‘The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’ proves that even the aliens were cooler in the 60s

The Bureau XCOM Declassified

All of the recent teases were legit: 2K Games will release The Bureau: XCOM Declassified on August 20, 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC platforms. It’s the game that we’ve all been affectionately referring to as “the XCOM shooter” since it was first announced back in 2010. It’s still a shooter that builds on the concepts established in the turn-based strategy side of the franchise, though the perspective has switched from the first-person view that we last saw at E3 2011, to a new third-person perspective.  We’ve also confirmed with 2K that this will be a full-priced $59.99 release rather than the download-only offering that had been hinted at in recent rumors.

The Bureau sends players back in time to 1962, when the first sign of an extra-terrestrial menace made itself known. The XCOM organization won’t yet exist at the start of the game, with protagonist William Carter instead being assigned to a mysterious body known as The Bureau. “William Carter has been bouncing around different government agencies before he finds himself brought in for the birth of XCOM,” 2K Marin creative director Morgan Gray tells Digital Trends.

“He’s as surprised as anyone else about what transpires. William becomes your viewpoint into this world, and a fully defined character in his own right, with a back story that gets expressed throughout. He helps guide you through what starts as a fairly simple ‘aliens are invading our planet’ [scenario] and becomes a much more complex… narrative that runs throughout the course of the game.” 

Gray goes on to explain that the events of XCOM Declassified are effectively what puts planet Earth on the galactic map, which in turn informs the story events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown and other, as-yet-untold stories set further along in the fictional timeline. The game’s secret invasion is overseen by a race of extraterrestrial slavers, and it is these slavers that introduce the various races of the galaxy to our solar system. There’s much that remains unclear at this time, but Gray’s description nods toward 2K’s ongoing efforts to more fully define the XCOM universe.

The Bureau XCOM Declassified

“Secret invasion” is the operative phrase up there. The earlier XCOM shooter reveal showed off a story set in a world ravaged by an alien invasion. However, as anyone who played Enemy Unknown knows, the present-day fiction catches most of the world off guard. XCOM Declassified now fits into the established fiction, with the all-out global invasion replaced by a more covert assault. It won’t make a ton of difference on the battlefield, as the idea is still to put players in the shoes of what amounts to a “combat quarterback,” but it remains an important distinction.

“In our story, we’ve had to hide and remove all the mentions [to alien invaders],” Gray explains. “We fought in the nooks and crannies. Out of the suburbs and into the rural parts of America, to places where we can keep the war secret, because… we’re still at a time when we can’t let the Russians and the other foes know that there’s something out there that the Big Green Machine, the U.S. military, can’t defeat. So part of the story that you’ll be experiencing is how the war is kept in the shadows. How XCOM is started and then slightly hidden from the world until it is needed again.”

Other than the jump from first-person to third-person, the game is largely the same as it was back in 2011 in gameplay terms. You control one soldier on the battlefield – Carter – but you also issue tactical commands to a squad of agents using the game’s Battle Focus interface. The game paused when this tactical interface was called up in earlier looks at the game, but that approach has changed in the time since we last saw it.

The Bureau XCOM Declassified“We actually thought we were doing ourselves a bit of a disservice [with play pausing],” Gray explains. “If we are going to be the more immediate battlefield representation of the XCOM pillars then freezing time… that’s not what we’re shooting for. That’s not what the guy in the field is experiencing. We want the planning [in the heat of combat] to feel like calling audibles. We want you to feel like… you could die at any moment.”

Squad management off the battlefield is important as well. Players will cultivate a team of alien hunters just as they did in Enemy Unknown. You’ll be able to give them names, plot out how their skills develop, and equip them as situations demand. Much of this unfolds back at home, at the base. One thing to be clear on, however: base management is not at the level that it was in the Firaxis-developed game from last year. “Outside of the combat missions, we have a central hub from which you’ll conduct research, recruit agents, handle some of the maintenance of the war effort, and engage in some quest lines… but the main focus is to get everything set up back at home so you can go into the field and bring the battle to the enemy,” Gray explains.

It’s all a lot of talk at the moment, but we’ll have more insights to share soon. 2K will be putting The Bureau: XCOM Declassified in front of games press in the coming weeks, and the previews and interviews from those showings should provide added insight as we move toward the marketing juggernaut that is June’s E3. The message for now is simple: the XCOM shooter is alive, and newly re-branded as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. It’s coming our way on August 20, but we’ll have more to share on how the game is coming together very soon.