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Review: XCOM: Enemy Within

Nov 11 // Chris Carter
XCOM: Enemy Within (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesRelease Date: November 12, 2013MSRP: $29.99 (PC download upgrade) / $39.99 (Console disc) Enemy Within is still the same great turn-based strategy game you played last year, but with a number of added maps, customization options, enemy types, and missions mixed in. It's a really weird way to approach an expansion (almost like an RTS, blending in new and old), and when it was announced I was apprehensive. At first, I thought I'd have to play through the same game again, with the occasional bit of mixed content -- but as I soon found out, there was a lot more added than I had previously assumed. Enemy Unknown was the original title of the game due to the fact that you literally had to discover how to vanquish XCOM's alien menace with very little knowledge going in. Gradually, you would research corpses and live specimens, slowly developing the skillset and upgrades required to best them. It was a unique way to tie in a mechanical crescendo in with the narrative, and it worked out wonderfully for Unknown. But now, the new Within moniker refers to a new enemy -- your own kind, the human race. Instead of simply dealing with an unrelenting horde of extraterrestrials, now you have to deal with organizations on earth trying to put a stop to the XCOM Initiative and bringing you down. While this may not seem like a huge change, it significantly alters the narrative in the sense that everything is a lot more bleak -- which has ramifications not only on the way the story is told, but actual gameplay as well. For starters, a new foe emerges in the form of EXALT -- a super villain-like organization that will stop at nothing to shut you down. They're a thorn in your side in many ways than just physical altercations, hacking your mainframe and raising hell across the world in the form of enhanced panic (if a country reaches a panic level that's too high, they pull out of the program, which contributes to a game over). Missions of the EXALT variety are more covert affairs, kitting down your troops into a more subversive toolset, with pistols and sneaking equipment. The new human AI opponents are fun to fight and do a good job of mixing things up for when you get tired of fighting aliens over and over. Beating EXALT is also a game of cat and mouse, as you eventually have to find out where they're located and shut them down permanently -- or just deal with them, or ignore them entirely with the consequences in tow. You'll have to slowly hunt them down Clue style, and accuse a country of harboring them. Accuse wrongly, and that country pulls out of the program (see a pattern, here?). You'll also have to deal with new alien enemies like the Mechtoid (you guessed it -- an alien mech), and the squid-like Seekers, which can cloak, fly, and strangle your party, among other foes. In short, the game is absolute hell, and is working to crush your spirits around the clock. On Iron Man mode (a setting that prevents re-loading saves) and a high difficulty setting, it's one of the hardest modern games ever created. It's this madness that contributes to the magic of XCOM, and why so many people find it so appealing in an age where games constantly hold your hand and tell you how to win. Having said all that, it is possible to beat the game -- you have the technology! A new substance called "Meld" is now hidden on almost every map, which allows you to perform two new major upgrades on your troops -- exoskeletal cybersuits (MECs), and genetic enhancements. MEC soldiers, at the cost of ripping off their arms and legs for cybernetic implants, have their own tree, weaponsets (like flamethrowers), and unique movement properties, not to mention the fact that their hulking physique looks damn cool on the battlefield. The other big upgrade is the ability to genetically alter your team with options like superior eyesight and Bioelectric skin implants. These upgrades allow you to, as the game calls it, become a "little bit alien." The over-the-top modifications are not only fun to play around with, but they make the world more harrowing and real. Now, the people of earth are significantly altering their bodies just to avoid extinction, to the point where they can barely even be classified as human beings. It all serves to add to the allure of the XCOM universe and add a sense of hopelessness. Another great thing about these two upgrades is that it all feeds into the core game's central tenet of allowing you to play the way you want to play. If you want to only help out certain countries, build an army of MECs, and have an all-female unit -- you can do that. If you want a tactical team of genetic super soldiers all named after Saturday morning cartoons, you can customize that too. With the new additions in Within, the sky is the limit. In addition to that, there's further amounts of customization to get lost in like new outfits and national accents which help give you a sense that the conflict is a real worldwide affair, and not within the confines of a US-centric sphere. There are also a number of interface and mechanical changes, most notably a new tutorial for the Within features, as well as tougher AI, more skills, and 47 new maps that are mixed in throughout the entire game. Controller support on the PC still works great, and I used it throughout my entire playthrough. If you haven't played the newest XCOM yet, now is a perfect time to do so with the Enemy Within package. For all the XCOM veterans out there, you'll find a solid amount of new activities to engage in, as well as an unprecedented amount of squad customization. In other words, this is now the definitive Enemy experience.
XCOM: Enemy Within photo
It almost feels like a sequel
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of my favorite games of 2012. As a fan of the original franchise back in the '90s, I felt like it did an excellent job of not only re-introducing the once-beloved franchise back into the fold ...

