Release Date: November 18, 2003
For most American gamers, XIII will not be recognized with the same enthusiasm as that of the huge French fan-base that the franchise has amassed. It is a cel-shaded first-person shooter based on an incredibly popular French comic book. The videogame certainly uses its comic book influence to an impressive degree - boasting comic book panel animation cut scenes and utilizing text bubbles to represent the various instances of sound in the game in order to purport highly stylized action and dialogue sequences. Fans of the source material will undoubtedly find a lot to like here due to the fact that the game is able to bring the comic to life in 3D without sacrificing any of its intrigue or cut-throat violence, but for those who aren't familiar with the world of XIII the game may come off as a bit derivative.
The game begins with the lead character, XIII (or Thirteen), waking up on a beach where he is washed up after suffering a near-fatal gunshot wound. Without any recollection of who he is, XIII is in a dire situation with nothing and no one to turn to. It isn't long before a helpful lifeguard happens upon XIII and guides him to safety. The only lead you have to figuring out who you are is a bank deposit key, but before you can contemplate further what may be waiting for you, the beach is ambushed by a host of unknown baddies who don't hesitate to litter the vicinity with bullets, thus killing the lifeguard and leaving you to fend for yourself. As the story progresses, an intricate conspiracy begins to unravel. Apparently, someone with your face has assassinated the president, but are you really responsible for such an unthinkable act or is there something more sinister and diabolical at work here? That's what you need to figure out.
The first thing you'll notice about XIII is its unprecedented use of cel-shading, which gives you the feeling that you are actually playing through a comic book. The gameplay, however, is anything but unique or original. Your objectives are almost always straightforward, often requiring only that you escape a certain location or track down a particular item within the environment. The weapons in the game are of the same variety you'll find in the graphic novels, which is to say pistols, shotguns, and sniper rifles. But the control is solid and the weapons do their job respectably. It's the enemy AI that'll have you reeling in bewilderment. It's not uncommon to see guards completely ignore you and wait patiently to get cinematically capped in the head, or hide behind an object and wait for you to walk up to them from the side to kill'em. But even physics take a backseat to the AI inadequacies. For example, don't be surprised if an opponent manages to kill you without having to actually aim at you, magic bullets abound in XIII.
There are some refreshing aspects to the game, such as target specific damage that allows you to perform stylish headshots via three-panel animation sequences, which graphically depict the execution. Also, the comic book style of the proceedings is further embellished by comic book panels that pop up when certain enemies enter a room or when an important dialogue transaction takes place off-screen. But even with the game's innovative use of comic book style dynamics, most players will soon realize that the basic foundation of progression is far too simple to remain entertaining for very long. The path you need to travel from level to level is usually quite linear, and getting from point A to point B rarely takes much skill or brain power. There are some areas where you'll be accompanied by AI NPC characters, and while these sequences do liven up the experience, they also have a tendency to frustrate, especially when your teammate refuses to initiate the required action to proceed because you didn't move directly in front of her or perform the exact sequence of commands to trigger the next event.
Following with the game's modest assortment of weaponry is a restrained level of firepower accumulation. You'll start the experience with nothing but your hands to defend yourself, upon further observation you'll find some throwing knifes that you can then use to kill a guard, thus freeing him of his pistol. Armed with a pistol you'll take down another soldier and steal his assault rifle, etc. Each weapon has its distinct strengths and drawbacks. For instance, the assault rifle or submachine gun are great choices for taking down mobs of enemies at close range, but in order to contend with far away opponents you'll need to utilize a pistol or sniper rifle. But conventional firearms aren't the only types of weapons in XIII, you'll also be able to pick up all sorts of items that are lying around and use them to disarm or otherwise kill the opposition. Everything from chairs, to glass shards, to ashtrays can be picked up and smashed over the heads of or thrown at the faces of baddies, which is a good thing since running out of ammo happens quite frequently.
The 13-chapter single-player campaign is pretty lengthy, clocking in at a healthy 10+ hours. But Ubisoft didn't stop there, you'll also get to dig into a fairly in-depth multiplayer mode that can be played via two-player split-screen or online with up to six players. All the expected multiplayer modes are present, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag, as well as a power-up mode wherein players who don't do as well will be granted a tactical bonus. Most of the maps found in the multiplayer modes aren't all that exciting, however, and are borrowed directly from the single-player campaign. Nevertheless, multiplayer does prove to be a worthwhile addition that substantially increases the longevity of the game.
Visually, XIII's claim to fame is its unique cel-shaded look. Never before has an FPS so closely resembled an actual comic book, the developers did a great job in this regard. The character models feel ripped right out of the graphic novel, featuring spot-on facial detail and excellent animation. The backgrounds and environments don't fare so well, though, mainly because they mostly consist of simplistic structures and very basic architecture. But it's hard to deny that XIII has a graphical style all its own. The sound presentation is very good. Big name stars such as David Duchovny, Eve, and Adam West all lent their distinguished voice talents to the game, with the former X-Files lead man plays the part of XIII himself. The music and sound effects all fit the dark and twisting style of the game's story and violent action nicely, though neither form of aural emissions go beyond the call of duty.
Most who manage to make it through to the end-credits of XIII will likely do so due to its consistently interesting and engaging storyline. The actual gameplay and linear FPS progression of the game don't do much for those who are bred on quality first-person shooters, but the control is tight enough and the action exciting enough to warrant at least a few hours of satisfying play. If you're a fan of the source material then don't hesitate to pick this one up as the game certainly does justice to its namesake, but if you're anyone else then rent before buying.
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