XCOM is back. Again! Only now 2K Marin's tactical shooter goes by a different name -- The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. We went hands-on with the game last week, and you'll be able to read our full preview and interview with producer Nico Bihary tomorrow. In the meantime, however, we realise that Marin's game, met with heavily polarised reactions when it was first announced way back in 2010, disappeared from view for a year or two. Much has changed since we saw it back at E3 in 2011, but here are eight reasons why we reckon it's worth a second chance having resurfaced now...
The Original Idea Didn't Suck
Let's clarify this. The very first notion -- the brief , unexpanded idea of rebooting X-COM as a shooter -- was awful. We strode into the makeshift presentation cinema at E3 back in 2011 fully prepared for a disaster. But instead, 2K Marin admitted that they'd made a huge mistake, and revealed that the game would now be a much more strategic venture.
To cut a long story short, read our XCOM preview from two years back: what Marin had in mind back then was perhaps clumsily conveyed, but it had promise. Promise that's now been realised.
The Pressure Is Off
X-COM is an IP with deep resonance thanks to gamers with long memories, and with that in mind, it's no surprise that the original reboot idea kicked up an enormous shitstorm.
But then we got what we wanted: Firaxis quickly put together and released Enemy Unknown, which both captured the essence of the series' original games, and brought rich, turn-based sci-fi strategy up to date and onto consoles. Sated by the efforts of Meier and co., perhaps now gamers might be more amenable to something a little bit different.
Also, don't fail to note the little rebranding. With the entire legacy of X-COM on its shoulders, the original idea would have no doubt been crushed under the weight of expectation. Now, however, if 2K can hit a release window sweet spot just ahead of next-gen, there's not nearly as much pressure.
It's Different, But It's Also Delightfully Familiar
Enemy Unknown has fulfilled another role too, giving 2K Marin a suite of rich tools from which to borrow or simply repurpose. In fact, The Bureau plays much like how you might expect a live-action version of Enemy Unknown to play thanks to the cribbed shield indicator for cover, the move to a more tactical, over-the-shoulder third-person view, and a heavy emphasis on group tactics.
The fact that what we've seen of it so far had us fighting Sectoids and Mutons helped as well. Make no mistake about it, this is certainly an X-COM game.
Classic Classes, Progression, Customisation Are All In
Throughout the game, you're accompanied by two squad mates chosen from a total of four different types of agent: Commando, Support, Recon, and Engineer. As you'd expect, each class come with unique abilities and equipment specialisations, with a branching progression tree that'll give you the chance to level them up as you see fit. Custom loadouts, outfits, and collectible schematics for tech packs that can provide passive buffs make for a team that you can deck out however you like. You can have up to six agents on your roster, and send the benched operatives out on missions in absentia so they can at least level up a little whilst you're out gallivanting with your lead team.
And you'll need backup squadmates, because...
Permadeath Is Mandatory
We love permadeath here at Dealspwn. It promotes an emotional attachment to characters in the game, because you know the stakes are high. You focus more because there's more to lose, and you find yourself more engrossed because of it.
There's no casual mode here, no escape from the consequences of your actions,, and I'm just going to leave this quote from producer Nico Bihari here:
"The main purpose that permadeath serves in most games is that it illicits a sense of seriousness, and places responsibility upon the player to use their resources and units effectively, or at least not recklessly. You know that you can't just run in and start firing away without there being consequences. And it makes attachment to your characters so much more real, when you know that you can lose them.
"So we want players to respect the rules and systems we've set up; we want them to think about how they approach problems, and use their tools effectively; we want them thinking strategically; and we want them to also feel empowered with he suite of moves that their agents will have on the battlefield should you train them up. At the same time, we have a responsibility as designers to ensure we're being respectful of the battle areas, to make sure that the balancing is right, that the game is compelling and engrossing and challenging without ever cheating the player or making things unfair."
The Game Feels Like Enemy Unknown Crossed With Mass Effect
We'll go into this in more detail in tomorrow's full preview, but yeah. Imagine a more hardcore Mass Effect 3 with a heavier, almost fundamental emphasis on battle strategy, an even slicker radial command wheel (called Battle Focus here), and AI that actually follows instructions.
Alternatively, imagine a real-time version of Enemy Unknown where you're given direct control, but it's still hard as balls, and any heroic flights of fancy about running-and-gunning are met with a quick death.
It sounds awesome.
No-One's Tried To Tell This Story Before
Origin stories can be a little bit divisive, particularly if you have to fudge super-fun mechanisms and ideas back into the past somehow without breaking canon. But in a way, a different style of game makes perfect sense for a time before XCOM became an enormous global entity. The tech is still lacking to a certain point, warding off enemies is still a rather direct process, and the level of environmental detail appears to be promising.
Perhaps most intriguing, though, is the pledge that we'll be able to affect the narrative in certain ways through action and also little dialogue moments.
2K Marin Are A Damn Good Studio
Bioshock 2 is really good. Really good. And Irrational weren't shy about sharing a hefty chunk of the development work on Bioshock Infinite with Marin. The developers at the Pacific studio know how to tell a story, they're more mechanically competent than Irrational, and they know not only how to work within the confines of an existing IP, but how to explore and expand on it too.
Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a double bill of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified goodness and our blowout interview with Nico Bihary.