The Bureau: XCOM Declassified
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (August 2013)|
|The Bureau: XCOM Declassified|
|Engine||Unreal Engine 3|
|Genre(s)||Tactical shooter, third-person shooter|
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is a science fiction video game in the X-COM series, developed by 2K Marin and was released by 2K Games for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on August 20, 2013 in North America. It was released for Mac on November 27, 2013 by Transgaming. The game had been in development under different titles by three different studios since 2006. It was unveiled as a first-person shooter titled XCOM in June 2010 and was repeatedly delayed until its release. In April 2013, the game was rebranded as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. In its final version, it became a third-person tactical shooter with strategy video game elements.
The Bureau is a third-person shooter with an emphasis on squad-based tactics. The player controls the agent William Carter and commands two additional agents in each mission. Carter has several unique abilities, such as healing his entire squad, lifting enemies out of cover, and summoning combat drones. The other agents are divided into four classes: Commando, Engineer, Support, and Recon. Each class is proficient in a different set of powers and weapon types. For example, the Commando class is specialized in offensive abilities and rifles, while the Engineer class relies on land mines, automatic turrets, and the use of shotguns. As Carter and his squad gain more experience points during missions, more abilities become available.
By entering "Battle Focus Mode", which slows time significantly, the player can order their agents to move to strategic positions and activate class-specific abilities. Agents have customizable outfits, weapons, equipment, and abilities. As in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, if Carter is unable to revive agents who have taken too much damage, they will die (variable difficulty levels also determine whether or not it is possible for downed agents to become battle-ready when revived, or if replacement agents will appear during a mission). The agents who die will be dead for the rest of the game.
Throughout the course of the game, the player can collect backpack schematics and alien weapons, which then become available for the entire squad. Each backpack provides a unique bonus to the agent wearing it. For example, the Sharpshooter Pack provides bonus head-shot damage, and the Guardian Pack reduces damage taken from attacks. These equipments can be altered before a mission, or at Resupply Stations located in each mission.
The game is set in late 1962, at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union. Prior to the events of the game, U.S. President John F. Kennedy authorized the creation of the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command, which was intended to coordinate U.S. military forces in the event of a Soviet invasion of the USA. A top-secret underground command bunker was constructed to house the Bureau, and specific military and civilian personnel were secretly contacted and told to report there in the event of an invasion. The Bureau's director, Myron Faulke, had another vision for his organization: a bulwark against attacks from "Outsiders", hostile extraterrestrial forces whom he believed had been operating on Earth for the past six months and had some connection to the recently discovered "super-element" Elerium. As the game begins, FBI special agent William Carter is tasked with delivering an important package to Faulke at the Bureau's research labs at Groom Range.
Waiting in a room at the Groom Range facility for Director Faulke's summons, William Carter meets a military officer who informs him that she is to escort him to Faulke to deliver a briefcase. When a wary Carter refuses, a black fluid discharges from the officer's eyes, revealing her to be "infected"; she then shoots Carter and opens the case. It emits a blinding light which incinerates the officer and stuns Carter. Moments later, Carter awakens to find his gunshot wound inexplicably healed and the case destroyed as the base comes under attack. Carter attempts to rescue Faulke as the attackers, identified as "Outsiders" by Bureau agents whom Carter encounters, easily slaughter the base's garrison. He eventually finds Faulke, but is too late to save the VIP officials J. Edgar Hoover, CIA Director Frost, and General Deems, the latter of whom had become infected (in the same manner as the female officer) and killed the other officials. Carter escapes the Groom Range facility by tram just as Outsider devices cause the mountain to implode, and stalls the Outsider pursuit by detonating a powerful Elerium bomb while he and Faulke flee via Skyranger helicopter.
At the Bureau's command bunker, Faulke announces that communications worldwide have been jammed and other U.S. military bases have been destroyed in similar attacks. With no way to contact the White House and other American military leaders, Faulke formally activates the Bureau (now renamed XCOM) and assumes control of the country's remaining military forces to counter the Outsider threat, while Bureau operatives planted in major cities downplay the attacks as safety drills to keep the civilian populace from panicking.