25% off good games photo
25% off good games

Deal: 25% off Batman Arkham Origins, XCOM expansion, more


Jolly green giant
Oct 18
// Steven Hansen
Deals! Green Man Gaming is currently offering a 25% off voucher that is good for just under a week. With it, you can get a host of titles at 25% off, from the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins to the XCOM expansion Enemy Within...
2K Marin layoffs photo
2K Marin layoffs

BioShock 2, The Bureau dev 2K Marin 'essentially' closed


Bureau of bad news
Oct 18
// Steven Hansen
Yesterday, Polygon got word of a massive layoff that hit BioShock 2 and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified developer 2K Marin. "We can confirm staff reductions at 2K Marin," the statement read. "While these were difficult decisio...
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XCOM for iOS gets multiplayer, on sale for $9.99


Normally goes for $19.99
Oct 11
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
XCOM: Enemy Unknown on iOS has received a new update that brings in asynchronous multiplayer. Additionally the update brings in iOS7 optimization and a newly implemented leaderboard. The game usually goes for $19.99, but it's on sale for $9.99. Check out our review to see why the mobile version is worth picking up. 
XCOM photo
XCOM

XCOM: Enemy Within trailer shows the Exalt faction


This substantial expansion is set for release on November 15
Oct 09
// Alasdair Duncan
I've put 30 hours into XCOM: Enemy Unknown and I still suck at it. I'm losing soldiers left, right, and center but maybe that's the game's appeal. Still, I'm hankering for new enemies to fight so the upcoming Enemy Within lo...

Defending earth against new threats in XCOM: Enemy Within

Oct 09 // Steven Hansen
XCOM: Enemy Within (PC [previewed], Mac, PS3, 360) Developer: FiraxisPublisher: 2K GamesRelease Date: November 12, 2013 Enemy Within expands the original content on two levels. Down in the trenches, in XCOM’s turn-based, solider-controlling gameplay, we’re seeing new additions like solider modifications and new enemy types. It isn’t just new aliens that look like a mix between the mechanical squids of The Matrix and the alien ghosts from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. There are scummy jerks in fedoras, too. Well, they probably own fedoras. Exalt is a comically evil paramilitary secret society that is down with the aliens’ genetic perfection aims. It intends to rule over the world using alien technology and genetic superiority. It is basically a facile, extra occult Nazi party, but with a name that has an “ecks” instead of a “z.” You’ll have to fight with Exalt members in covert operations, which are two new mission types within the expansion. Their AI has been tuned differently than the aliens, too, allegedly making them more cooperative and tactical enemies. In Covert Extraction, you send a plainclothes solider into a scheming Exalt cell, then go pick them up, ensuring they live through the process (and you hack a com relay). In Covert Data Recovery, your solider on the inside doesn’t need to make it out alive but you need to protect two different assets. The first can be sacrificed if you want to hole up and protect the second, but you get less money. I ran a Data Recovery mission -- successfully, in fact. My covert op, a Russian armed with only a pistol, actually managed to hit every overwatch shot and made the final kill. Unfortunately, I lost two in the process soldiers, including a dependable Italian heavy, Maurizio Mancini, who was close to my heart. I mention the soldiers’ nationality because soldiers now speak in their native language, rather than everyone having the same handful of American English combat barks. It’s a subtle addition, but I liked it a lot. On the macro level, Exalt changes your day to day operations as XCOM commander as well. First, Exalt cell attacks are another event you’ll have to respond to. Fail to do so and it can hinder your progress in some way. Exalt will run Propoganda attacks to raise panic, Research Hacks to slow your lab’s research progress, and Sabotage attacks to directly drain your money. You don’t have to take Exalt’s shtick lying down, however, just foiling them in retaliation. For a fee, which increases each time, you can scan the world for potential Exalt activity. An exposed Exalt cell won’t be able to begin its attack, letting you choose whether or not to engage it or to let it go back underground and prepare another attack. Stalling is always an option if you’re not presently up to a challenge. Engaging with Exalt, whether through planned covert ops or otherwise can also yield clues to where Exalt is located; for example, you may learn Exalt is not in Africa. With enough clues, you can take a stab and accuse a country of housing the cell, or collect more clues until you're sure. A wrongly accused country pulls out of the XCOM project, as they are well enemy within their right to do. Choose correctly and you get a shot at Exalt’s challenging, fortified base. Playing Enemy Within reminded me of how good XCOM: Enemy Unknown is. After playing it, I had to go home and start a new game of Enemy Unknown, x-completely aware that to experience Enemy Within’s additions, I’d need to start a new campaign. Maybe next month it will be time for that Classic Ironman run, with an added twist.
XCOM Enemy Within photo
XCOM expansion has me xcompletely excited
If you haven’t played the eXcellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you should. However, now there is a caveat to that. You should play it, but you should probably wait until November 12 to do so because that’s when the Enem...

XCOM Declassified photo
XCOM Declassified

XCOM Declassified 360 exclusive DLC detailed


'Hangar 6 R&D'
Oct 02
// Chris Carter
Hey, remember when 2K announced that The Bureau: XCOM Declassified was getting Xbox 360 exclusive DLC? Me neither -- I barely remember XCOM Declassified. For those of you who did enjoy it though, a brand new DLC campaign is o...
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Let's take a look at XCOM: Enemy Within's gameplay


Look at it!
Sep 04
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Missed gamescom and PAX Prime 2013? Well don't stress about it too much if you were hoping to catch the gameplay demonstration for XCOM: Enemy Within as it's now available to view right here. Lead designer Ananda Gupta shows...
XCOM too big for consoles photo
XCOM too big for consoles

XCOM: Enemy Within 'too big' to be console DLC


XCOM's enemy is size
Sep 04
// Steven Hansen
Over the weekend we posted the trailer for XCOM: Enemy Within, the meaty expansion to the excellent strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown. It showed off new enemies that look like a mix between the mechanical squids of The Matrix...
XCOM: Enemy Within video photo
XCOM: Enemy Within video

XCOM: Enemy Within: Ghost robots & transhumanism


I asked for this
Aug 31
// Steven Hansen
You're well Enemy Within your rights to be upset with the lackluster The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but when you remember that XCOM: Enemy Unknown was excellent, you should be back to appropriate levels of excitement for its...

