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Exploring The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s tactical side

Tuesday, 18 June 2013 08:49 GMT By Dave Cook

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has strategy fans in a cold sweat over whether or not 2K Marin can deliver a tactical experience. VG247′s Dave Cook talks with the studio to get some clear answers.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Developed by BioShock 2 studio 2K Marin, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a third-person adaptation of the classic series created by Julian Gollop.

You can check out a video of 2K Marin’s Alyssa Finley talking about The Bureau’s world and setting here.

We’ve also got a batch of The Bureau screens here, showing off the game’s tactical play, squad members and aliens in action.

There’s also a gameplay trailer that gives you an idea of how The Bureau works in practice.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified hits PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on August 20.

First announced back in June 2010, 2K Marin’s first-person take on the XCOM franchise was met with a mixed reaction among gamers and the press.

On its surface the project appeared to be a shooter with some wafer-thin squad mechanics and none of the base-building or strategic elements that put Julian Gollop’s original game on the map. It got a lot of people concerned.

I saw the game behind closed doors at E3 2011 and it seemed to be a solid shooter with a dark tone. While it gave fresh insight into the birth of the XCOM task force from a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, what I saw certainly wasn’t tactical.

The game fell into obscurity shortly after its E3 showing. 2K Games then stopped pushing out trailers and screenshots, which sparked rumours that the publisher has quietly cancelled the project. It seemed no one could get a clear answer on the matter.

However, the project re-emerged once more as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and the press train is firmly back on the rails. Speculation about why the game disappeared quickly followed, and the old concerns about the shooter’s tactical elements still continue to this day.

I approached 2K Marin and offered the team a chance to set the record straight, and to explain just how tactical The Bureau really is. Creative director Morgan Gray was more than happy to discuss these concerns and to speak freely about the game’s tactical nuances that you haven’t yet seen in action.

“At its heart the game is about tactical squad combat,” Gray explained, “being that battlefield leader out in the field of action, and then using leapfrog tactics, coordinating fire, assessing flanks, pressing your initiative and advantage based off the opportunities that you create.

“I think as more gameplay videos come out and people see this in motion I think the misconceptions are going to give way. Screenshots don’t really do the game justice in telling the whole story. I think the industry itself and the player base is forgetting that for every Call of Duty and Halo there’s a Rainbow Six, a Brothers in Arms, or a Full Spectrum Warrior. Third-person games aren’t all action and bombastic Hollywood blockbusters.”

Indeed, 2K Marin is full of XCOM fans, and there is a desire across the board to make The Bureau as tactical as possible without breaking the game’s flow. It isn’t a turn-based game, but as Gray explained, early play-testers who tried to run and gun missions found themselves dead and slightly embarrassed in a matter of moments. This is certainly not Call of Duty.

I asked Gray to explain how a typical battle in The Bureau might play out, and how the underlying tactical mechanics will help drive strategic thinking in players. He explained that each battle will see XCOM agent William Carter and his squad facing off against an assortment of aliens that fans will be familiar with, each bearing nuances and behavioural patterns that demand on-fly-decision making.

The example given involved the squad venturing into an evacuated city in New Mexico and facing off against a pack of Sectoid slaves. Gray explained that each encounter will open with some time to properly evaluate the battlefield before heading towards what 2K Marin refers to as the ‘anchor’, which is that first piece of viable cover to hunker down behind before springing an attack.

“The player team will move into cover really quick,” Gray continued, “and as they move into cover they’re going to survey the battlefield. In The Bureau it’s not just set in big hallways or rooms, but the battlefield itself is part of solving the combat ‘puzzle’. Our fights aren’t 100% gated like, ‘do this and you’ll win’, but they are a bit of a puzzle in how to use your powers and guys to the best of your advantage.

“After surveying the terrain, players will move their agents into whatever position feels appropriate, most likely keeping [Carter] on one flank, and two agents together on the other flank. Then you will bring up ‘Battle Focus’ – the interface that allows you real-time tactical control – just to analyse your power sets.