Over the following weeks, Carter leads teams of agents across the country to retrieve important personnel, defend strategic sites, and recover what alien technology they can for research. Gradually, the Bureau pieces together the Outsiders' motive: to conquer the Earth and terraform it into a new homeworld, simultaneously enslaving humanity. The interrogation of an Outsider Infiltrator reveals that their species is commanded by an entity known as Origin through a psionic network called Mosaic. Carter's team travels through a "Venn Portal" to their homeworld using the Avenger, a flying saucer XCOM has developed. There, Carter discovers that Mosaic is powered by an enslaved Ethereal, a being of pure energy with immense psionic power. The Outsiders have been searching for a dormant Ethereal on Earth, which is revealed to have been inside of Carter's briefcase from the game's opening and now inhabits his body. He manages to capture Origin's Ethereal, detonates a bomb at Mosaic's entry point and returns to Earth.
At XCOM's base, the captured Ethereal, Shamash, psionically contacts the Ethereal inside of Carter, Asaru. It becomes apparent that the player has actually been playing as Asaru, who has in turn been psionically controlling William Carter, though its recently awakened state caused it to believe it truly was human. Shamash claims that because both the Outsiders and humans have learned how to capture Ethereal, they must be destroyed so that a force like Mosaic will never be rebuilt. Upon hearing this, Carter manages to temporarily break free of Asaru and kills Shamash. XCOM's base is discovered by the Outsiders, and Carter attempts to defend it, while actively attempting to break free from Asaru's control. Carter manages to plant an explosive device with a thirty-second timer, believing that the Ethereal will never truly allow him to be free.
There are four endings depending on choices made at this point. If Asaru refuses to relinquish control of Carter, the bomb will go off, killing both of them.
Alternatively, Asaru can release Carter, but only to willingly merge with either Dr. Weir, Agent Weaver, or Director Faulke. The new host will knock Carter unconscious and the remaining agents will abandon the base. They discover that Origin still exists within what remains of the Mosaic network, and has transported itself to Earth's orbit in order to command the Outsiders stranded on the planet. The crew of the Avenger mounts their final attack against Origin's ship, with Asaru providing the new host with the powers it had given Carter. During the mission, one of the other two host options must be sacrificed while the other is rescued, and Carter, who believes that Asaru is no different from the Outsiders, must be either executed or incarcerated. Eventually, Asaru's host discovers a secondary entry point for Mosaic and psionically integrates with the network, destroying Origin and its influence over the Outsiders.
The aftermath of the Outsider invasion is revealed in the form of a debriefing of Asaru's host:
- If Weir merges with Asaru, he persuades the Outsiders to cease attacking and help rebuild before departing amiably to continue their search for a homeworld; Outsider technology is carefully disassembled and stored away, sites of Outsider attacks are quietly erased from the National Register or explained away as natural disasters, and surviving Sleepwalkers are cured.
- If Weaver merges, she forces the Outsiders to kill each other; all Outsider technology and evidence of their attacks is destroyed, in some cases with nuclear weapons, and the Sleepwalkers are euthanized.
- If Faulke merges, he commands the Outsiders to stand down and rebuild before being exterminated; some Outsider technology is preserved and provides considerable scientific and military advances, sites of Outsider attacks are erased, and the Sleepwalkers are treated, but unable to be cured.
In any case, the Outsider invasion is successfully covered up, with only the members of XCOM and a handful of top U.S. and other world leaders aware of how close the human race came to extinction.
The debriefing concludes with a description of how Asaru eventually severs contact with its host and departs after the Outsiders are dealt with, and its intentions remain unknown. At this point, the musical score segues into a theme from XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
In early 2006, Irrational Games was purchased by publisher Take-Two Interactive, who had also acquired the X-COM IP from Atari the year before. Shortly after, two Irrational studios in Boston (later renamed 2K Boston) and Canberra (later renamed 2K Australia) began conceptualization of a new game in the series. The video gaming press picked up multiple hints on the development throughout the period leading up to the official reveal in 2010. In May 2006, Irrational Games announced they were hiring for a work "On the sequel to one of the best loved PC franchises of all time." By February 2007, there were unconfirmed rumors about a new X-COM game being developed by Irrational Games. Several concept pitches were created early on in the development. One was of a tactical strategy sequel to the original series that would be built on an upgraded Freedom Force engine. Another cast the player in the role of a human resistance leader in a post-invasion scenario, featuring highly stylized, cartoonish character models. One pitch, in which the player would be based on a hijacked alien craft, was even made into a full demo that was supposed to be shown at E3, but never was. However, much of the studios' resources were focused on the development of BioShock and on supporting the sequel's development, which was handled by an ex-Irrational studio 2K Marin in California, so the pre-production progressed very slowly.
