You always remember your first alien invasion. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified puts you on the ground in 1962 as William Carter, a crucial member of what will eventually become the planet-guarding, all-caps organization known as XCOM. The game brings it own brand of agency to the revitalized strategy series, though not in the drastically simplified form you might expect from a third-person shooter.
Once Earth becomes unwilling host to "The Outsiders," a race of aliens that have enthralled other extraterrestrial creatures, Carter and a crew of two are ordered to investigate the fate of a fallen agent in New Mexico. The Outsiders have a few slaves up their sleeves, including XCOM's classic sectoids. To compensate, Carter has a dapper vest that effectively says, "Everyone, listen to me, I am going to use some tactics on these aliens." Though you control Carter directly, taking cover and shooting to smooth over the faults in your overall strategy, it's more important to manage the abilities of your team. An intuitive radial menu slows down time and lets you position your squadmates individually, assign priority targets and activate special abilities (which all have associated cooldown periods).
The flow of battle begins with taking cover, and advancing when possible, while introducing variables to sway shootouts in your favor. The engineer class, for instance, can deploy a turret to exterminate lesser enemies, or to soften and distract bigger foes. Enemies can be taunted and drawn out of hiding – into one of your mines – and Carter himself can set up a Mass Effect classic: lift an enemy into the air in an energy bubble, then have a sniper knock them down.
Unique class-based abilities come from Ghostbusters-esque backpacks, cobbled together by scientists with reverse-engineered alien tech. All agents have these to wear and customize with different schematics (see: buffs), which you can usually find by scouring the environment.
Based on my experience – it entails one complete mission, shared with press in San Francisco earlier this month - your squad management must be constant and quick. Bigger, armored aliens can incapacitate agents quickly if you don't stay mindful of good cover, while healing them takes time and energy away from your assault. And yes, agents can die permanently.
On harder difficulties, you run the risk of a nightmare scenario: you've lost your high-level agents, and the missions are only getting tougher. Thankfully, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified adds some protective padding in the form of Dispatch Missions. As long as you have some spare agents in circulation, you can have them level up via these automated missions that run parallel to yours. As with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, you'll keep tabs on your team's advancement through your organization's headquarters.
You can now walk through those offices as Carter, who is clearly the most distinguishing element of this XCOM. Your role feels less detached than it does in the (admittedly more complex) top-down strategy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and slightly more dependent on the reflex-based component of movement and shooting. But besides feeling like you're in the thick of it, you're positioned to see the human connection between Carter and other major characters of the organization. According to developer 2K Marin, we won't know the true story of XCOM without getting to know – and being – the agents.