The Bureau: XCOM Declassified has had a rather troubled past. In Hollywood the name for it is 'development hell'; when a script or idea for a film is knocking around, bouncing between directors, writers and studios, but can't quite seem to get itself made. In the gaming world it's 'vapourware', a term ripe with connotations of over-promises and idealistic mismanagement. In this case at least the former is more apt: part of Take-Two's mammoth talent-sponging spending spree in 2005 was lavished on the sci-fi strategy series 'X-COM' owned by Atari, and it's taken effectively three studios (Irrational, 2k Australia and finally, 2k Marin), a good 9 years, and more recently a swap from reboot to prequel to get the game into our disk trays, and much like the titular team, it's got a dark history and plenty to prove.

 photo the-bureau-02_zps4266a6f4.jpgFrom the outset it's clear that, despite all the upheaval, The Bureau knows what it wants to be. A tactical cover-shooter with a stylish 50/60s vibe, the exaggerated realism and art-style of Enemy Unknown and a celestial boat-load of aliens, it wears its heart on its sleeve. The base set-up from The Bureau's tactical cousin remains, albeit with more personality and detail but much less functionality. It's a contrast that permeates the entire game in fact; The Bureau is much more of a personal story - that of tortured-but-hopelessly-patriotic-war-vet Agent Carter - with an emphasis on ground-level combat and only a cursory nod to the tense micro-management of the old-skool original.

For the most part, it does work. Combat is addictive and well balanced, the joy stemming from your responsive, intelligent teammates and the steady slew of new enemy types, tactics and set-ups. As each agent rises through the ranks their abilities give rise to more satisfying synergy and and so long as you're not role-playing a gung-ho fatalist, your core trio will last you the entire game, their abilities and rhythms becoming second nature. Having your engineer throw down a rocket turret whilst your sniper cloaks and scurries into a flanking position can become quickly rote, but always feels right.

 photo the-bureau-01_zpse45a3944.jpgSupplementing the combat mechanics are the painstakingly done graphical and contextual details, the small-town environments and Bureau staffers you spend the majority of your time wandering around overflowing with Americana flavour. Unfortunately, the game bottoms out with dialogue so embarrassingly earnest that you wonder if Carter had his funny-bone amputated during the war, and with pointless, linear corridors leading inexorably to the next boxy combat arena, and upsettingly token customisation options.

Take for example the Assassin's Creed style optional missions you can send spare agents on your roster on. Risk'n'reward should have been the name of the game but each mission of this kind carries a complexity score, and so long as your spare agents' levels tally up, the mission is a guaranteed success, effectively making the whole exercise meaningless and hollow. It's a shame, not least because it hints at an interesting meta-game that could have survived comparisons to the far superior Enemy Unknown had The Bureau not chopped and changed so much.

 photo the-bureau-03_zpsb458727e.jpgBy the tail end of a 15-or-so hour campaign, I was still eking enjoyment from the slow reveal of 'The Twist', the fluid combat and the plethora of spats and fedoras, but The Bureau is a game that was put through the wringer before the public laid eyes and hands on it, and it tells. The X-COM universe is an engaging one that doesn't take itself too seriously (making the dialogue writing in this effort the more baffling) and 2k Marin have crafted an enjoyable core experience. It's just unfortunate that much like the alien technology the Bureau comes to rely on, this is a game that's been retro-fitted, salvaged and hobbled together in a rush, right under the noses of those who didn't even believe it would ever exist.