I am an addict. I’ve been clean for about 12 hours, but I don’t plan on staying clean. I am addicted to a game that respectable gamers might not touch. Many people who are familiar with this title have decried it for being an abomination—a game not worthy of the noble franchise name it bears. But I’m not ashamed. I love this game, and I will continue to be addicted to it for as long as I’m a gamer.
What knock-off or low-budget one-off could possibly have such a hold over an otherwise perfectly reasonable gamer? It’s actually no such title. I’m addicted to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
It’s strange—the game’s far from perfect, but, for some reason, I absolutely love it. For some two reasons, actually.
It’s not like I don’t know what people are saying: The Bureau is glitchy, the story is bad, the voice acting is corny, and the hybridization of RTS and third-person shooting takes two vastly different genres and weaves them together in a way that alienates both shooter fans and real-time strategists. But I still love it.
In fact, the first reason I love it is because of these “flaws.” I’ve only run into a couple of glitches that actually affect the gameplay, and the cheesy storyline and voice acting make me feel like I’m playing through an old ‘70s-era B-movie. In reviews, PSU’s own Kyle Prahl and other critics have complained that the main character, Agent William Carter, is unnecessarily gruff and that the story and soundtrack are underwhelming. That is absolutely correct, and I think that is what the developers at 2K Marin were going for. When you are able to immerse yourself in such quaint anachronism, the overall effect is rather charming. Let’s face it, XCOM has never been the most believable franchise, and I think the developers at 2K are embracing the more fantastical elements of the concept.
As for the quality of the story, not every game needs to be executed with the same gravitas as The Last of Us. It seemed like The Bureau was an intentional move on the part of the developers to immerse players in an experience that felt more like playing through Mars Attacks than seminal blockbuster Independence Day. In a sense, The Bureau is really just the cult classic of the XCOM family. In the same way that some people like Deadly Premonition or Psi-Ops: The Mindgate Conspiracy, I like The Bureau—not because it’s incredibly polished, but because it resonates with me.
What’s really irritating is when people criticize The Bureau because ‘it’s not XCOM.’ It’s not supposed to be XCOM—at least not in the sense that the naysayers mean. As it stands, The Bureau represents a daring experiment in genre jumping that deserves to be evaluated on its own terms. Gamers who think that games that jump genres are always doomed to failure are forgetting their history. Halo had a very well -received RTS called Halo Wars earlier this generation, and Fallout was originally a turn-based RPG before it transitioned into the wildly successful open-world classic it is today. It’s not fair to say that this XCOM title is bad just because it’s not turn-based and doesn’t play like other games in the franchise. Every game deserves to be judged on its own merits, within the context of its own mythos. Sure, The Bureau isn’t another The Last of Us or Heavy Rain, but not every game needs to be hyper-realistic. Some games are just fun for the escapism they offer. This is the case with The Bureau. It’s not supposed to leave people with deep questions about the nature of humanity. It’s just supposed to give people a good time blowing up aliens, and it does that well.
As for the complaints about gameplay, it’s fair to say that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified isn’t for everyone. If you want a polished third-person shooter or hardcore RTS, you should probably look elsewhere. But if, like me, you enjoyed Star Wars: Republic Commando, The Bureau is very much a spiritual successor to that game. The historical irony is, Star Wars games are so varied that Republic Commando was evaluated on its own merits, not held up in comparison to other Star Wars games. Consequently, that game was considered groundbreaking rather than genre breaking.
But there’s a second, more important reason why I love The Bureau: XCOM Declassified: it’s accessible. As a gamer with a fine motor disability, I have trouble with twitch-based shooters like Call of Duty and Halo. Even third person shooters like Star Wars: Battlefront can be taxing if they require too much precision. Hence, it’s nice to see a third-person shooter that lets players slow the action way down and queue up orders for individual agents. This means that players don’t have to constantly mash buttons and triggers to stay alive. And because I can make my agents lock-on to enemies, I don’t have to worry about tracking moving targets, which can be difficult since my reflexes are somewhat slow. This mechanic also alleviates any concerns about precision. Because of this, even the limited amount of control customization doesn’t hinder the game’s accessibility. So many games out there pose serious problems to disabled gamers that when one comes along which is not only accessible for players like me with fine motor disabilities, but also for those with hearing and sight disabilities, I think it deserves a little slack—even if it isn’t as polished as it could have been.
Josh Straub is a PSU contributor and editor-in-chief for DAGERS, a site that evaluates video games based on their physical accessibility for the disabled. On a weekly basis, he writes reviews, previews, and editorials on topics related to game accessibility. For more information, please visit dagersystem.com.