Genre : FPS
Release Date: October 28, 2003
XIII disturbs me.
First, with Infocom text adventure games, we were playing novels. Then, with cel-shading, we were playing cartoons; the new bizarre technology gave rise to equally bizarre visuals, explosions of light and color that slid across the eye like the faint memory of a dream. A few good games used that technology to impressive effect, such as the underappreciated Jet Grind Radio and its sequel, and the next thing you know, any polygon that was not actually running away from a game developer was held down and cel-shaded to within an inch of its life.
XIII is not playing the same game as the rest of its brethren. It, too, is cel-shaded to hell and back, with each of the umpteen hundred thousand polygons that’re pushed across your screen comprised of both a cel, and a shade, or however it’s supposed to be done. I’m not some kind of polygon wrangler, dammit; I just shoot fictional people for a living.
The effect here, however, is not cartoonish in the least. It is set firmly in dark and nasty first-person shooter territory, the story of a sort of bad person who might’ve been a really bad person collaborating with bad people to do bad things to bad people. XIII is a game set within a comic book, in every sense of the term, and that comic book is one of the ultra-noir, bloody, violent books that caused the creation of the Comics Code Authority.
People get shot here, and explode into rich red drizzling clouds of blood; if you play your cards right, you may get to see a brief scene where their head snaps back in still frame, blood pours over their face from a fatal head wound, and they scream in denial before crumpling to the ground like a broken toy. Onomotopeia, the English-major term for the linguistic translation of a sound—thud, snap, crash, bam—predominates here, as most aural effects are not heard, but instead, are briefly written across their subjects before fading out. If you hemstitch a sniper with M-16 rounds, he’ll scream and pitch over from his perch, trailing big round cartoony Os as he goes.
It is probably a good thing no surrealists have gotten ahold of this yet.
The title character of XIII is an amnesiac, washing up on a California beach with a tattoo on his chest, a key in his pocket, and murder on his mind. He’s barely awake when the first wave of armed mooks come after him, and the hilarity that ensues is both bloody and frequent. The following missions are about answering the obvious questions: who is XIII? What did he do to make all these nice men with rifles mad at him? What did he do for a living that involved being so good at killing people? Where’s the lock that this key fits? Espionage-themed shooter action commences.
XIII isn’t as intense as most. It tends to place a higher emphasis on stealth than most of its FPS brethren, with a solid assortment of quiet ways to make people die. If you can’t sneak up on a guy and snap his neck with your bare hands, you can instead opt to stab him to death with a harpoon, should one be handy, or break a handy item—a brick, a bottle, a mop, a chair—over his head. In theory, you could also put an arrow through his head using your nifty sniper crossbow, but that doesn’t really work, as the sniper crossbow is loaded with kisses and love. I have had more luck—and by luck, I mean fatalities—with harsh language and unpleasant thoughts than with the crossbow. It’s unnerving.
When the real action hits, XIII is primed to deliver. Each of his wide assortment of weapons comes equipped with a secondary-fire mode, some of which are entertaining. His M-16, as with all good M-16s, has a grenade launcher attached to it; alternatively, you can blaze away with twin 9mm pistols, pitch grenades, pick men off from the next time zone with a particularly powerful sniper rifle, or punch holes through both people and offensive engine blocks with a .44 Magnum. All of these do not differ in any significant way from other FPSes, but the cartoonish cel-shading technique aids them in looking more brutal, and occasionally bizarrely inappropriate, than gunshot wounds would ordinarily be.
If this interests you—and I do not see how it could not—then you can find XIII on all major platforms, and a few minor ones, I’m sure, at the end of October. In the meantime, read a lot of old Frank Miller comics, and try to get your evil on.
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