The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a third-person squad-based shooter from 2K Marin that maintains the spirit of XCOM with a heavy focus on strategy.
The game has seen numerous delays and even witnessed Firaxis's Enemy Unknown remake becoming a critical success last year, but is now nearing completion.
Alyssa Finley, VP of Product Development for 2K Marin, described Enemy Unknown as a "positive influence", also revealing that the two teams occasionally communicated with each other about their projects.
Back to the beginning
The Bureau is an origin story, taking place in 1962. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the game explores how XCOM came to be and what the circumstances were that led to a global organisation being set up to repel alien invasions.
After the Bay of Pigs, a secret government was set up to investigate and cover up infiltrations and incursions on American soil. However, the group quickly realises that the threat isn't of foreign origin. They're actually dealing with aliens.
The BioShock 2 developer decided on the early '60s setting, partly because it was a time when information moved slowly. The Cold War paranoia mixed with a world without mobile phones and digital cameras provided the vibe they wanted for their story.
"The newspaper was really sort of the final word of what happened in the world," Finley told Digital Spy. "That was the time when we can actually imagine something like this both happening and being covered up."
The protagonist is William Carter, an agent who joins the XCOM group to investigate alien incidents.
You assume control of him through a series of missions, commanding two other agents and giving orders to them like squadmates as you look to drive back the invasion.
Executing strategy with Battle Focus
2K Marin worked hard to keep the essence of XCOM in The Bureau.
"For us, it's things like tactics, tools, team, tension and terror," explained Finley. "Those are the principles we check ourselves against a lot.
"In terms of how to make sure the game feels strategic, we're trying to make sure that when the player heads out into the field, he has to make tactical choices in order to be able to succeed, which means making plans with your agents and reacting to changes in real time."
At any time during a mission, you can go into Battle Focus mode, where time slows almost to a halt. It's here where you are able to give commands to your agents - usually instructing them where to move or take cover, ordering him to target an enemy or using an ability.
With four different classes, the game invites players to experiment with different strategies and playstyles. The recon class is your sniper, and he can call artillery strikes and shoot from afar, while the support officer provides buffs for the squad.
The commando is your typical soldier class, but can throw enemies out of cover and taunt them to draw their aggro, and the engineer specialises in gadgets such as mines and turrets.
You can even combo abilities together - for example, an engineer can set a mine before a commando taunts an alien to charge at him, luring it straight into the trap.
We felt constantly micro-managing your squad was fairly disruptive to the shooting, particularly when we were using the same tactics repeatedly for standard skirmishes.
There were a couple of battles that mixed things up a little bit, though. In one segment, we had the ability to set off explosive traps left behind by another agent, while later on, we had to deal with a tough and tank-like Muton.
It's unclear how much variety there is to the action in the whole game, but this could play a significant hand in how engaging the overall experience ends up being.
Customisation is also a key component, with agents gaining experience and levelling up.
The developer has taken a similar approach to Enemy Unknown, aiming to make players grow attached to members of their party by allowing them to change their appearance and choose what perks and abilities they learn.
Decisions have consequences
All of this plays into the fact that The Bureau has more depth than your ordinary third-person shooter. Run-and-gun Rambo tactics will only get you so far, claims the developer.
Finley stated: "You're going to be outnumbered out there. They're going to have better weapons and tactics than XCOM has seen before, because they're coming up to speed against a fully-fledged invasion force."
Though there are multiple difficulty levels to choose from, the intention is to make The Bureau an unforgiving title.
"We think one of the things that Enemy Unknown and games like Dark Souls and Fire Emblem have established is that people aren't afraid of a game being hard.
"That's what we're trying to hit, to make an extremely challenging game where every decision you make has consequences.
"If your favourite agent dies in the course of battle, he's gone. You'll never get him back, and it could affect your ability to win the war. Depending on how much squad management you've done over the course of the game, you could put yourself in the situation where you couldn't win."
2K Marin also confirmed that there would be no multiplayer, a decision they attributed to making the story their number one priority.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will be released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on August 20.
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