The Bureau: XCOM Declassified’s Story Declassified

By Nathan Grayson on July 18th, 2013 at 9:00 am.

Poor guy, cried right through his mascara. Then he started crying mascara.

Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I actually think the original concept for what eventually went on to become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified would’ve made for a pretty cool game… if it wasn’t called XCOM. 1960s X-Files? A story that lures players into its irresistible green glow with both unrelenting mystery and the social/political tensions of the time? I would’ve played that. Don’t get me wrong: I’m incredibly glad that XCOM is back to being all about tactics, but this cut-scene-tastic Bureau trailer just feels generic. Everybody has neat hats, but we may as well be watching Commander Shepard (the boring vanilla male version) get levitated into the air by some unknowable alien force. Old timey hats or not, this just feels a bit, er, old hat.

You’re special! You’re different! You’re BETTER! Rah-rah-rah blah blah blah.

The game itself still looks fun (though I think I still prefer Enemy Unknown’s fully turn-based stylings), but the setting feels like some blindly probing extraterrestrial’s discarded cattle carcass: wasted. Maybe I’m actually way off-base. Maybe 2K’s just choosing to promote Bureau’s more “mainstream”-friendly elements. I’ll withhold final judgment until I’ve seen more, but I’m still a bit worried.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified will be out on August 23rd, which is right around the corner. I’m crossing my fingers for something interesting, but I’m far from ready to hold my breath.

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55 Comments »

  1. lowprices says:

    The more I see of this, the less interesting it looks. Personally I’m just waiting for Firaxis to announce Enemy Unknown 2, or XCOM: Terror from the Deep.

    • UmmonTL says:

      I hope that in this case it’s just the trailer, maybe they’re trying to “appeal to the wider audience” which always seems to mean being bland and generic. The red lightbulb worldmap and fashionable outfits tell me it’s still set around the 1960s. Going with the Men in Black angle could be cool as an origin story, it fits the period quite well and you can still include some of the social/political tensions. Alien tech in the cold war? Sounds good to me.
      I hope they actually include some sort of information control angle to the gameplay so that keeping the aliens secret is more than just kiling them all. Anyways, the only thing they changed seems to be that they are back to the original XCOM aliens, no black tar ghosts and techno-shapeshifters. They could still exist but in the earlier trailers they were the main enemy and looked like normal humans in weird outfits. I prefer the more interesting looking Sectoids and they fit better into the cultural background.
      Finally the gameplay looks alright, I prefer a squad-command game to a cover based shooter. Although it seems like you now control pretty much the whole game through commands during pauses. I don’t want it to feel like just a clone of the turn-based game.

    • Buffer117 says:

      Massively disappointed in the way this is turning out, but will reserve judgement until I see some reviews.

      I thought the original concept looked great, what they’ve morphed it into in response to some seriously ridiculous internet outcry doesn’t excite me so much. FPS are in general so generic, this had the chance to be interesting and different.

      If fans were always going to get the epic X-COM reboot we got, than why did they not have courage of their convictions and keep the original game concept for this with the changed title, if it was good it would have won people over. That game had me massively excited, this not so much…

  2. tellrov says:

    “(the boring vanilla male version)”

    S-stop it. Please stop. I… I can’t. Nathan, please..

    • AngoraFish says:

      I can’t personally comment on the boring vanilla male version of Shepard, as I’ve never seen it worthwhile to play him. I much prefer my protagonists female.

      • Grygus says:

        They’re exactly the same; that’s kind of the point of Mass Effect’s approach. Calling the male one “boring” is just being fashionable; it doesn’t actually make any sense.

        • LukeNukem says:

          Well apart from the fact
          a) Female Shepherd has outstanding voice acting
          b) The default Male Shepherd does look boring, like 99% of heroes in the media.

          • Lusketrollet says:

            If it’s one thing her voice-acting is NOT, it’s “outstanding” in any way, shape or form. I will never get why these people continue to thump this.

        • Rizlar says:

          Generic action-hero white male lead character is boring because lead characters are almost always white and male and generically handsome. Obviously.

          That said, my Shepard was white and male and ugly as fuck.

          • BobbyDylan says:

            Mine too. I tired to make him look like me, but then I couldn’t make him fat, or give him glasses.

          • Rizlar says:

            Think his neck was wider than his head… guess that’s why he got on so well with the Krogans?