“Say the player has brought along a Commando and an Engineer class-type; the Commando specialises in taunting enemies, uses really aggressive powers and is tougher with more health. He would most likely throw up a taunt ability to pull aggro so that aliens will get mad at him and move away from cover. The Engineer could then lay down a turret, while [Carter] can fire the first shot from a third-person perspective from behind cover and then the battle is on.”

From that point onwards the battle becomes unpredictable, forcing players to respond to the way aliens react. Gray explained that his team wanted to engage both strategy and twitch fans, offering a fluid action experience without compromising the game’s strategic framework.

He likened The Bureau’s myriad mechanics to the studio’s work on BioShock 2, and how its many Plasmids, weapons and devices made for diverse combat scenarios. In XCOM you have different weapons, strategic ‘puzzles’ to overcome, gadgets to equip and class skills to unleash. It’s up to the player to decide how-best to use the tools at their disposal.

Gray explained that Fallout 3 has been a huge source of inspiration for 2K Marin, and he added that Bethesda’s successful transition of isometric strategy to first-person RPG showed the studio that XCOM could make the same leap if handled with care. Where Fallout 3 bridged the gap between action and strategy using V.A.T.S., The Bureau’s Battle Focus view performs a similar function.

While combat is a large part of XCOM’s make-up, base-building, squad recruitment and research are equally as important. Agents can still gather resources and alien materials, but players will not be able to actively build their headquarters as they go. I asked Gray how the these key series elements transferred into The Bureau’s ambitious patchwork of ideas.

“The base is a big prominent gameplay mechanic,” Gray explained. “It’s your social hub, you’ll go back to it, you’ll be recruiting agents from it. There’s interaction and conversations; a considerable amount of gameplay in the base itself, because we figured if we’re telling the origin story of XCOM it all pretty much starts with an underground base. It’s a character in itself and has a progression throughout the experience.”

Gray likened the XCOM base to Mass Effect’s Normandy due to the interaction and content at hand. Turning to research, he continued, “Research was a tough one for us because when we were talking about what we would translate to classic XCOM into our expression, we actually realised that being 100% accurate in trying to translate everything would be wrong.

“In Enemy Unknown or classic XCOM it was a great game mechanic because you had a concept of time in which research is conducted, and a strategic layer due to procedurally-generated content. Players could farm missions until the next big mission that moved the plot.

“Although we have an RPG campaign structure we don’t have procedurally-generated content, which is also neat because every mission you go on is propelling the game towards its finale – be it a primary or secondary quest. The concept that the clock always ticking often comes up in our game.”

It makes sense that waiting four days of game time for a batch of medi-kits to be constructed in the XCOM lab would get in the way of the game’s constantly flowing narrative, and the overall mission structure at hand. Instead the advancement of the team’s base technology and resources will be woven into the narrative in a tangible manner.

Gray stressed that the classic XCOM method of research is applicable to a specific genre, and couldn’t be shoe-horned into 2K Marin’s new design wholesale. Instead of researching gadgets at the HQ, new tech and objects can be found in the world and once acquired they can be used at the time, or stockpiled and assigned to agents later.

The final format felt more immediate to the team, and Gray revealed there was a lot of debate and brainstorming around the concept until a ultimate form was rested upon. While playing around with mechanics that fell closer to the classic XCOM research trees, the developer felt it removed a lot of the game’s tension and broke the flow of its narrative.

After speaking with Gray it’s clear that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is still a tactical game. He recalled what he called ‘the learning moment’, in which new players were gunned down by not thinking tactically, and only then could they understand that they had to think laterally rather than approach the game like a corridor shooter.

