Release Date: November 18, 2003
The leader of the free world has been assassinated and you are the prime suspect.
You wake up on a desolate strip of a New England beach. The near-fatal impact of a bullet has left your head pounding, and your memory erased. What's more, the number "XIII" has been mysteriously tattooed on your chest, while your pocket holds a key to a New York City bank box. Head swimming in amnesia, you struggle to your feet only to encounter more assailants' intent on finishing the job. To your shock, you handle the hitmen with the killing skills of a professional -- before heading to the bank in search of any shred of information about your lost identity and your involvement in the president's murder.
What lies ahead is a deadly quest into not only your shadowy past, but America's darkest corridors of power.
You have probably seen the ads by now since there are a lot of marketing dollars being spent on XIII. Yes it is a cel-chaded first person shooter. Not the first cel-shaded game but the first fps to try this style out. And, if you don't know, XIII is based on a French graphic novel of the same name. Or as I guess the more conservative among us might refer to it as a 'freedom' novel along with the 'freedom' fries they enjoy.
So, does this cel-shaded effort from Ubisoft make it through the barrage of first person shooters out there and offer anything unique or fun? Well, yes and no.
As you can see from the story above, you are basically a part of a conspiracy plotline. Your identity is revealed to you early on and you keep having flashbacks as to what brought you here. You apparently have been accused of assassinating the president and are trying to find your way through many people who are after you for one reason or another. You have one person who joins to help reveal your identity and help find you way around. Yes, you're playing the movie Bourne Identity and you are Matt Damon. Ok, not really but it is very similar.
Right off the bat I have to say this, you will be installing four different disks. Yes, you heard it correctly, four. I didn't care for that at all. This seemed excessive. Yes the Unreal II engine was employed. Yes, it takes more calculations from the engine to do cel shading. And, no, I don't like it.
Ok, I got that out of the way. Now, as far as stories go, I would say the XIII ranks pretty well. As you play the game it feels very much like you are turning the pages of a comic book revealing the plot and unfolding more storyline. There are many cut scenes shown in little cells that keep the comic book feel going. As you enter different areas you also see little cells pop up giving away clues to your mission or furthering the story along. You even see words inserted for many sounds like the 'tap' sound for footsteps or an 'arrgghh' for someone receiving a round from you. For me all this really works to set the game apart. It definitely gives XIII a style all its own. It felt very much like Ang Lee's direction of his movie version of The Hulk. Remember how different scenes were chopped into smaller frames on the screen and how it kept the comic book feel in tact? So, as far as things that work in the game to give it a unique style, the comic book feel definitely works to set XIII apart.
How does the cel-shading work for the game you ask? Well, my doubts were there when loading the game as to whether I would like it or not. Within the first few minutes of the game I got used to it and it worked fine. The quality of the character models and different locations works just fine. The character movement seemed to be adequate as well. You can see some of the Unreal II technology at play even with the cel-shading. Unfortunately the landscapes and background had no character at all and many things within view were pretty flat. After a while the cel-shading kind of wore on me. This was true in part because of average character models and very poor facial animations. The detail level on faces and many objects are sketchy and simple. When shooting at characters in a distance they just looked like straw men. Some won't find this a problem at all. Some will find after an hour or two at it that it doesn't have much of a neat factor as it did when you first started.
The sounds are done fairly well with some very good to very average voice acting throughout. Voiceovers are added by Adam West, David Duchovny and Eve. These folks would comprise the good part. Some of the other voice acting is just average. Funny that Adam West was in this because I often thought of the earlier Batman TV series when I would shoot at someone and the words of the less fortunate appeared above their head. Weapon sounds were done well and were appropriate to the occasion but nothing to great. Music was fitting and done well throughout. I found some of the music to really enhance and help aid the style of the game a great deal.
Unfortunately with everything that does work well in XIII, it ends up being a little less enjoyable than one may hope. I think many will tire of the game before they are half through with it. It does have a good story and a good concept to get it off the ground, unfortunately the game is so linear that you end up feeling like your playing only to progress the story. I think what the designers were going for here was feeling like you were part of a movie. I can see in many ways that there were some good thoughts about how to make this happen. What takes away though is the lack of choices in situations as to how 'you' will play a part. "You" really don't have many choices as you are mainly limited to going from point A to point B. The lack of control and options as to how I would have the movie unfold made it feel like I was just a cog in the machine. Well, a cog with an arsenal of weapons mind you, but a cog all the same. I do realize that there may be many out there that wouldn't mind this at all. They may even prefer being micromanaged through their game play. For those, this would fit the bill perfectly.
Recent efforts like Deus Ex: Invisible War, Call of Duty and even Halo make it hard to get involved in such a linear game. Deus Ex obviously representing the pinnacle of being able to decide how you achieve your objectives. But, even games like Halo gave you mission goals that you could often achieve in a few different ways.
There is something else that really bugs me about the game. That is the save game issue. There are placeholders for save games but it doesn't work. This seems like a huge oversight. Also, you will hit different checkpoints but you will not be able to load them back up. This is another huge oversight. This seems like another, 'oh yeah we got the pc version too' mistake. I'm guessing that this problem will be resolved with future patches. I'm also guessing that it isn't a problem on the consoles. This really dampened my experience as I couldn't save my experience and had to play through whole chapters if I didn't want to repeat.
All in all XIII comes out with lots of style and enough going for it to make a great game but ends up falling flat. With David Duchovny, the excellent story, the cel-shaded comic book feel, there is definitely style coming out of the seams. But style only goes so far if the game play doesn't have you wanting to come back for more. In the end XIII is a pretty easy game to let go and move on from. I'm sure with all the money spent on this cross platform shooter that their may be more in the works in the XIII series. If that is the case, maybe there will be some lessons learned about compelling game play next time around. I would score this game lower for this but there are enough good things going on style and story wise to lift it from an extremely mediocre rating. Time and post holiday season reports will only tell if XIII will be continue to be an unlucky number.
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