XCOM: Enemy Within is MEC-ing me crazy

Aug 26 // Dale North
[embed]260465:50140:0[/embed] Those big-headed aliens? They haven't gone anywhere. While I'll never tire of blowing their bulbous heads off at close range, some more fire power to do so would be nice. Enemy Within brings that needed firepower a whole bunch of gameplay advances to the formula and lays them out in a story that's actually parallel to the original. Someone up there in videogame heaven loves us. Let's get the biggest thing out of the first: Mechs. Or, in this case, MECs: mechanized exoskeletal cybersuits. And playing with them is as good as you'd imagine. They do big damage and can take big hits, making them a lot of fun. It's good that they can take the hits, as they can't really get out of the way fast enough. They're big but they're not too big -- there's a guy inside, after all. Let me explain. If an eyebrow raised at what MEC stands for, the other one will raise after my explanation. Enemy Within's MECs and many other gameplay advancements come from modification, namely genetic and cybernetic body modification. Yes, it's just as messed up as it sounds. Your soldiers can be beefed up in one or both of these ways, letting you tweak their body parts to your heart's content. For example, you might need a sniper or two to get up top in a particular map. A genetic modification to a soldier's legs would let them simply jump to the top of a high point for some instant snipe action -- no ladders needed. Or. maybe drop in a brain modification to deflect psi powers. It sounds gross/mean, but hey, it's not your legs or brain! The MECs come in on the cybernetic side of this process. Your poor soldiers go through a modification to get mech'd up for battle. Again, it hurts them, but not you. A side benefit from these modifications is that your troop becomes a new hybrid class entirely, which greatly broadens available tactics.  Being able to simply order up a convenient gene modification sounds like too much power, doesn't it? The twist is that coming by the resource that lets you do this is not easy to do at all. I didn't have to go through as much of the work as a first-time player might as 2K had a map set up from farther in the game, complete with a soldiers that had already gone through modification. But even with that I still had quite a time getting to this required resource, called meld. This technical marvel lets you build up the ability for modification -- after you collect it, that is. My demo session had a glowing canister outpost of meld highlighted, sitting dead in the middle of the hot area of the map. All I had to do was run up and take it. But there were a couple of problems. First, aliens and their new MEC counterparts, Mectoids [we love that name, as you can imagine], lay in wait in the distance. And the meld pod itself has a countdown timer that lets you know that it's only going to available for a short time before it goes kaboom. This puts the pressure on players like me, giving me a lot more to think about than the enemies on the map. So what does this normally careful, highly strategic player do? I run right out there. And yes, as you'd guess, the solider that was sent to retrieve that meld died. And so did a supporter I sent out after him. The ones I sent to flank and one MEC held out for a bit when surrounded, but I eventually paid the price for being the rabbit that dashed out blindly for the carrot. I used some new tricks, like using the MEC to blow up cover, but I didn't last long. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching how badly I was getting smashed. Someone was. I winced. But, in the end, I had one of those satisfying finishes where I barely survived. It ended up where I had crossed enemy lines, left only with one half-dead MEC and one standard solider, up against a really beefed up alien that hid in its ship up until that point. In a totally defeated mind state, I sent the MEC to soak up some hits, hoping he could maybe take the alien down before he died.  I had that remaining solider come up from the side and help whittle the alien down. Again, I barely made it out alive. Was getting the meld worth it? I suppose it would have been if I could have continued playing past this single map. I can't wait to continue playing past that single map. What's great is that this is just a taste of what's to come for XCOM: Enemy Within. There's much more where that came from, including new weapons, new abilities, new enemies, new maps, new challenges on old maps, and multiplayer. I want it all. I know we'll see and hear more leading up to the Nov 12 launch on for PS3, Xbox 360, Windows PC and Mac. My genetic and cybernetic modified body is ready.
XCOM: Enemy Within photo
Mmmmm, cybernetic modification!
Being at gamescom has its perks, especially when it comes to having the first opportunity to play a newly announced game. Or in this case, a new expansion so big that it's essentially a new game. 2K officially announced expan...

XCOM: Enemy Within announced for November 12!

Aug 21 // Jim Sterling
(So ... I got the embargo right on this one?)
XCOM: Enemy Within photo
Official expansion to Enemy Unknown is officially official
2K Games has lifted the lid on XCOM: Enemy Within, an expansion to the wildly popular Enemy Unknown. It'll be available on November 12, and aims to bring a whole host of fresh content to the original game.  New soldier ...

