2K Games has finally blown the lid off their XCOM shooter, which is now being called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
“What we set out to do at 2K Marin is to find a third-person tactical squad-based combat expression of the classic XCOM pillars,” says creative director Morgan Gray, “which we like to call Team, Tactics, Technology, Tools, Tension, and Terror.”
By and large, The Bureau is familiar territory for anyone who has been following the XCOM shooter. In development since 2006, The Bureau is a period piece set in 1962, during the height of the cold war—specifically, during JFK’s term, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs operation. Tension in America is still running as high as ever. To combat this, the government sets up The Bureau, a clandestine organization tasked with monitoring communist activity across the U.S. But when a series of extraterrestrial attacks happen, The Bureau is reassigned to investigate and cover up these attacks in an effort to prevent widespread panic.
2K Marin’s goal was to create a game not so much third-person omniscient, as Enemy Unknown is, but rather third-person subjective—to put players in the shoes of an XCOM operative and get the more direct, more immediate experience. In The Bureau, players assume control of William Carter, described by the team as a “fierce, loyal, and experienced operative” and a bit of a “loner who likes to work on his own.” 2K’s XCOM title is, more than anything else, an origin story—a first-hand account of how the XCOM from Enemy Unknown came into being.
The heart of XCOM, 2K acknowledges, is its strategic elements, so it became necessary to incorporate these into The Bureau. Said strategic elements manifest themselves through the “Battle Focus Mode,” which allows players to order their squadmates to flank, fall back, cover Carter, provide cover fire—all in real time.
“The emphasis on tactics is pretty serious for us in that we want to avoid anything like a run-and-gun, hallway shooter sort of vibe that feels a little too Rambo,” says Gray. “Obviously, as an XCOM game, it’s about a small unit out on the battlefield having to work together to fight what is generally always a superior foe.”
Agents—including Carter—will have powers and abilities that are customizable, and those powers and abilities will be accessible to the player through Battle Focus Mode. The Bureau also boasts RPG-like leveling mechanics, enabling Carter and his fellow agents to earn new tools, weapons, and powers as they chalk up more experience in the field.
Failure to execute strategic moves, however, comes with consequences. Now, for the player, that might only mean the archaic Game Over screen. But for their squadmates, it means permadeath—a staple of the XCOM franchise. In other words, if you’ve invested hours of time into one of Carter’s squadmates, you better be meticulous about caring for them, because one careless slip up could mean their death.
The Bureau also serves as a bridge designed to cater to both fans of Firaxis’ strategy-RPG and players who might be put off by the genre, but interested in the universe—a best of both worlds scenario.
“I’m an old-school gamer, and I remember the days when games weren’t instantly accessible, or not super-easy,” says Gray. “Games like Demon’s Soul and Enemy Unknown show that there are gamers out there that are looking for true challenges, games that require skillful play. So that helped liberate us from feeling that we needed to be ultra, ultra accessible and dilute that hardcore experience that the franchise is known for, and allowed us to focus on getting some good tactical depth.”
2K Marin acknowledges that Enemy Unknown’s success “absolutely” had an impact on The Bureau, and as a result the two studios have been in constant communication. “There are definitely collaborations between 2K Marin and Firaxis in terms of the XCOM universe,” adds Gray. “We’re telling an origin story, and we have nods that lead up to where their game kicks off. So there is a tie. Conversations between the developers have occurred throughout the development of the project.”
What is now known as The Bureau made its last significant appearance at E3 2011—but the game was announced back in 2006. Why go dark? “When we came out in 2011, we showed a rough version of the game focused on showing tactics,” says Gray. “We spent the last number of years going dark because we’ve been iterating on that vision we showed—it’s one thing to show 20 minutes of game together to say, ‘This is what we’re shooting for,’ and obviously another thing to make a whole game’s worth of that.”
So XCOM lives on, now through The Bureau, which invades PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 August 20 in North America, August 23 internationally.