          • DirtyMao says:

            My Shepard was sinfully ugly. The imported face got all kinds of messed up so I ended up editing it into an even bigger mess. Made some of the cutscenes fairly amusing.

          • Geen says:

            It’s because the military cut makes him look like a massive douche. Also, the fact that Renegade Maleshep comes off more as just plain evil rather than doing whatever’s needed to get the job done.

    • Gap Gen says:

      It’s true, the female version of Shepard is the Only True Version. To be specific, the version I made with my particular choices is the Only True Version. I sort of died inside a little when ME3 broke the face import from ME2 (partly because it appeared to be massively racist, the skin colour scale going as it did from snowstorm-albino to slightly tanned).

    • Bhazor says:

      Now now, lets be fair.

      Man or woman they were both terribly written characters.

    • The Random One says:

      He was obviously referring to the version that is both male and vanilla, as opposed to (for instance) the pink armor Shepard you can see on several YouTube playthroughs, which I’m guessing is male and strawberry.

    • Lusketrollet says:

      Having watched more than two hours worth of clips of Fem/BroShep on YouTube, I can say with complete honesty that I have absolutely fuck-all idea of why she’s supposedly voiced so much better. She’s *not*. She really isn’t. You people just need to start accepting this.

      FemShep has just as many shortcomings in her voice-acting as BroShep, they’re just different. BroShep has a tendency of being quite flat in his delivery, while FemShep has comparatively little range.

      In the case of BroShep, his problems are the most noticeable during scenes of prolonged dialogue with another male character. Particularly egregious in the scenes with him and the male love-interest in the third game, where the black guy is superbly voiced – easily kicking the shit out of both BroShep and FemShep combined – but BroShep is his usual, flat self. It’s almost weird to hear them play off of each other.

      In the case of FemShep, it’s the most noticeable when she tries to sound authoritative or “badass”. Her voice drops a semitone for no particular reason, and you can just tell that she’s trying oh-so-very-very hard. She doesn’t sound like a person who is confident and commanding, she sounds like a person who is trying to sound confident and commanding. In these cases, she only has one expression: “Gruff and angry”.

      For an example, look at the scene of the climactic space battle in the third game. Shepard sits in his/her spacecraft, and through some manner of radio is telling his/her comrades “good luck, everyone.”, or something to that effect. When BroShep does it, it comes out almost softly, while still perfectly confident and authoritative. Yes, he’s speaking to his men in the role of a commander, but you get the sense that he really means it. He’s not saying it as a statement of his badassitude, he’s saying it because he genuinely wish for them to be okay. With FemShep, it’s so overtly a statement. “Good luck, everyone!”, she growls, with that ridiculous semitone-lowering of hers. “I’m speaking to subordinate soldiers. This means I must sound totally TOUGH and BADASS! Because I’m a LEADER, and that’s how they sound! GRR!”.

      This reminds me of when I was in the military, a few years ago. Both due to conscription as well as by its very nature, a lot of very different people from very different geographical and social communities ended up there. The result was that often you’d find people, (both male and female), placed in a leader-type role that simply didn’t quite have a natural leader/alpha-type personality. The result was that whenever they were giving a command or trying to exercise their authority for whatever other reason, you could clearly tell that they were acting. They were assuming a role, and often transparently so. This is the exact wibe I get with FemShep more often than not, and it’s dreadfully uninspiring.

      This FemShep-fandom needs to take a few solid steps back. It’s increasingly starting to close in on “Bronies” on my personal list of the most virtue-exaggerating fandoms out there, and it’s bordering on being insufferable.

      • Blinky343 says:

        Nah she’s better.

      • The Random One says:

        Renegade MaleShep sounds great. Paragon MaleShep sounds like your awkward neighbour when he found a pile of used condoms but didn’t want to cause too much trouble.

        Paragon FemShep sounds great. Renegade FemShep sounds like your mom.

        The above is absolute truth.

  3. jalf says:

    Yep, pretty sad. “Let’s completely and entirely retcon a game that came out as recently as last year, in order to insert a disappointingly generic-sounding game as a back story.

    Why bother? Why call it XCOM? Why surgically remove everything that made the game sound interesting initially?

    • Harlander says:

      Because they interpreted the immense tornado of complaining about the not-really-very-XCOMmy game being called X-COM the wrong way.

