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Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bureau Review: A Critical Conspiracy.

 "You are not the first civilization to resist us... you will not be the last to thank us."

I'm sure you've all seen the reviews of The Bureau and by now I'm sure you think you have a good idea about the game's shortcomings. For the most part, they're right. This thing has been stewing in the crock pot for nearly four years and what's on the market should have been more polished and professional than what I just played.

It was branded with the name "XCOM." A brand many well reasoned critics believe houses the greatest video game, period. After Enemy Unknown barnstormed metacritic last year, expectations were high to say the least. The Bureau does not reach those expectations. You can't research equipment or build facilities. The permadeath system is as easy to exploit as simply reloading a checkpoint. The frame rate on the PC is... less than ideal. If these details are deal breakers, then I can't help you.

But if not, then please, hear me out. I rarely take exception to other critic's reviews, reviews being subjective and all. But Dan Stapleton's and Jim Sterling's take on TB (which is an awful abbreviation) don't seem as critical to me as they are willfully dismissive of what this game does accomplish.

"Sir! Could you please stop making "pew pew" sounds with your fingers and fire your weapon... sir."

The combat. the combat is wonderful. It's so good it made me rethink my opinion on another tactical shooter. I'm talking Mass Effect, a game I've played over and over to bits. You see, I don't just play one. To me, 2 and 3 were expansion packs. I love those games, but TB noticed some slack in it's fighting style and fixed it. The ME squad mates really didn't matter much. They would help out sometimes, but their cool down rates were never fast enough to rely upon and I only used them to mop up my own missed headshot screw ups. They were well written bangles I'd only switch out for a change of banter. TB is different. You. Need. These. Guys.

The first couple missions you don't have much to work with, but once you and your motley crew get a couple of powers to bounce off each other, things get much more interesting. There's a great balance across all four classes and lots of different ways to level em' up. Do you want your engineer to have a rapid fire laser cannon for suppression, or slower plasma rockets for damage? Do you want a soldier with a plasma bomb, or a soldier that can buff anyone with a couple bars of shielding?

After tooling around with every class (soldier, sniper, support, engineer) None of them are weak links and they all play off each other brilliantly. For example: my support weakens a muton's armor, buffs my sniper, and said sniper calls down an artillery strike on the poor f**k. Dead muton. The cool down times are also very well adjusted for the sweet spot that keeps you from spamming anything, but they always seem to reload when you need it most. I had a blast with nearly every tactic and squad load out I tried and that has never happened before with any game I've played.

"For the last time, I'm not John Slattery."
But what about the setting? The story? The dialogue? Well... it ain't Mass Effect, that's for sure. The facial animation is all right, and the script as well as the acting are above average at worst. Again, this is far from the likes of Bioware, but better than Skyrim if that makes sense. It's the Bureau's sense of time and place that validates it's candidacy in my library as a hidden gem instead of a nice try. The early 60's America perverted by a modern take on Sci-Fi architecture is fully realized and haunting. I am a man who enjoys his fedoras, I can't pull them off personally, but I love anything that can put them somewhere that makes them feel heroic instead of hipsterish.

Do you want to give a martian a face full of buckshot while wearing a dope suit and tie? I did, it felt great. But extra kudos must be given for the last mission I had that suit. I had to take on a drop ship, and the sucker blew my hat off. But it was ok, a button prompt let me pick it back up. I was regulated to a cable knit sweater for the rest of the game... that was pretty disappointing, but you can paint it (and all your squad's clothes) any color you want. Oh, and the randomly generated squaddie names are rockwellianly delightful.

So I get a lot of people were disappointed you couldn't research and build new equipment. I agree, how hard would a currency system of any kind be to put in a four year old game? To most it seemed to render the massive XCOM base pointless. An "appropriate metaphor" for TB's unfulfilled ambitions. It's certainly not as engaging as EU's custom built command center, but neither is it a lifeless barbie dream house. Between missions you can wander around and listen to manic scientists, terrified soldiers, indifferent engineers, and paranoid tac comms banter with the best of them. There are some great little conversations if you're willing to give em' a listen. There's also a handful of side quests in the base, that in turn, unlock dispatch missions. Those help level up your off duty squaddies and earn new backpack mods. EU just made em' sit in the barracks twiddling their thumbs, for the record.  

Dope. Ass. Jumpsuit and tie.
But the pièce de résistance is the finale. Just when you think they're gonna wrap it up with a BS cliffhanger, the plot twists down a winding 2 hour road leading a fitting conclusion. The last fire fight in particular broke me over it's knee 3 or 4 times... in a good way. It wasn't just a clown car scenario, it was five smartly structured waves of all the toughest enemies that demanded every trick in my bag. I was happy with what I'd seen before that room, but now I'm seriously head over heels.

It's true I wanted to like this game going in, maybe that colored my expectations too much. But I've tried to like games this much before, I try to like all games I wind up playing. But I wasn't this happy with Dead Space 3 (very good, wore out it's welcome) or Tomb Raider (really liked it once... couldn't beat it again for some reason) or even Guacamelee (way, way, way too short). In fact, my working title was going to be "The Bureau Review: I want to Believe." But no, The Bureau was just too damn fun for it to simply be a guilty pleasure. I think the critical reception was uniformly unfair, I'm not sure why. I'm not saying anyone's opinion is "wrong" there are no such things. But I hope TB finds it's audience, it certainly found me.

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