When the game now known as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified debuted in 2010, it seemed like an ill fit to take a well-loved, turn-based strategy game and force it into what looked like a cookie-cutter FPS mold. Disabled gamers were dismayed because it looked like developers were taking one of the most accessible franchises in gaming history and changing it so fundamentally that most of its trademark accessibility would have been lost. Thankfully, however, the developers at 2K Marin have somewhat reimagined The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, and it looks to be an interesting take on the squad-based third person shooter. But is it still accessible?
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is not turn based. All the action happens in real time. But this doesn’t hinder the accessibility because the game focuses on tactical combat. As a result, players will take control of the leader of a squad of XCOM’s finest and in that role issue commands to two other soldiers throughout various engagements. The way they do this is by bringing up a command wheel, similar to the one used to direct your party in the Mass Effect or Dragon Age series. When in this mode, time is slowed down allowing players to take some time to determine what step is best. Also, players will be able to cue up several different actions at once, in essence giving strings of commands for your squad mates to carry out. The developers at 2K Marin have repeatedly compared the game to a football game, where there is a quarterback who calls the play for his teammates. In The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, the player is the quarterback, not only issuing commands but also taking part in the battle himself.
The game seems to be a spiritual successor to Star Wars Republic Commando, in which players did much the same thing, but with a squad of four instead of a squad of three. That was the first game I ever beat on anything other than the easy setting. This is because players were able to plan their moves ahead of time, and thus the combat was incredibly forgiving. If The Bureau implements many of the same features, players can expect that same level of forgiving gameplay. Since there are four distinct agent classes that players can recruit to augment their squads, and since, true to XCOM DNA, players will be able to upgrade from traditional weapons to more advanced alien tech as they progress through the game, there seems to be a certain level of customization available to suit any player’s needs. Different agents will have different powers which will help you in different ways on the battlefield.
All of this seems to indicate good things for the accessibility of The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, which releases in the US on August 20, 2013. But the single best thing that seems to be evident in the game is the amount of options the player has in any given scenario. Demos have shown a plethora of different strategies, from the direct frontal assault, to sneaking into cover on the high ground to pick off enemies in an ambush, and even placing mines and taunting enemies to make them walk into the blast radius.
However, there are two obvious changes that 2K Marin needs to make if the game hopes to be completely barrier free. First, they need to make sure that color isn’t the only way that information is communicated. Currently, while in battle focus mode (the mode that slows down time and lets you give commands to your squad mates) different types of enemies are highlighted in different colors and your various squad mates are differentiated the same way. It would be a shame is this remained the only way that players navigated the battlefield, since it would present a challenge to a lot of colorblind gamers. The other thing they could do that would be excellent from the standpoint of fine motor accessibility is to allow the player to toggle the battle focus ability instead of having to keep a button pressed down when in battle focus mode.
All in all, these are two slight changes to what looks like one of the most accessible games of the fall. Even though it’s not a turn-based strategy game like other XCOM titles, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified looks like it’s forgiving enough and flexible enough for most players to enjoy.