Upon the completion of BioShock 2 in early 2010, the Canberra studio pitched a concept of the X-COM game as "the original X-COM meets The X-Files, set in the 1950s to 1960s." The game was decided to be to a first-person shooter set in the 1950s and combining missions on the field with base management; an important part of the game would be taking photographs on the field for research. This green-lighted pitch was originally titled X-COM: Enemy Unknown (not to be confused with the original X-COM game as well as the later game of the same name) and featured mysterious aliens taking abstract forms such as globs of black goo and levitating geometrical shapes, in addition to masquerading as humans in a manner reminiscent of the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A multiplayer mode was also in development, described as similar in concept to the Aliens vs. Predator game series, but it was later scrapped altogether.
The game was officially announced on April 14, 2010, titled simply XCOM. In development for the Xbox 360 and PC, it was described as a "re-imagining of one of gaming's most storied and beloved franchises." In-game footage was first shown at E3 2010 in June 2010. It was later retrospectively described as a survival horror title, "like a Silent Hill sort of game, where it's sort of the cerebral horror versus the run and gun horror game." Regarding a move away from the strategy genre, 2K Games president Christoph Hartmann said at the time "strategy games are just not contemporary," but the developers later assured they would keep elements from the original game, such as squad and base management, free-form non-linear mission progression, and squad-based tactical combat. XCOM was originally announced to arrive in 2011, but then got repeatedly delayed. It was first officially rescheduled to launch on March 6, 2012, before being delayed again, supposed to come out before March 31, 2013. By April 2012, it was estimated to be released between April 2013 and March 2014.
Already prior to the game's E3 2010 debut, the developers began experiencing various difficulties both creatively and technically. Earlier in the year, 2K publishing had assigned a large portion of 2K Marin to assist 2K Australia in developing the game, and soon the two studios were merged under the name "2K Marin". The Australian branch worked on the single-player component while the California branch was assigned the multiplayer mode (described as resembling Left 4 Dead and ultimately scrapped). However, the two "2K Marin" studios in California and Australia were slowed down by communication issues, and they found it difficult to implement the stealth gameplay and the themes of mystery and field research. The Australian studio also lost several key members, with the game's original lead designer Ed Orman and art director Andrew James leaving 2K Marin to form Uppercut Games in 2011. The American branch gradually took upon a leading role, having been forced to abandon development of their own new IP and to finish up what was supposed to be a quick release of X-COM.
Following widespread criticism of the original project from X-COM fan community and parts of the media, as well as the problems with developing the game, XCOM got thoroughly revamped by 2011, evolving into a linear tactical shooter (with no randomized missions and no stealth and detective gameplay elements, but with more control over other agents) seen from a third-person view (the E3 2011 demo version showed a first-person shooter gameplay nevertheless). The setting was also changed, including an introduction of humanoid enemies and the timeline being pushed forward from the 1950s to 1962 in order to explore cultural tensions of the 1960s. The player could now enter a tactical-view mode, during which the game paused for a while, to "use time units to order the two agents traveling with him on the field." According to GameSpy, "the core aspects of the game are about working with a team of agents who have a variety of classes that you can customize, to have certain abilities that assist you on missions (think RPG party building)," using "experience points where you can level them up or upgrade them along different paths." The player was also offered to choose the missions from a variety of choices, "each offering different strategic options."
