly. I mean, if we’re gunning for aliens, ultimately the best period to toss them in would be the future, isn’t it? Or at the very earliest, modern day, right?
The Bureau, however, does a very nice job in balancing the sci-fi aspect of the game, with alien tech slotting in very nicely amidst the cool 60s mood, so you get this heavy atmosphere of enigma and apocalyptic dread well mixed up.
Unfortunately, that’s only on the surface. The plot, the characters, the entire script itself feels ridiculous, bordering on absurd. Not to mention the fact that conversations that you hold at base don’t tally right with your outdoor expeditions – mostly, everything feels like lip service. During gameplay, you just can’t help yourself but scowl at the game with incredulity while questioning repeatedly, why?
Why does he do that? Why should I do that? Why does that not make any sense?
In the end, it’s a bit difficult to not want to punch your screen or toss the game out of the window. Bad plot, mind you, can really break a game.
Despite the fact that story-wise, the game is absolutely rubbish, as mentioned previously, the atmosphere is A+. There’s something about the mood that The Bureau just manages to get right. Maybe it’s the dim lights that seem to hang lazily in the hazy rooms, the quaint, quiet communities that have been desecrated by the invasion, the overall mood just feels surprisingly cohesive, and it becomes a nice and welcome setting that’s pretty well put together.
The little details here really help to make the setting stand out, and this is all in spite of a mid-high range graphics quality.
It’s such an absolute shame that we’ve got such a fantastic world to play in, but not given the inclination to actually want to do so. The combat itself is actually pretty good, but considering the fact that I could play something else that could give me much more satisfaction, I just find it difficult to keep my attention on this game. The game itself seems promising, but the disappointment given is not unlike meeting a very well-dressed individual who could only babble incoherently when you try to make conversation.
Ratings: 3 out of 5 stars
by Chua Yuxuan
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