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atari mania
Written by  :  Zovni (10623)
Written on  :  Nov 23, 2004
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars

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The coolest government agency in it's own kickass game.

The Good

Probably the coolest element in Bureau 13 are the ones borrowed from the original pen&paper Bureau 13 roleplaying games, so good in fact that they made me look up the books, but unfortunately they seem to be long dead by now. Basically the game centers around the adventures of a super-secret division of paranormal government agents that work completely on their own and dedicate themselves to investigating supernatural events while keeping the knowledge of such events away from the general public. Basically Call of Chtulhu meets Men In Black, but with much more esoteric characters and situations a-la Hellboy, as the Bureau also hires supernatural creatures such as vampires and ghosts to work for them. I think you'll agree with me than that just oozes coolness, and if you don't then you should go back to playing checkers or stuff like that.

Unfortunately the PC adaptation of Bureau 13 isn't an rpg, but instead a classic point 'n click adventure game. However several nods are made as to the rpg roots of the game. Most importantly being the fact that you play the game with a party of 2 players (you can try it with only one, but that's heavily discouraged) which you get to select from a lineup of 6 characters that represent some of the most effective/popular classes of agents in the P&P game: a Priest, a Hacker, a Witch, a Thief, a Vampire and a Mech (fighter).

Beyond being just cosmetic choices, what characters you select affect the way you'll play the game and how to solve the puzzles. The thief for instance might have to break a fuse box open and find a replacement in order to light up a certain room, while the witch can simply cast a light spell and be done with it. Of course, to get to the room in the first place the thief can simply use his "sneak" ability, while the witch will have to find another way to fool the guard... As you can see this nice approach allows for plenty of variety and replayability for what's essentially yet another adventure game, and truly gives the game it's biggest edge when compared to the competition. Not to mention that the game also rates you with a score based on how much of a ruckus you create, and how many evidence you leave behind of your investigation, I mean, sure the mech can punch through doors and you can kill certain characters screaming "I'm a Bureau 13 agent! Fear my wrath!!" should you see it fit to do so, but there are probably cleaner ways to solve those problems.

As for the story, the game manages to weave a conspiracy plot that picks up most of the popular elements from the games, such as demonic apparitions, corporate machinations and murder mysteries, which is how the game starts off. Initially the Bureau sends you to subdue a rogue Bureau agent that has made an assassination attempt on a small town sheriff. Unfortunately things aren't as simple as that and the aforementioned elements will soon pop up as the story turns towards it's final conclusion using some clever twists (though most players will see the ending coming a mile away).

Also, to the game's immense credit, the puzzles are integrated in a true detectivesque way, laid out as clues and actual logical solutions to the mystery or particular problem at hand, a feat many "mystery" games forget when they start throwing wildly outrageous puzzles your way just for the sake of it. This may turn the game into less of a challenge to experienced players, but at least you don't have stupid color-coding crap or pixel hunts and stuff like that in the middle of a conspiracy investigation.

The Bad

The first big problem with the game is the graphic look of it. This is one of those early games that adopted 3D studio (or a similar package) as it's main artistic tool, and all the graphics in the game are made of pre-rendered sprites and backgrounds. Unfortunately they are cursed with the lack of graphic quality from those early 3D packages and render everything in sight with a fake plastic quality that kills the mood of the game. Had the game resorted to the beautiful (if grainy) hand-drawn look of a game like Gabriel Knight, it would have gained a lot of feeling and atmosphere, however as it stands now you get the feeling you are playing out a murder/mystery adventure in the land of Fisher-Price complete with plastic cars and poorly-animated mannequins as characters.

The second big problem is that sometimes the story doesn't exactly point you in the right direction. By that I mean that it points you in no direction and just leaves you stranded and waiting until you switch into "click into stuff until you stumble into the next clue" mode. I mean, sure it's nice to uncover a clue in a book left on the library's book return, but we have a problem when I opened the book return box out of boredom, or broke into the library just because I had exhausted all other options and had nowhere to go.

Finally, on a more bitchy note: there are some real plausability problems in the game, such as a cop leaving his post and running like a wuss because of a fire in his waste bin, or nobody reacting in the slightest to a half-naked native american babe stuck in a metal egg with arms and legs or a vampire dressed as Bela Lugosi in Dracula walking around town... Oh and the ending sucks ass.

The Bottom Line

A really cool adventure game that fails in a couple of areas but still has a lof of good elements in it. I know of worse games that have fared better so I never really understood why Bureau 13 got the shaft. Probably because it wasn't marketed to the hardcore adventure gaming niche as it should have and instead billed itself as one of those shinny multimedia products of it's time... Whatever the case anyone who considers him/herself as a true adventure gamer should check Bureau 13 out as it does a lot of cool things with the genre that you simply can't find anywhere else.

atari vcs