Review: The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Aug 19 // Jim Sterling
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (PC [reviewed], PS3, Xbox 360)Developer: 2K MarinPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: August 20, 2013 (NA) August 23, 2013 (EU)MSRP: $59.99 Declassified reboots the XCOM story with the foundation of the titular bureau in the 1950s, and an invasion by the alien Outsiders. William Carter finds himself unwittingly drafted into the ranks of the agency after surviving an encounter with the aliens, and exposing himself to a mysterious artifact that gives him fabulous secret powers. As Carter, players are supposed to draft recruits, undertake missions, and reclaim America from the Outsiders, though in practice it doesn't quite go down that way.  The story is, to put it nicely, as boring as boring can get, and large sections of dialog make very little sense. Carter is little more than an outdated archetype, a grumbling misery with a store-bought tragic past and nothing remotely likable about him. His supporting cast are possessed of even less personality, while the Outsiders themselves are only slightly more compelling. The game pitifully attempts to throw dialog options to try and spice things up, but they are half-heartedly implemented in such a way that, in one scene, a hostile character devoted to his cause suddenly changes his mind after one or two sentences.  Towards the end, the game attempts a cute fourth-wall breaking twist, along with a handful of "moral choice" contrivances, but by that point, so little has been narratively established, and there is no reason to care about anything that's happening. The Bureau is the kind of game that has realized certain storytelling devices work to surprise and delight the audience, but it doesn't know why they work. The result is a game that comes off as cynical, and a little embarrassing, whenever it blatantly attempts to trick you into believing it's meaningful.  [embed]260320:50081:0[/embed] The campaign itself is surprisingly shallow, with only a handful of optional messages and very limited customization options spread across an eight hour game that features almost as much back-and-forth walking between NPCs as it does actual combat. Though the game entices with a map of the United States, littered with hotspots and the promise of a tactical romp to take back the nation, the reality is an eight hour, fairly linear jaunt through repetitive missions with a handful of bonus stages. It would appear the groundwork was in place for something much more expansive and involved, but such things were abandoned for one reason or another.  Each mission will involve the player character and two other agents. These agents take orders during battle, and belong to one of four classes -- Commando, Support, Recon, and Engineer, each with their own special abilities, leveling systems, and skill trees. In one of the few genuine nods to XCOM, if a field agent is killed in-mission, he's dead forever. Not a major problem when you can just make more of them between stages, but it's certainly an inconvenience to lose their level progress.  In theory, The Bureau is a tactical shooter where players are constantly outflanking, outthinking, and outgunning the opposition. In practice, much of the early stages feel more like an escort mission than anything else, as players are forced to babysit weak and incompetent allies. With very little sense of self-preservation, and stripped of almost all autonomy, players aren't so much encouraged to take charge as they are forced to monitor their charges at all times. At level one, field agents are pitifully weak, unable to soak even a fraction of the damage that basic Outsider mooks can. They don't always follow orders correctly, and they're not afraid to dash headlong into an enemy rather than take a covered approach to a destination. Until they're fully leveled (if they you can keep them alive that long), they're more anchor than asset.  Fortunately, the game becomes much more tolerable when Carter and his friends level up. Carter himself gains access to some genuinely cool abilities -- able to summon an Outsider Silicoid or support drone, brainwash targets into temporary defection, and heal his comrades -- while field agents all eventually get themselves some crucial powers, bringing automated turrets, protective shields, draining plasma fields and more into the battlefield. Allies sadly don't get any smarter, but eventually they can take a beating and dish out some fire of their own in return.  Orders are given by pressing the "battle focus" button, which slows down time and allows characters to be commanded via a simple wheel of abilities and directions. Allies can be told to use abilities, mark targets, or move to locations. It's a nice idea on paper, but The Bureau's implementation leaves a lot to be desired. When telling allies to move to locations, or setting the target destination for an ability, players have to move a marker to the desired area -- a marker that's restricted by walls, windows, ledges, and cover. Even if the character can carry out the command, they sometimes need to be moved or the order abandoned simply because the target marker couldn't be physically moved to the area by the player. You can't raise the marker over or through walls -- you have to ostensibly "walk" it to the destination as you would a physical player character, and if you can't do it, you're boned. The marker also frequently catches on the scenery, and moves like it's being pushed through mud, leading to an altogether uncomfortable experience.  Instant commands can be given with a quick button push, but the command to focus all fire on an important target and move to a new destination are the same one, which means you frequently risk telling your comrades to rush directly toward a gigantic Sectoid Walker rather than hold the line and simply fire at it. All told, The Bureau's tactical elements are quite shoddily implemented, are far less convenient than they could be, and sometimes cause more harm than good.  The action side of the experience isn't much better, either. When you strip away the convoluted strategy, you have a very mediocre cover-based shooter, in which weapons are weak, enemies rush around in a manner that's more annoying than challenging, and the same handful of enemies crop up from beginning to end -- maybe with a few "elite" variants thrown in to make the battle pool seem deeper. If it wasn't wearing its little tactical badge, The Bureau would be just another Gears of War tailgater, following in the fine tradition of such titles as Inversion, Quantum Theory, and a dozen other titles you won't have heard of.  Missions follow a predictable and unrewarding formula, comprised of corridors that open into blatantly telegraphed killing arenas, leading to more corridors and more arenas. Exploding red barrels, spammed grenades, and a stable of garden-variety weapons all conspire to deliver a combat experience both familiar and very familiar.  Oh, and just like with issuing commands, the button to reload and pick a weapon up off the ground is the same one -- and it's a press, you don't hold to pick up and replace your current weapon, which is fantastic when reloading behind a wall with a gun on it. It's the little things that really drive home how ill-produced this whole thing is.  Everything in The Bureau works enough to be playable, but its engines run to about half the capacity they could if 2K Marin had just put all its efforts into one thing. Hammering home that inability to commit, XCOM Declassified is both a half-baked real-time strategy game and a banal shooting gallery, with some crude attempts at roleplaying on the side. With a fragmentary story that goes nowhere, and the only good ideas appearing right at the very end, this is a game that manages to run for eight hours, and never truly feels like it starts.  As you might expect, the visuals are thematically consistent with overwhelming indefination, attempting to marry the 1950s aesthetic with trappings from 2012's critically acclaimed Enemy Unknown. A schizophrenic art style that moves from small town suburbia to high-tech alien landscape and back again could be effectively jarring, but it's so understated in delivery and generic in design that it comes off as simply jarring in this case. This is not helped by the fact that the graphics themselves are sub-par and the environments are fairly bland.  Yes, the sound holds no surprise either. Voice acting is generally blasé, while the music is instantly forgettable.  When this game was a first-person shooter titled simply, XCOM, a bold and definitive statement was made. It was a statement that drew intense backlash from series fans, and even though 2K Games won back player trust with the release of Enemy Unknown, the damage had already been done to its nerves. After years of troubled development that saw several major overhauls to the game, it's actually impressive that The Bureau isn't far worse than it is. That it's at least playable and more than four hours long is remarkable, but that is the only noteworthy thing about it.  The Bureau: XCOM Declassified desperately wants to be liked, but by failing to satisfy in any direction, all it succeeds in being is a disappointment. It wants to be a strategy game without being a strategy game, it wants to be a shooter without being a shooter, and it wants to be XCOM without being XCOM. As such, it is nothing. It's an inconsequential waste of time that does nothing for anybody, and saying that makes me feel guilty because its cloying pleas to not be hated are worthy of pity. I feel like I've kicked a puppy that just wanted to be my friend, but it really was a crap puppy. 
XCOM Declassified review photo
Worthy of XCOMmunication
The press materials for The Bureau like to stress that, for 2K Games, this is considered a brand new intellectual property. It says this, even though the game continues to cling to the XCOM name it origina...