      “Oh, people don’t want a 50s X-Files from their XCOM, let’s make the game fit into XCOM’s theme better” which led to it being rather uninteresting-looking, as opposed to
      “Oh, people don’t want a 50s X-Files from their XCOM, let’s call it ‘The Bureau’ or something and basically make it into a completely different IP” which would have been much better

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I kind of wish I understood the problem with calling this XCOM. I mean, sure it’s different from the old games, but why does it upset people so much? Are they the same people who freak out when a movie adaptation isn’t exactly the same as the book?

        • SooSiaal says:

          Yes, because if you’re gonna take the story from a book and make it into a movie, and by doing that completely rape the story to such a point it has nothing to do with the book it’s based on, why would you take said book’s name and act like they’re the same (Looks at WWZ)

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I still don’t get it. I don’t think stories should be preserved in amber, and I guess I feel the same about games and their mechanics. Names are important to people though, I guess.

            As are words, so please be a bit more careful with yours.

          • noom says:

            @SooSiaal

            The story in a book isn’t sacrosanct. Hell, how much revision do you think a book’s story goes through as it’s being written? Granted, sometimes you see Hollywood trying to crowbar in a romance subplot or something just because it sells better, but I see nothing wrong in principle with amending a story to a form suitable to the new medium.

            That said, personally I’ve rarely enjoyed films more than the books they’re based on. The LOTR trilogy comes close, and Fight Club for me is an exception to the rule; I actually do think the film was an improvement upon the book in that case.

            Jalf does make a good point below though; there is also an element of demonstrating respect for the original authorial intent.

        • Grygus says:

          It made more sense at the time. Back then, the problem was that fans of the franchise had been waiting something like 15 years for a new XCOM game, and the first one announced was some sort of shooter, rather than a tactical game. People weren’t necessarily down on the game itself, but it was a lot like announcing a new Wing Commander game and then making it a side-scrolling platformer; what good is the old-school name, when you’re ignoring what the people who even care about that franchise remember playing? You’d be annoying the fans and nobody else cares what the name is. The problem was, as is so often the case with unhappy customers, poorly managed expectations.

          • Sian says:

            This. I can only speak for myself, but this was the reason I didn’t like the game initially. If I recall correctly, the announcement came relatively shortly after the news that the new Syndicate was to be a shooter, so many people probably were in a bad mood anyway.

        • jalf says:

          I’m not sure if it’s a “problem”, as much as it’s utterly pointless and, well, it seems disrespectful, somehow.

          It’s not so much about stories being “preserved in amber”, but I guess about ownership. In changing the back story, they are basically telling Firaxis “you know what? That story you guys came up with? It doesn’t count. Here’s what really happened”.

          That could kind of be excused when the game was first announced: “hey, we’re reviving this 15 year old franchise, and in the process, basically reimagining everything from scratch”, but taking a game that was released last year and retconning that seems… crude and disrespectful.

          You don’t get people officially changing the back story of LOTR either. There’s no “actually, Frodo’s grandfather also travelled across the world with a group of friends and tried to destroy Sauron” because IP law aside, it is disrespectful to the author of the story.

          But the other part of it is that what they’re so desperate to graft into the XCOM universe/storyline *just isn’t very interesting*. It did sounds nifty when they first announced it, but like I said above, it’s like they’ve systematically been stripping out everything that made the story interesting.

          In the end, it just seems silly to contradict the very successful game Firaxis released *last year*, when you don’t really have anything good to replace it with.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            What you’re saying does make some sense, but I’ve never been able to get as angry as some seem to be about this sort of thing.

            Personally, I think it’d be great if someone played around with the Lord of The Rings like that, and I think Tolkien would dig it too, as he was a professor of Anglo-Saxon and a folklore nerd and so likely understood the importance of successive changes in popular stories.

            That might not be entirely relevant here, but I think that creating new art under old names can give a satisfying sense of progression. But then maybe some see this game as regression.

          • Lanfranc says:

            Who cares about being “disrespectful” to the author? It’s just that you can’t do it without approval while the work is still in copyright, and the Tolkien estate is notoriously strict about its properties. But wait and see what happens when LOTR enters the public domain in 2043. #FunTimesAhead

          • jalf says:

            That might not be entirely relevant here, but I think that creating new art under old names can give a satisfying sense of progression. But then maybe some see this game as regression.