In 2012, the game's narrative Jordan Thomas left the XCOM team, asked by Ken Levine to help 2K Boston finish BioShock Infinite, while 2K Australia has regained its name and was also reassigned to a support work on Infinite. Zak McClendon, the lead designer of BioShock 2, became the lead designer for the struggling XCOM project. Following the success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, developed by Firaxis Games and released by 2K Games in October 2012, 2K Games decided to have both of the XCOM games related more closely to each other, including sharing some of the alien species such as the series' iconic Sectoids. Meanwhile, no new materials related to the game were officially released since the showing at E3 2011. In late 2012, the game was rumored by Kotaku to be "coming back as a third-person shooter. While the 1960s setting and general XCOM prequel vibe remains, it's now apparently being pitched as a squad-based game similar to SOCOM or Republic Commando" and "is being developed by the same people who created BioShock 2." According to the rumor, which was accompanied by several leaked screenshots and repeated by many other publications, the game would be released only for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and possibly as a $30 downloadable title.
In April 2013, the game's official website xcom.com/xcom was deleted without any official explanation, while all videos relating to it suddenly disappeared from 2K Games' official YouTube channel as well. One month earlier, 2K Games had registered the Internet domains thebureau-game.com, thebureau-game.net, whathappenedin62.com, and whathappenedin62.net, indicating that the game might return with a new title, possibly as The Bureau. VideoGamer.com received a package containing a dossier labeled "Burn After Opening", containing materials confirming a link between XCOM and the name "The Bureau". GameZone's analysis of a viral teaser video "What Happened in 62" predicted that the redesigned XCOM would reappear on April 26. On April 24, 2013, 2K posted an announcement titled "2K Marin's [redacted] is coming soon":
The XCOM universe is expanding. In the coming days the world will get a fresh look at the long-awaited squad-based tactical shooter in development at 2K Marin. Announced back in 2010, the game has undergone an evolution since we last showed it to you at E3 2011. Firaxis' critically acclaimed turn-based strategy title, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, has reignited the classic franchise and we feel that the time is right to deliver a new experience within the world of XCOM. The creative development of this game has been a collaborative process of discovery and iteration. 2K's culture allows our studios the freedom to refine their visions, to explore new ideas, and to deliver the best possible experiences for players. Through this exploration, 2K Marin has refined their vision, and as a result the game has evolved into a high-stakes narrative experience imbued with core XCOM concepts. The wait is nearly over and we can't wait to share more details with you about the game in only a matter of days.
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was officially unveiled as a full-priced title along with a live-action trailer on April 26, with a planned release date of August 20, 2013. The first actual gameplay footage trailer for The Bureau, with developer commentary, was released on May 13, 2013.
The Bureau pre-order bonuses included a Light Plasma Pistol weapon and the minor operation "Codebreakers". On October 8, 2013, downloadable content Hangar 6 R&D was released for the Xbox 360, containing a series of missions set shortly before the main game that follow Nico DaSilva, as he takes part in psychic experiments in order to combat the Sleepwalker virus. DaSilva also possesses new abilities and perks and can acquire new weapons, such as the AK-47 and Microwave Gun.
The initial public reaction to the reveal of the XCOM reboot in 2010 was negative. Destructoid called it "the first-person shooter that the Internet loves to hate", and UFO: Enemy Unknown designer and X-COM series creator Julian Gollop criticized the original-announcement version of the game for abandoning the turn-based combat system of the original games. Gollop later suggested that the "1950s style alternate reality thing" and FPS nature of the game had not been well received, although he thought that graphically the game was "amazing".
The reactions improved when XCOM was re-designed with third-person viewpoints and a tactical pause mode. 1UP.com called the revised version "the dark horse" of E3 2011. According to IGN, "XCOM the FPS was announced before the strategy remake, so fans cried foul at defiling such a sacred series. But with top-notch style and a focus on team-based combat, the new take on XCOM might turn fans into believers when it finally releases in 2013."
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified received generally mixed or average reviews. Aggregating review websites GameRankings and Metacritic gave the Xbox 360 version 69.96% and 68/100, the PlayStation 3 version 65.56% and 69/100 and the PC version 61.91% and 66/100. Dan Whitehead of Eurogamer gave the game a score of 7/10, arguing that while the game was not necessary in the wake of Enemy Unknown, it can still be enjoyed as a tactical shooter. Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann praised the game's open-ended environments and gave the game four stars out of five. Destructoid's Jim Sterling, however, opined that the game "wants to be XCOM without being XCOM. As such, it is nothing," criticising the strategy elements and ultimately giving the game a rating of 4.5 out of 10.
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