XCOM Declassified photo
XCOM Declassified

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified devs discuss art style


New developer diary focuses on tone and visuals
Aug 08
// Chris Carter
2K Games has released another developer diary for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and it talks about about the general tone of the game, including the visual style, and how other forms of media influenced it. Specific influen...
XCOM photo
XCOM

2K will officially announce XCOM: Enemy Within this month


We'll be waiting
Aug 01
// Jordan Devore
Now that listings for XCOM: Enemy Within are out in the wild, 2K has come out to confirm that an announcement will be happening soon. The reveal is set to take place on Wednesday, August 21 -- right around when gamescom 2013 ...
XCOM photo
XCOM

Listings for XCOM: Enemy Within have popped up


I like the sound of this
Jul 31
// Jordan Devore
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a nice jolt to the system. You don't come to truly appreciate (virtual) life until you take it one step at a time, fearful that any moment could be your prized soldier's last. The sense of sheer dread ...
Take-Two photo
Take-Two

Take-Two has its chin up despite a down first quarter


It was 'better than expected'
Jul 30
// Brett Makedonski
Take-Two may have lost money in the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year, but it has high hopes for the remainder of the year. The publisher, who owns Rockstar Games and 2K Games, reported a first quarter net loss of $61.9 m...
The Bureau: XCOM photo
The Bureau: XCOM

Dominic Monaghan is an agent for The Bureau


The LOST and LOTR star is the hunter or is he the prey?
Jul 27
// Alasdair Duncan
The live-action trailers for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified just keep on coming. This time instead of creepy clown shows, we've got Dominic Monaghan of LOST and The Lord of the Rings fame, as Agent Enis Cole, chasing an unsee...
The Bureau: XCOM photo
The Bureau: XCOM

This trailer for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is spooky


And that's not just because it has a clown in it.
Jul 22
// Alasdair Duncan
Those suffering from coulrophobia look away now. In this new live-action trailer for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, we get another hint of the paranoid flavour of the game's early 1960s setting. Young Kevin is watching his f...