With classic features like perma-death, research, strategic powers and agent management, it’d be remiss to say The Bureau stabs its forebears in the back. If Fallout 3 can happily make the leap from an isometric to third-person perspective, why can’t 2K Marin’s project? We’ll have to see more of the tactical elements running to get a clearer view, but for now I’m filled with optimism for the end product.

How about you? Does The Bureau seem like a solid attempt at a third-person XCOM game, or are you still wary?

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified launches on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 from August 20.

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2 Comments

  1. fihar

    Cautiously optimistic.
    I’m fairly sure that this is going to be a good game, but will it be a good XCOM game?

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Puggy

    I don’t know. Sounds more like Xcom Enforcer. Not that it was bad, it just was… well… different… and not my thing.

    Sounds to me it is more like a linear (mostly) mission/map progressive system. Little to no Sandboxing (randomly generated enemies, areas and the like), what kinda made the whole Xcom series interesting in my eyes.

    The Squad play also looks like something you’d see in the Mass Effect series. Not that I didn’t like it. But it is not Xcom, more like ME with an Xcom skin.

    #2 2 years ago

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    The next batch of Far Cry 4 DLC, Valley of the Yetis, releases in March and Ajay Ghale will be tasked with surviving violent cultists and the mythical Yeti. Apparently the cult is looking for a secret hidden in the valley, and Ajay has discovered their motives. The DLC features co-op with a friend taking […]

  • The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack out for Payday 2, has dino masks

    The 19th DLC pack for Payday 2 title The Butcher’s AK/CAR Mod Pack is available on Steam from today. The pack will run you $4.99/€4.99 and features: 11 new weapon modifications for the AK rifles in the game 11 new weapon modifications for the CAR rifles in the game Four new masks together with their […]

  • Battle Chasers slated for PC, consoles; comic picks up where 2001 storyline left off

    Darksiders creator Joe Madureira and Vigil co-founder Ryan Stefanelli have confirmed a Battle Chasers game and a new comic are in the works at their new studio Airship Syndicate. Speaking to Polygon, Madureira and Stefanelli wouldn’t provide details on the the game, but did divulge it will be an adventure RPG with player-controlled Battle Chasers […]

  • Shovel Knight, Hotline Miami 2 discounted for Sony’s annual Spring Fever Sale

    Sony is hosting its annual Spring Fever Sale which runs for eight weeks and features a new title each week. The sale starts next week on March 3 with the launch of Helldivers. Here’s just a few items included in the sale: HELLDIVERS (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March 3 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number (PS4/PS3/PS Vita) March […]

  • The gold Super Mario amiibo is a Walmart exclusive

    The Super Mario Gold amiibo which surfaced via a CPSIA certificate earlier this month will be a Walmart-exclusive, Nintendo has announced. The gold-colored Mario amiibo will be released the same day as the Mario Party 10 game for Wii U and will run you $12,96 at 3,000 participating Walmart stores in the US. Along with […]

  • Here’s an overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    As new gameplay overview trailer for Final Fantasy Type-0 HD, culled from the Active Time Report, stream has been sent over by Square Enix. The video provides a look at the history and environments of the Kingdom of Orience; the 14 memebers of Class Zero; the battle system with customizable magic spells; and the ability […]

  • Final Fantasy 15 video gives you a look at the game’s wildlife

    A new video shown by Final Fantasy 15 director Hajime Tabata during the latest Active Time Report, contains a look at the game’s wildlife and ecology. You can watch the full stream two hour stream through here, or a smaller clip courtesy of GamesHQMedia below.

