Over the last week, rumors have swirled that we’d finally find out what the hell has been going on with the long-in-development XCOM shooter. But for months prior, we’ve heard that the game had been massively retooled, going from first-person to third-person shooter, that it had gone from retail to digital release, that it would no longer even be part of the XCOM universe.
The rumors were almost all wrong: the XCOM shooter is still an XCOM shooter. It’s not a digital-only release. It’s called The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and it’s a third-person, squad-based shooter prequel to the XCOM: Enemy Unknown turn-based strategy game released late last year to critical acclaim. And the above live-action trailer looks like a great movie that I would definitely watch. So it’s got a lot going for it. It’s scheduled to come out on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on August 20.
A post on Joystiq from late last night (or early this morning, depending on your perspective) has plenty of details directly from publisher 2K Games. The Bureau starts out in 1962, and tells the story of how the XCOM initiative came to be. Players take the role of Special Agent William Carter, and he commands a squad of customizable agents who assist him in the field. Like a proper XCOM title, when they die, they’re dead. But unlike a proper XCOM title, the action unfolds in real-time—which, admittedly, is pretty important in any shooter.
Alyssa Finley, VP of 2K Games Product Development, explains the initial premise of the game’s story, which, to be completely honest, sounds pretty good to me:
“The Bureau’s initial charter was to investigate a series of incidents that the government thought were all Soviet infiltration and maybe a precursor to a nuclear war. Turns out, those incidents were of a far more extraterrestrial origin. The Bureau has to quickly adapt from their original charter to become the kind of organization that could identify alien threats, find ways to turn the alien technology against them and cover up evidence of what happened so that the American public could go on with their lives and not go into a panic about being invaded by aliens.”
The post also features a quote from Nico Bihary, a senior producer with the game’s development studio, 2K Marin—the studio that made BioShock 2. Bihary talks about the way that Firaxis’s XCOM reboot influenced this game, which had actually been in development for far longer. He says that Firaxis’s game helped 2K Marin’s project quite a bit, laying the groundwork for his team to fill in the gaps for an origin story. “It’s been contextualized for us,” he says, “so if we tell an origin story, people understand what we’re talking about.”
A Eurogamer post on the reveal has a quote from 2K Marin’s creative director Morgan Gray, who explains the role tactics play on the game:
“The team has been working hard to leverage core XCOM elements like tactical decision-making and permanent death of squad mates in a purposeful way that makes this a unique tactical shooter. To that end, The Bureau will challenge players unlike any other third-person tactical shooter.”
The post also notes that pre-ordering the game will provide a DLC mission called “Codebreakers.”
Now, I’m smack dab in the middle of watching Star Trek: Enterprise, which is a prequel series of one of the more culturally significant American television franchises. It’s got a pretty established continuity, and exploring that universe’s origins is, at the end of the day, a monumental waste of time. It’s got me feeling pretty unhappy about just about any kind of prequel these days.
That said, The Bureau seems different. For one, with the Firaxis reboot, all the continuity of the previous games it’s based on has been wiped away anyway. For another, setting an alien-fighting game in the 1960s is a great idea from an aesthetic point of view. As long as the gameplay doesn’t stink and the game doesn’t come out broken, there really aren’t a lot of ways for this to go poorly. And considering how little of last year’s XCOM is actually made up of story, The Bureau can have a lot of fun creating a narrative that simply sets up the fact that there is an organization called XCOM in the future.
Now, as to whether a third-person, real-time shooter should even be called XCOM is another question entirely. So I ask you: what do you think so far? Maybe it’s the coffee talking, but I’m very interested in this, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the final product (especially since it’s gone from first-person to third-person perspective, which I greatly prefer). But what are your thoughts? Am I being too optimistic for a game that’s been in development since the mid-2000s? Or did they finally get this thing right?