The Bureau: XCOM walks a tightrope of strategy and action

Jul 17 // Abel Girmay
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: 2K MarinPublisher: 2K GamesRelease: August 20, 2013MSRP: $59.99 While we've covered the game before at length, I've since had a few lingering questions. One of the bigger ones was seeing how far permadeath would go. Since this is the XCOM series' first big push to have a storied campaign with a central protagonist and supporting cast, would things get as crazy as to allow story-centric characters to be killed? Speaking with creative director Morgan Gray, "We push most of our story through characters who won't be risked on the battlefield. Agents are characters with little 'c,' but they're not crucial to any major narrative beat of the game." Permadeath may not be as far reaching as to have an effect on the plot, but it's looming threat is very real in combat. Still, even there it can be shimmied around with quick work of the save system. Gray continues, "Because we're straddling a couple different genres, trying to be an on-ramp for brainier and more technical forms of combat, certainly in the third-person space, we decided we'll let people vote with their time." This tradeoff is not unlike what many players would have experienced in last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown. While the threat of permadeath is real, smart use of the save system will be able to cover you, so long as you're okay with a trial-and-error experience. Even at higher difficulties, you will be able to reload saves as often as desired, as the brunt of their challenge will lie in smarter enemies and shorter revive times. There's no official word on whether or not The Bureau will have a save-exploit-killing Iron Man mode. [embed]258179:49626:0[/embed] "[Reloading saves] is as not as harsh in its consequences, but we put a lot of consequences in the game," explained Gray. "We ask for a lot of you, and there is a lot of learning in this game ... just that concept of Iron Man mode, we will probably not have something that is so punishing and hardcore, primarily because of the genre we're going towards as a third person game."  While you may find ways to get around some of The Bureau's systems, others -- namely the upgrades -- are set in stone. There is no characters respec option at any point in the campaign. In standard XCOM fashion, you will have to choose from a binary skill tree to determine how you will play your agents. Since you can have multiple agents from each class, this isn't the biggest issue. However, since the player character, Agent Carter, has a skill tree all his own, you'll want to think things through. In my time with The Bureau, I saw myself favoring skills that played to the strengths of my preferred agents. Since I found a certain affinity for the support and engineer classes, my Carter was decked with skills to decease the cooldown of my healing ability, perfect for my engineer who I'd put out in front to lay mines. To assist my support agent, I'd opt for the ability to levitate enemies out of cover, giving the agent a clear line of sight to inflict high damage. It's in the ways you play around with your squadmates that The Bureau's strengths really start to shine. A lot of the success of the game's marriage between real-time combat and the cerebral tactics expected of XCOM is due to the Battle Focus system. Playing The Bureau as a straight third-person shooter simply isn't an option, and the game is quick to punish players who don't respect the strategy involved. At the same time, the Mass Effect-esque command wheel that is Battle Focus won't give you total reprieve from battle. Going into Battle Focus slows down time to ten percent of its usual speed. This may sound like it's just as good as time fully stopping, and in the most comfortable of situations, it can be. In other situations, I found myself frantically trying to get my support agent to throw down a shield for my engineer as enemy drones hovered above his half cover, chewing through his health. While this is all going on, I somehow miss the two Outsider aliens that were moving in to flank me and am quickly introduced to the game-over screen.  Walking a tightrope between genres is a challenge for any game to get right, but a challenge made greater for The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, as it comes from a series firmly associated with one over the other. It is, however, walking that rope really well. Battle Focus retains much more of the series' tactics than some may have expected, making the perspective change more welcome as an alternative way to explore the franchise. The muted sense of permadeath will be a disappointment for some, but if you're one of the many who exploited saves in Enemy Unknown, you'll find it works similarly here. Now, about those psionics...
XCOM preview photo
Now if we can just get some psionics in here...
Once considered the flagship reboot of the XCOM franchise with a side meal strategy game to go with it in Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has found itself playing second fiddle in the eyes of many ...

Bioshock Infinite sale photo
Bioshock Infinite sale

The final day of the Xbox Live game sale is a good one


Day 4 closes out the Ultimate Game Sale
Jul 05
// Chris Carter
There's tons of great deals today for the Xbox Live "Ultimate Game Sale," including Bioshock Infinite for $39.99, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance for $29.99, XCOM: Enemy Unknown for $19.99, and Tomb Raider for $19.99. Infinite...
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BioShock 2 creative director leaves 2K Marin


Starting a two man indie team
Jul 03
// Abel Girmay
Jordan Thomas, creative director at 2K Marin, has left his post at the company to establish his own two person indie. During his tenure at 2K, Thomas worked on titles such as BioShock, BioShock 2, and The Bureau: XCOM Declass...
XCOM photo
XCOM

Critical Hit! XCOM: Enemy Unknown finally out for Macs


Running a paramilitary organization has never looked this trendy
Jun 29
// Jason Cabral
Seems like a fair bit of critically acclaimed titles are finally making their long-awaited hop over to the Mac gaming universe. Last week we had Rockstar's take on a modern noir story in Max Payne 3, and this week we have Fir...
XCOM photo
XCOM

Order others around in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified


Did he even use his gun once?
Jun 27
// Jordan Devore
While I'm not entirely sold on where The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is headed, so far so good. We got an excellent, traditional turn-based title in Enemy Unknown, which has me more open to what 2K Marin is attempting to pull ...

Review: XCOM: Enemy Unknown (iOS)