            I think it is very relevant here. But what bothers me is that this isn’t progression, because it doesn’t take what already existed and builds on that. It completely ignores what already existed. That dissonance is what bothers me. When you play Firaxis’ XCOM, you get the very clear impression that “this is the first time we have seen alien life on Earth. This is a new and scary situation”. But if you then play The Bureau, you’re told “actually, XCOM has dealt with all this before.”

            And if you play the two games in in-universe chronological order, then Firaxis’ game is the one that’ll come across as retarded. “Why do you sound so surprised about ‘alien life on Earth’, science lady? I literally just finished dealing with the *previous* alien invasion”. They could at least keep it consistent.

            To me, it’s the difference between adding to, and building on, someone else’s story, and retconning someone else’s story.

            The latter bothers me. If you’re going to build on an existing story, then at least try to keep it consistent. Try not to contradict the existing story.

            It doesn’t make me “angry”, and I’m not sure if I’d call it “a problem”. But it’s silly and pointless, and I think it is disrespectful towards the source material and the people behind that.

        • Bhazor says:

          The reason was that it would have been the death of the genre. At the time there were no turn based games at all beyond a couple paradox grand strategy games. Cue 2K declaring that the genre was “no longer relevant” and that they were seeking to tap into the “new audience”. This is 2K by the way whose best selling franchise is Civilization.

          Ironically this is identical to the thinking that killed Microprose and the original series of Xcom games in the first place. When XCom was snatched from the bosom of Gollop and hurled to the harsh unforgiving realm of infinite horse shit that is video game publisher boardrooms it triggered the first aneurysm of the genre. A genre that was then on critical life support for nearly a decade with just the occasional twitch (Advance Wars) or trickle of urine (Final Fantasy Tactics) to show there was something still in there.

  4. mkraven says:

    Looks good to me!

  5. MeestaNob says:

    It looks disappointingly futuristic. I realise they are taking alien tech and re-purposing it, but at the end of the day they are still in the 60′s and I really don’t think vests and turtle neck sweaters are enough for the game to maintain the period as a point of difference from the (new) original game.

    Looking increasingly like a missed opportunity (again).

    • nearly says:

      I really don’t understand how they can justify having the futuristic stuff in. Even aside from Enemy Unknown, having access to advanced alien technology in the 50s makes it really hard to suspend disbelief.

  6. Sandepande says:

    If it has all that tech-gathering and researching and dreadful deaths, I’m happy enough. I would have preferred something more low-key and suspenseful, like scenes of butchery in lonely farmhouses and eerie suburban neighbourhoods where everybody seems a bit wrong. Hats and shotguns, that sort of thing.

  7. b0rsuk says:

    The original X-COM didn’t have much of a story. It was a story generator. The new X-COM doesn’t utilize such obsolete concepts.

  8. phelix says:

    I swear to God, I’m starting to hear Steve Blum in everything.

  9. BobbyDylan says:

    I’ll wait on the reviews. THe game-play doesn’t appeal to me as much as XCOM EU did, so I wont be pre-ordering.

  10. kwyjibo says:

    I much preferred the live action trailer. That was all menace and mystery.

    I also preferred it when it was an FPS, but apparently, 2K thought that a Mass Effect clone was somehow truer to XCOM.

    So now instead of level design, we get flat expanses with immersion breaking conspicuously placed cover. In the trailer above, they’re fighting in some sort of public park. Only the whole thing is paved over, and there are arbitrary walls inserted for no good reason. If you’re going to set something in a park, use the terrain and trees for cover, not a fucking cover-wall.

    Mass Effect would have cover walls in the middle of a fucking wilderness.

  11. Jason Moyer says:

    Man I’m glad Jordan Thomas left, because that means I no longer have to buy this as part of my “buy everything 2K Marin puts out because Jordan Thomas = solid gold policy”.

    • MajorManiac says:

      I didn’t know who Jordan Thomas was until I checked after reading your comment. His games portfolio looks like this:

      1999 – Drakan: Order of the Flame
      2001 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
      2004 – Thief: Deadly Shadows
      2007 – BioShock
      2010 – BioShock 2
      …And helped with BioShock Infinite

      Thats not a bad list of games. Can’t wait to see what he does next.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        He designed Return To The Cradle for Thief Deadly Shadows and Fort Frolic for BioShock, in addition to being the lead designer on BioShock 2. He was also presumably the lead designer during the initial concept phase of XCOM back when it looked like an amazing game (before the entire internet had an “OMG U RUINED X-COM 4EVER” nerd spasm).