  • Lionhead ventures into the free-to-play space with Fable Legends

    Fable Legends will be free-to-play when it launches on PC and Xbox One. According to Lionhead, the one versus four cross-platform title borrows from MOBA games such as Dota 2 and League of Legends as it will contain free, rotating heroes which will be added to a roster for a two week period. Once the […]

  • Win! 5 pairs of tickets to the Call of Duty European Championships

    We have five pairs of tickets to giveaway for the Call of Duty European Championships, taking place in London this weekend. The event takes place this Saturday February 28 and Sunday March 1 at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Winners can watch teams will go head to head for a $10,000 prize pot […]

  • Republique Remastered has released on Mac and PC

    Republique Remastered, which was announced earlier this month, is now available for Mac and PC. The game is 20% off through Steam, GOG and the Humble Store for $19.99 until March 4. Thereafter, it will run you $24.99. The Remastered edition contains all five episodes of the game, with 1-3 available now and the remaining […]

  • LA Cops coming to Xbox One in March

    Isometric shooter LA Cops is coming to Xbox One on March 13. Already on Steam Early Access, the game looks like it’s been heavily inspired by Hotline Miami. Walk into a room, open fire, leave bloody puddles in your wake. It’s being published by Team 17. Check out the video below for some 70s cop […]

  • We have $500 of Steam Wallet funds to giveaway!

    We’re giving away 10 Steam Wallet prizes worth $50 each to VG247 readers, courtesy of Bundle Stars. All you need to do to be in with a chance of winning $50 Steam credit is to enter your details below. Join the Bundle Stars Steam group for entry in the sweepstake, and gain extra entries for […]

  • Lapsed Final Fantasy 14 players tempted back with 10 day freebie

    Square is offering lapsed FF 14: A Realm Reborn players a chance to come back to the game for 10 days worth of free adventuring. Provided you’ve already bought and registered an account you’ll be able to play free of charge from Feb 27 to March 9. Square wants you to sample the new content […]

  • Advanced Warfare: Sledgehammer looking at “opportunities” to recreate classic Call of Duty maps

    Sledgehammer Games has told VG247 it’s looking at opportunities to recreate classic Call of Duty maps in Advanced Warfare. According to co-founder Michael Condrey, players of the latest Havoc DLC are asking how Exo abilities and verticality can be added to classic franchise maps. “We’re taking a look at some opportunities to really highlight the […]

  • GTA Online reader playlist week 7: and the winner is…

    Stuff was shot. But only one player emerged victorious. GTA Online player e031271 won last night’s VG247 reader playlist, beating myself, Matt and regulars solidorwot and Revolting. Congratulations, Mr e031271. A deserved victory. We play a GTA Online playlist in an open session every Wednesday on PS4, because it’s both funny and fun. Anyone’s welcome […]

  • Leaked screens reveal The Reef as Destiny’s new “social space”

    A handful of leaked Destiny screens seem to confirm that The Reef location will be the new social space in Destiny. The new addition is likely to be revealed as part of the upcoming House of Wolves expansion. Reddit user Megamanexe4 dropped the screens on the site earlier this morning, along with grabs that reveal […]

  • Darksiders creator teases Battle Chasers game

    Joe Madureira, creator of Darksiders, has released art that strongly suggests a Battle Chasers game is in the works. Battle Chasers was a comic book from the late 1990s that suffered notorious production problems between issues and was never finished. Madureira formed Airship Syndicate after the collapse of THQ, where he co-created Darksiders. His latest […]

  • Infamous video nasty Axe recreated in GTA 5

    The trailer for notorious horror movie Axe has been recreated in GTA 5. The shot for shot remake is the work of gigerbrick who has previously recreated exploitation flicks like Machete and Hostel using Lego. The original Axe movie was banned in 1984 in the UK but passed with cuts in the late 1990s. Movie […]

  • Payday 2 for PS4 and Xbox One includes “a year’s worth of paid DLC” for free

    Payday 2: Crimewave Edition will include a year’s worth of paid DLC from the PC version of the game for free. The new-gen version of the game will be available June 2015, and includes almost all of the paid and free DLC released so far for Overkill’s popular first-person shooter. That DLC includes The Big […]

