There are four difficulty levels in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and they are as follows: Rookie, Squaddie, Veteran, Commander. The game defaults to the third one, Veteran, and I’m prone to playing games on their default settings, as I imagine this is what developers intend for players to select. That said, the naming convention here confuses me, as you’d think a veteran would be the harder difficulty since veterans have already gone through trying times while commanders are seemingly still in it, giving the charges; also, for some reason, I want to swap the order of Rookie and Squaddie.
Regardless, Veteran is pretty tough to play on, especially in the earlier sections, and I nearly gave up on the game as a whole because it is no fun restarting entire sections four to five times in a row, simply because your team now takes more damage easily and enemies absorb bullets like walking sponges with laser guns. Actually, here’s what makes this difficulty different than others:
Enemies are challenging and use different tactics. Companions, who are not healed in time, die permanently. New agents can be recruited only between missions.
Fine. Though I’ve not yet played XCOM: Enemy Unknown–it is still sitting quietly and patiently in my long string of PlayStation Plus titles, I understand that, similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening, permadeath is a big part of the gameplay. You name your characters, you grow attach to them as they level up and earn more skills, and then you feel it in your heart when they go down, down for good. I lost a handful of dapper dudes early on in William Carter’s quest to save Earth from alien takeover, but I did not shed a tear or even remember who bought the farm by the next level, considering you can just grab another generic soldier-man from the vault, so this difficulty’s impact of permadeath was not very impactful.
Okay, I’m getting ahead of things as usual. Plot summary time! It’s 1962, John F. Kennedy is President, and the nation is gripped by fear due to the Cold War. A top-secret government unit called “The Bureau” begins investigating and concealing a series of mysterious attacks by enemies from outer space. Gotta keep things hush-hush. The Bureau’s mission is pretty simple–survive, adapt, and overcome the enemy threat. Good thing that every soldier in The Bureau has superpowers, like lifting an enemy up and out from behind cover or creating a support drone from thin air or laying down a landmine from thirty feet away. I kid, I kid–after all, it’s just a videogame.
Here’s a lot of what I liked about The Bureau: XCOM Declassified: one of the earlier levels opens with a Connie Francis song playing, the infected people are genuinely disturbing to look at and listen to, you can wander the base between missions for side quests and extra bits of dialogue and collectibles, soldiers’ clothes can be altered in terms of cool colors, overall the experience has style, and totally dominating a group of enemies before they even knew you were there thanks to the aforementioned superpowers feels out-of-this-world amazing.
Unfortunately, there’s more to dislike than like here, and the set difficulty really put me off for a while, but a lot of that was my stubbornness to stick with it. Still, after leveling up a few soldiers and learning what abilities/combos worked best (I was a big fan of a support agent and engineer agent helping Carter out), I was doing just fine through the last two-thirds, only occasionally surviving a firefight by the skin of my teeth. Until the final fight that is, which ultimately required I used a whole different cast of characters since some abilities are better than others during the final mission’s onslaught of waves. A big bummer. That said, your companions are complete dolts and require an extremely high level of babysitting, to the point where you spend more time pulling up the companion wheel and issuing commands than firing your gun at the distant enemies. It gets even more tiresome the minute one friend goes down, as everyone needs to drop everything to revive them ASAP.
However, in the end, it just wasn’t a ton of fun to play, and perhaps part of that is, despite being a rather new genre from last generation, I am not extremely excited by cover-based shooters mostly because they are highly predictable. There’s a post about this growing in my drafts folder, as games like Mass Effect and Gears of War make it crystal clear when a fight is about to go down. You know this because you’ll go down a tight corridor or hallway and emerge into a larger space, one dotted with walls and other means of cover. Alas, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified does this every time too, with maybe one or two spots where it caught me off guard. The story implies that you’ll be doing a lot of “covering up,” but only a few missions or dialogue choices talked about this, with a lot of the story simply being kill aliens, destroy their technology, and save the humans. Perhaps I’ll enjoy XCOM: Enemy Unknown more, whenever I get around to it.