Jun 20 // Chris Carter
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (iPad, iPhone [reviewed on an iPhone 5], Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: June 20, 2013MSRP: $19.99 (iOS) At first glance, XCOM may seem like just another turned-based game -- but once you finish your first training mission and get into the nitty gritty, it's much more than that. For one thing, there's one major catch: XCOM: Enemy Unknown features permadeath. Despite the fact that you leveled up a character just right, pumped all your best gear in them, and relegated them to the cornerstone of your army, if they get outflanked by a surprise alien attack -- boom, gone forever. The main draw of Enemy Unknown is the fact that you build your own story as the game goes on with a variety of mission objectives, as the narrative occasionally butts in. Death will have a permanent impact on your game, both emotionally and mechanically, as you scrape up new recruits in a constant effort to best the unrelenting alien menace. Soon, you'll start to feel the sting of an actual commander, deciding whether or not sacrificing a soldier is worth a victory, or saving a certain country is worth the effort. Of course, combat isn't the only focus in XCOM, as the base management and political balancing act is arguably more difficult. You need to decide which projects to research, and where to place buildings. Different countries are all contributing to the XCOM program, and if you don't keep them all happy (or alive), they'll completely pull funding. It's a weird little meta-game, but it absolutely works, as you are forced to decide between the fate of two countries, and weigh the pros and cons of alliances on a constant basis. [embed]256483:49267:0[/embed] A touch-capable device feels right at home for all these portions in particular, as you can select menu options and build new structures with the greatest of ease. Also, given the turned-based nature of XCOM's combat, the game works perfectly on an iOS platform. Yep -- Iron Man Mode (that auto-saves with every turn) and the higher difficulty settings are fully intact, so no worries there. Although Enemy Unknown has taken a hit graphically to fit on a tiny phone, it still looks polished, and it's by no means difficult to tell units apart. I came in skeptical of how well the game's visuals would translate to iOS, but after my first mission, I was sold. The iOS version is definitely at a lower-resolution than its PC and console counterparts, but all things considered, I don't have any major complaints. Truly, the only thing holding back this port is the camera control during combat. For whatever reason, Firaxis didn't enable full "swipe" camera movement, which means you'll have to slowly drag your finger along the screen to traverse some of the larger maps. Additionally, switching the view (which is normally done with multi-touch gestures in other games) is inaccurate, and is best served through the use of virtual buttons. If you're into multiplayer, it's not available at launch, and is planned as a future free update. The good news is the full game is basically intact without any microtransaction nonsense present (I checked immediately and breathed a sigh of relief), and it's a universal app with iCloud and Game Center support to boot. Some maps have been removed in favor of recycling a few -- and fitting the game onto the App Store -- but it's not really noticeable, especially in a single playthrough. XCOM: Enemy Unknown has translated incredibly well to the iOS platform as whole. While there's no way I can recommend it over the PC, 360, or PS3 versions of the game (which you may be able to find discounted close to the price of the iOS version, with the PS3 version currently free on PS+), it still holds its own. If you haven't experienced this modern classic yet and have absolutely no other way to play it, this port is where it's at.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown photo
Relive the despair of permadeath on the go
I was pretty blown away by Firaxis Games' re-imagining of the X-COM universe last year in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. So blown away in fact that it was my second choice for Game of the Year -- and this is coming from a fan of the '9...

XCOM Declassified photo
XCOM Declassified

Post-release DLC for The Bureau hits Xbox 360 first


And a first look at the 'Codebreakers' bonus mission
Jun 19
// Jordan Devore
Here's footage of tactical gameplay in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified to go along with the usual news that, yes, post-release DLC is happening. The August 20 launch on Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3 isn't exactly right aroun...
PS Plus photo
PS Plus

XCOM and Uncharted 3 are next for PlayStation Plus


A good month for the Instant Game Collection
Jun 07
// Jordan Devore
Next week, LittleBigPlanet 2, inFAMOUS 2, and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One will exit PlayStation Plus' Instant Game Collection. Don't wait until the last minute if you want any of them in your library. Do, however, prepare ...
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Shaqfighter, Ride A PokÚmon, The Bureau, & Metro Reviews


The Destructoid Show shuts up and JAMS
May 14
// Max Scoville
Hey gang, here's today's Destructoid Show! ...It's a weird one. Did you see those new Pokémon from Pokémon X & Y? You can ride one of them, but mostly, they just look like regular animals. If you like weird...
XCOM photo
XCOM

New redaction-heavy The Bureau: XCOM Declassified trailer


They certainly like their secrecy
May 13
// Jordan Devore
There was a rocky period there where I wasn't so sure 2K would keep the XCOM shooter going. To hear that it's back, albeit with new branding, and still looks more or less like what I was hoping to get out of the game in its ...