  • Yes, Mortal Kombat X will require Xbox Live Gold or PS Plus

    Mortal Kombat X won’t bypass Microsoft and Sony’s premium online play requirements. Reports that Mortal Kombat X wouldn’t require PS Plus or Xbox Live Gold started circling earlier this week thanks to a communications error. Answering fan questions on Twitter, producer Shaun Himmerick accidentally gave the impression that premium console subs would not be required […]

  • This is what Destiny players most want next

    Destiny patch 1.1.1 has resolved or at least addressed a number of complaints voiced by the community, but there are plenty more. des Destiny community manage David “Deej” Dague has put out a call for Guardians to share their concerns – or rather, what they think the community is most concerned about. “Set aside your […]

  • Google AI can play games now, so we’re probably all going to die

    Google has brought us one step closer to our inevitable slaughter or enslavement by machine overlords. Google has developed an AI that can learn to play video games and devise brand new strategies. Let me just rephrase that: Google has created an AI that can teach itself new skills, including how to play video games. […]

  • First footage of Renowned Explorers: International Society surfaces

    Renowned Explorers: International Society is a turn-based strategy game from the team behind Reus, and it looks great. Renowned Explorers was announced almost a full year ago, but has been pretty quiet since then. Developer Abbey games has now announced that the game has hit alpha, and will be open to select testers soon. You […]

  • Cities: Skylines developer commits to mod support

    Cities: Skylines will fully support the modding community. Hailing from famously mod-friendly publisher Paradox, Cities: Skylines is a no-brainer for mod support – especially as a lack of mod support is one of the things SimCity was so heavily criticised for when it firts launched. In the developer diary below, Paradox’s Jakob Munthe is joined […]

  • Nosgoth update adds Vanguard, many fixes

    Nosgoth, the free-to-play multiplayer brawler set in the Legacy of Kain universe, has been given a significant makeover. The major feature of the latest Nosogth game update is a new playable human character called the Vanguard. “Equipped with mighty throwing axes and a shield, the Vanguard can take more punishment than any human class that […]

  • Xbox Live Gold 12 month sub $40 on Microsoft store

    Microsoft is offering $20 off 12 month Xbox Live Gold subscriptions at the moment. An Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription will normally set you back $60, but a Microsoft Store promotion has it on offer for $40. The offer is restricted to the US store. Although you can opt to grab your sub as […]

  • Tomb Raider movie script to be penned by TMNT writer

    Tomb Raider will be Evan Daugherty’s second reboot of an established universe. The Tomb Raider movie reboot has signed on a writer and a distributor. Deadline reports Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Divergent, Snow White And The Huntsman and G.I. Joe 3 writer Daugherty will write the film. Additionally, Warner Bros. has signed on to distribute, […]

  • Shelter 2 pre-orders open, launch trailer debuts early

    Shelter 2 is a game in which you are a mother lynx and must protect a den of kittens. Yes, it’s delightful. Shelter 2 is coming to Mac and PC on March 9. Pre-orders are now available on Steam at 10% off or on GOG.com with a free skin and soundtrack, or 20% off if […]

  • That Batman: Arkham Knight trailer is full of codes

    Batman: Arkham Knight’s trailer is like a Transformer – there’s more than meets the eye. The new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer contains a number of codes. Eagle-eyed users have spotted four so far, and work on cracking their meaning is progressing. According to an /r/games thread rounding up results so far, the codes pertain to […]

  • Assassin’s Creed haystacks won’t save you from a fall

    Assassin’s Creed fans, don’t try this at home. Assassin’s Creed characters can survive falls of almost any distance as long as they aim for the haystacks scattered handily throughout the environment. As you probably deduced from your familiarity with common sense, this isn’t a real thing: falling from heights kills you, the same way a […]

  • Why are people buying PS4 and not Xbox One?

    PS4 is outselling Xbox One – but why? A new report may have the answer. Last month, the PS4 outsold the Xbox One in the US again, returning it to the top of the charts after just two months away. Why? What has caused this reversal in fortunes in Microsoft’s home territory? According to a […]