      • jonahcutter says:

        He’s launched himself into indie-land it seems:

        http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/jordan-thomas/

        Looking forward to whatever he comes up with, though it’s probably quite a ways off.

    • Bhazor says:

      … seriously? He’s done two levels of note and a mediocre retcon happy sequel. That’s hardly enough to declare him a gleaming game design god. I mean it doesn’t help that Fort Frolic clearly “took inspiration” from the mall level in Condemned: Criminal Origins.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        The mall level? You mean the department store? Not to piss on that level (Condemned is a great game) but there was a lot more going on in Fort Frolic than jump scares.

        Oh, and BioShock 2 was better than the original game. In every way.

        • jonahcutter says:

          “Oh, and BioShock 2 was better than the original game. In every way.”

          Agree with this, except for the clarity of the story. Putting one misbegotten philosophy up on display and showing what would result from it made more effective for the story-telling, than having an ongoing debate between it and another philosophy.

          Otherwise, BioShock 2 has more interesting gameplay pretty much all around. And I didn’t even mind BS1′s pipe-flow minigame.

        • CutieKnucklePie says:

          “Oh, and BioShock 2 was better than the original game. In every way.”

          God no. Being a sequel it did have the inevitable improvement in mechanics and graphics with regards to the previous game, but the story was a sham compared to the first, as well as the characterization (Sophia Lamb is NOT a better antagonist than Andrew Ryan, sorry.). The area design did look pretty in BS2, but suffered from a lack of restraint. It looked overstuffed, bloated and the whole game lacked the ambience of the first. Also, the level of retcon fever with regards to the story was just astonishing: it’s like they were childishly trying to one-up or tweak every little thing from the original. They even managed to make Ryan almost wholly irrelevant.

          And oh man.. playing as a Big Daddy. JUST. NO. It was great when the BDs were simply tragic monsters to be overcome or watch out for. I wonder who was writing letters to 2K asking for that tacked-on part at the end of BS to become a full-fledged game.

  12. MajorManiac says:

    I always get excited when a game looks like its going to be the next SWAT 4 with a twist. But then each time it seems to change into something bland. This and Colonial Marines have both done this.

    Look forward to the review as it may be a surprise hit.

  13. Eddy9000 says:

    “1960′s x-files”

    Or they could have made “Dark Skies – the videogame” which would have made me squee with delight.

  14. icemann says:

    I preferred the FPS XCOM as well, though it was definitely more of a X-Files game than an XCOM. Shame they didn’t continue that + do this new style of game as each is good in its own way.

    End of the day we got the XCOM game we wanted in the style we wanted (the firaxis one) so I’m all for side games that go for new styles.

  15. jonahcutter says:

    “Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I actually think the original concept for what eventually went on to become The Bureau: XCOM Declassified would’ve made for a pretty cool game…”

    I don’t know if you’re in the minority, but you’re not alone.

    As others have pointed out, they completely the fan backlash against the earlier concept. If they had slapped a new title on it or just waited for the XCOM turn-based reboot to come out, they’d of been fine and we’d have what looked like a far more interesting game. One that doesn’t completely gut the storyline of the turn-based version’s “first contact” storyline.

    Playing a game where you had to both discover dangerous mysteries and then keep them secret Men In Black-style sounds great. What they’re pushing here looks vaguely fun and almost completely forgettable.

  16. The Random One says:

    In the previous article you also made the X-Com Declassified Declassified joke, and in the comments of the one before someone points out how strange it is that you hadn’t made that joke.

  17. eclipse mattaru says:

    Ah, it was as easy as not calling it XCOM anymore and sticking to the shapeshifting black blobs, the first person camera and the fedoras. THAT I would have preordered during the concept sketching stage already.

    This? I couldn’t care less about this if I died and was reborn in a parallel universe where caring about stuff was outlawed and I was the most generic, law-abiding citizen you could think of.

    Hell, I would’ve sworn that the major problem everyone had was the name co-opting thing; and these guys tried to fix it by changing everything EXCEPT the name.

    I guess I will never understand this industry.

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