XCOM Declassified is still a strategy game at heart

May 13 // Hamza CTZ Aziz
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified (PC [previewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)Developer: 2K MarinPublisher: 2K GamesRelease: August 20, 2013MSRP: $59.99 The Bureau is the never-before-told origin story of the XCOM organization. It was originally established to protect the US from foreign threats like the Soviet Union in the 1960s. But things quickly changed because of the alien invaders. "One of the goals for the setting period is we're trying to get that juxtaposition of the America that we knew going into the '60s, leaving the idyllic '50s, and heading into a time of change," creative director Morgan Gray told us. "A lot of threat, the scare from the Soviet Union with their bombs pointed towards us, we're just past the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam lurks in the horizon. [We're] contrasting that known tension period of our history with the tension we never realized before, which is, aliens come in and attack and shake it all up." You play as Agent William Carter, and as Carter you'll be making a lot of choices. A lot of the game centers around your special underground headquarters, where you'll be deciding what missions to take on, managing your agents, and seeing how the war against the aliens is progressing. The HQ features a big map of America that displays numerous current known alien conflicts. The campaign structure is semi-nonlinear, as opposed to your typical level-cutscene-level flowchart, meaning you actually get to choose where to go. There are the operation missions that form the main narrative, optional side missions, and the Dispatch missions, which I'll get to in a bit. Agent Carter is never on his own, as you'll always have a team of agents to back you up. These agents are fully upgradable, can specialize in different fields (engineer, sniper, etc.), and are fully customizable. Decide what kind of gear they'll have, what weapons they'll use, what skills they'll learn, even what clothing they'll wear. And they will actually die if you don't manage them properly in the field -- yes, there is permadeath, and the loss of someone is meant to be significant. Things will get pretty tough further into the game if you don't have properly leveled agents on your team. You have a max number of eight agents at all times, two that can go with you on missions and the other six benched at home. You can swap out agents at certain checkpoints during missions, so long as they're at home base, of course. See, while you're on main missions you can send other agents on Dispatch missions, where they'll be taking care of alien threats and leveling up on their own. It's a lot like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker's Outer Ops missions, except here micro-managing your soldiers will actually benefit you since they can come with you on outings. Thankfully there's an assortment of alien tech at your disposal to stand a chance against the aliens. You'll gain cool special abilities thanks to your upgradable and interchangeable backpacks. One grants a pulse wave attack that knocks back enemies, and another lets you lift up a specific enemy into the air for a few minutes -- that one in particular is good for taking out stronger soldiers. Other backpacks provide health increase, shielding, experience booster, damage output increase, and more. Once familiarized with my team, I jump into the mission demo, which takes place somewhere in the middle of the story. The US is now mounting a counter offensive against the invading forces, and this mission saw my team and I needing to meetup with another XCOM member, Agent DaSilva. He was sent out on an operation himself, but contact was lost and you need to go find out what happened. The mission takes place in New Mexico, and on your way via helicopter, you can see a giant alien tower in the distance that you need to enter with DaSilva's help. Also on your ride in, you also see humans infected with the Sleep Walker, which basically turns them into mindless drones that are stuck in a loop where they keep repeating the same patterns, like a scratched CD that won't stop skipping. The virus also allows the aliens to turn humans into sleeper agents whenever needed, making infected humans a threat. So who are the aliens exactly? They're called the Outsiders, humanoid-like aliens on a quest to conquer the galaxy. So far they've taken over quite a few alien races, like the Sectoids and Mutons from past XCOM games. Other races have been given slave collars wrapped around their necks, and they have no choice but to obey the Outsiders. Once on the ground, it became immediately apparent how crucial using tactics was. Running straight into a conflict head-on will almost instantly cause you to bleed out, and you'll eventually die if not healed in time. You need to use cover and most of all Battle Focus to maneuver your team around like the master strategist you are. Once you trigger Battle Focus, the action slows to a crawl and the camera can be moved around freely, allowing you to look at the entire combat area to decide what to do. From here you can decide where to move your men, tell them to flank positions, lure enemies from cover, determine who to attack, throw down mines, place laser turrets -- you have full control over what they'll do on the field. It's super easy using the Battle Focus commands. Each agent has a command wheel that pops up so you can easily choose what they'll do, then you just fly around the map and select what happens where. While the action is crawling, there's still some level of tension at play. Things are still happening, and you have to make decisions on the fly lest you or your teammates die. You also have some quick command actions tied to the D-pad so you can tell your teammates to move/attack a specific object or to regroup without having to jump into Battle Focus. One of the bigger battles has a great mix of aliens. Outsiders are shooting back from a safe distance, supported by their own Commander that could summon in protective barriers. At the same time, the Sectoids are advancing the field, while the black goo creature that we've seen from the earlier versions of 2K Marin's XCOM are coming right at us like crazed attack dogs. To add icing to the cake, a Muton gets summoned in last before the battle was finally over, and it is in that calm I finally remembered to breathe. With The Bureau, you are right there in the heart of the battle with your men, as opposed to being this God-like figure that's removed from the battlefield. "We've taken a look at the XCOM franchise and we looked at what we consider the pillars of the franchise," Morgan stated, "which for us is team tactics, tools, technology, terror, tension -- there's a lot of Ts that all fall into that. "Obviously looking at 1994's original XCOM, we wanted to find that translation of that game. How would that translate into something that would possibly bring a new audience into the XCOM family, let them experience XCOM in a way that fans have never seen it before, or new people who might be of the mind that they don't like turn-based games -- and they're wrong because turn-based games rock -- would finally go, 'Well that's something I'm into, I like the thought of using cover, I like having to make decisions on the fly as the bullets go'? "So our goal was to go, what is that core of that XCOM experience, how does it translate into this new perspective? We wanted to move beyond the 'I have a God's eye view, I'm looking at my squad below, and I am personally removed from the damage' and now to 'I'm a coach, I'm on the field with my men.'" After a few encounters, my team and I meet up with DaSilva and things aren't looking good for him. His squad was wiped out and he's been infected with the Sleepwalker virus. There's a dialogue tree allowing you to grill him about what's happened, and eventually you'll come to a point where you have to make a decision. DaSilva offers himself up as a distraction against the Outsiders, which will in all likelihood get him killed, so you and the team can enter the alien base. You can either let him come along or send him back to HQ so the boys at home can research a cure for the Sleepwalker Virus. There will be choices you have to make, some that will have immediate effects and others that will affect the storyline. In this case, I choose to send DaSilve back to HQ, thus finding a cure for the virus and saving infected humans. Our hands-on time was short, but I didn't need long to tell that I really liked The Bureau. I love the mix of being right there in the action, and at the same time needing to be quick on my feet making decisions on the fly. There's a sense of urgency that you feel from having to make decisions while there's terror coming from you in every direction. There's stress, sure, but there's also instant gratification once you've won an encounter, and that's exactly what I enjoy when it comes to strategy games.
XCOM Shooter photo
Defend America against the foreign invaders
Following the huge success of last year's XCOM: Enemy Unknown comes The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, the latest entry to the now revitalized franchise. Developer 2K Marin is bringing us an origin story set at the start of the a...


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