Release Date: November 24, 2003
XIII plays like a standard console FPS: the left analog stick handles forward and backwards motions, along with strafing. The C-stick controls all rotation, or, in FPS-lingo, freelook. This control setup may serve to thoroughly confuse players who haven't touched a console FPS before, but the rest of us will feel right at home. The A button handles any extra actions that the game may throw at you, such as picking up certain items, breaking windows, or switching to the recommended tool, depending on your situation. While it may seem like that is quite a bit for one button to handle, XIII manages to make it work seamlessly. Surprisingly, while this may sound like a lot to handle, it's not; there's almost nothing counter-intuitive about the controls themselves.
The gunplay itself is where XIII begins to falter, mainly because of it's PC roots. When you fire upon enemies who are slightly far away, you have to have your cursor placed directlyover the enemy - not a pixel off! With a mouse, this would be no problem at all, but aiming with a C-stick proves to be too annoying a task for your average console gamer. And don't think these moments are rare! The very first mission puts you into situations like this multiple times!
The missions throughout XIII are pleasantly difficult, though not without a few problems. This is not a Doom-style FPS. Very early on the in game, you are given specific objectives, many of which are difficult to maintain, such as the bank stage, where you have to go through the entire level without killing a single bank guard - but these guys have no qualms about putting a bullet in your brain! You have to get very creative to make it through missions like this, which is refreshing in such a notoriously flat genre. Should you just run by the guard? Try to find a chair to knock him out with? Decisions like these separate XIII from games like Serious Sam and Quake. Sadly, the horrendous enemy AI keeps XIII from elevating to the level of games like Halo. Sometimes, you can shoot and kill an enemy with an extremely loud shotgun, yet his companion, who is standing but a few feet away, has absolutely no reaction. Other times, firing off an extremely quiet crossbow will alert a horde of guards from all over the map. Worst of all, there are enemies who's aim is so dead on, that if you step slightly into a room, you will find yourself lying dead on the floor, only to realize that you had full health, and were killed by an enemy from across the room with a shotgun (a spread shot? Across the room?). The friendly NPC AI is no better, with your partners prone to getting stuck, getting in the way, and oftentimes not firing back at enemies who are doing their best to kill your compatriot.
There is one element of XIII that nearly fails, in my opinion. This is definitely no Quake; it's slow, boring, and the level designs are completely lackluster. Still, you may find some amusement here, especially if you're bored with all of the other multiplayer FPS games out there. Personally, I found it to be completely boring. I am thankful that UBI Soft included the feature, though. There is some fun to be had, just not much. It's just obvious that the developers really wanted to focus on the single player experience. The lack of any sort of online play in this version doesn't help things in the multiplayer regard.
other complaint that I have with the game is the horrible load times. Every time you die, you have to reload the level, which can take up to a minute, and sometimes more. There are even lengthy load times when you are simply going to the menu screen! UBI Soft should have done something about this. It's unforgivable.
I already said XIII's graphics sparked a flood of hype; unsurprisingly, I agree with the masses. The cel-shading is some of the best I've seen this side of Zelda: The Wind Waker, though the animation is inferior to Nintendo's graphical masterpiece. The comic book-style visuals make this the most creative (and appropriate!) use of cel-shading yet. Characters look and move just like they should, with wonderfully cheesy-but-great over-emoting. Sound effects are accompanied by dramatic comic-style visuals like "TAP! TAP!" and "BOOM!" Even the speech bubbles that appear over the heads of characters as they speak are comic book-inspired. The cutscenes are actually moving comics - panels filled with moving characters, narrated by agent XIII himself. There are a few glitchy visuals here and there, but, for the most part, XIII does not dissapoint the eyes.
The voice acting is superb. Celebrity talent such as Adam West and David Duchovny, along with a quality supporting cast, come together to add to the comic book charm of the game. Since this game does not take itself seriously, it's very appropriate that the voice actors follow suit. There are only a few instances of truly bad voice acting, but these are very few and far in between. The rest of the sound effects are clear, concise, and work perfectly for this sort of game, along with the music, which couldn't be better. If UBI Soft deserves any praise for this game, it's definitely in the sound department.
XIII is not the greatest FPS to grace the market, but there was no reason to expect it to be. What we do have is a very well done, if somewhat flawed, action/adventure title. I'll admit that I wouldn't have enjoyed XIII nearly as much if it wasn't for the fact that it simply bleeds style from the moment it is loaded up, but that shouldn't stop anyone from skipping over this one. In this case, the graphics really do serve to enhance the overall feel of the game, almost working to white-out the flaws that are present. If you are looking for some multiplayer fun, get yourself a copy of TimeSplitters 2; XIII does not deliver in this department. If a good, challenging single player experience is what you need, XIII will deliver.
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