‘The Bureau’ Takes One Long Drag From a Cigarette and Breathes Life Into The XCOM Universe

I want to tell you about all the cool stuff that I found in 2K Marin’s XCOM origin story “The Bureau” but I’ve been sworn to secrecy. Not really though. No one black bagged my head or anything like that but I don’t want to get all spoiler-y about what I saw last Friday. My previous impressions more or less stay the same — “The Bureau” is a love letter of the hysteria induced Cold War merged with the Space Race of the 1960’s with an extraterrestrial twist. It also fills the wide gaps in story of previous XCOM games as this takes the franchise to its roots. So instead of rehashing gameplay mechanics I thought I’d paint a picture of the atmosphere of “The Bureau.”

In many ways “The Bureau” is like that Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving dinner except replace that deliciously crisp turkey with a burnt husk of a Sectoid. Hearkening back to the tinfoil and duct tape era of NASA meshed with classic 50/60s Americana gives this game its flavor. These are the desperate first hours of a nation (and world) under attack by a tremendously powerful opponent.

Part of that atmosphere is solely dependent on the iconic look of the 60’s. Everyone is dressed to the nines — men wear hats and suits and women are smartly coiffed. Nearly every room of the underground stronghold is choking with smoke as sweaty, sleep deprived agents struggle to understand an enemy beyond their scope. Each office is a work place and dorm rolled into one. Visually there’s a a kind of sickly yellowish-green filter that conveys a sense of unease while deep underground waiting for news about the alien threat. These are the stone-chinned men and women anticipating a threat from beyond the stars, consistently rebuked by the top Brass, and we’re ultimately proved right in the most violent way with an all out invasion.

“Declassified” resides alongside the gestation of NASA where sweat drenched boffins throw random equations at the chalkboard to see what would happen. The titular Bureau is a little more sophisticated than that but it still feels like an operation acting mostly in the dark. The setup is completely analogue as computers require punch cards, magnetic strips and all the monitors are CRT. It looks very slapdash and archaic but contrasts brilliantly against the sleek, efficient alien mechanisms  ripped right out of a B movie. It’s not steam punk; it’s like atomic punk if that makes sense — this is a time where true science and sci-fi were nearly indistinguishable and the atom ruled all.

That sense of desperation extends to the battlefield. “TB:XD” removes you from the god’s eye view of the  “Enemy Unknown” Commander and puts you in the wingtips of hard nosed Agent William Carter. During my time, I got a to know Carter a little more and I can’t tell if I like him or not. He’s incredibly unapproachable and comes off as a real jerk to his fellow Bureau mates. He’s also one the best in the field and really has a chip on his shoulder involving past instances with his time in the DIA deep undercover monitoring the USSR.

Maybe it’s unfair to call him an ass. You can’t exactly blame him for his attitude — after all the world is under imminent danger and it all seems terribly hopeless. “The Bureau” plays up this duality of Carter as a man of action but also as a tortured agent with a shaky past with his superiors. You soon find tears in his psyche over an incident involving his family that manifests haunting dreams. One of these played out just a few moments into his introduction into the the Bureau were after debriefing the first alien attack he wakes up from a cold sweat, ghostly voices bombarding him  in a dark room. I’m unsure how this will ultimately pay off but Carter has definitely gone through some serious hell.

Otherwise, the first few hours lays out the devastation wrought unto our little blue marble and how the Bureau has been ever watchful for this day waiting and preparing. Since the US government is in shambles and the army is in complete disarray, the Bureau is acting alone as the sole brain of what’s left. The big picture is ultimately one of sacrifice for the greater good — every small victory, every inch reclaimed is celebrated as Agent Carter and the rest of the Bureau slowly overcome all odds.

“The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” will be available on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on August 20.

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