XIII (PC) review
"David Duchovny probably never imagined himself as a voice actor. The former star of the popular X-Files series that aired on Fox a few years back probably never expected the scope of his acting career to be limited to mystery/dramas either. But, even after that show has come and gone, Duchovny is still being cast into roles of characters with grim futures and pasts full of unanswered questions. His latest endeavor has him cast as the voice of XIII in Ubisoft's game baring the same name, and his ..."
David Duchovny probably never imagined himself as a voice actor. The former star of the popular X-Files series that aired on Fox a few years back probably never expected the scope of his acting career to be limited to mystery/dramas either. But, even after that show has come and gone, Duchovny is still being cast into roles of characters with grim futures and pasts full of unanswered questions. His latest endeavor has him cast as the voice of XIII in Ubisoft's game baring the same name, and his voice brings to life the torments and inner demons of a character as only a star with such a background could. At first, at least to me, it seemed that he wouldn't work as the character's voice, but the more and more as I played XIII I realized why he was the perfect fit for this flawed murder mystery.
XIII is a standard shooter built around yet another interesting gimmick. Red Faction brought us destructible environments, while Soldier of Fortune showered us intense violence from location based damage, and Max Payne showed us the majestic glory of bullet time in the video game world. While all of these innovations were great for the evolution of the shooting genre, the games behind them were a little lacking. XIII's gimmick is that it is presented in a comic-book, cel-shaded style. While cel-shading is nothing new, the world of XIII comes to life in a unique and colorful way. Though the plot is full of dark twists and constant deception, the world remains bright and cheerful in almost a mocking manner to the protagonist.
XIII's plot surprisingly isn't a throw-out plot like those placed in most first-person shooters these days. It begins in the most cliché manner around; you play as a character with insomnia. However, that's the extent of the clichés, because the first thing you learn is that the President has been killed in a JFK-style assassination, and you're the one accused of the crime. You awaken on a beach and slowly as you make your way from the waves to the Jeep of a lifeguard, you begin to remember what has happened to you in the first of several flashbacks. You still have no idea what's going on, and you only have one clue to go on: a single key for a bank safety deposit box in your pocket. You pass out and once you awaken inside the lifeguard's shack, your real trouble begins. The beautiful female lifeguard that saved you is riddled with holes from an assault rifle, and weakened and unarmed, you have to find an escape from your would-be captors. This is how XIII plays out, and soon in a style similar to Max Payne, dozens of characters are introduced, and none of their motives revealed. The question of ''who can be trusted?'' quickly turns into ''who should be feared?'' and ultimately into ''can I even rely on myself?'' which is absolute brilliance in plot execution.
The plot remains equally gripping throughout the game even though the gameplay doesn't fair quite as well. While XIII's story is exciting and wholly original, the gameplay remains much the same as dozens of other first-person shooters. The basic gameplay formula has you beginning the level in one location and going to the farthest away point to complete your goal, while in the in-between time flipping switches, shooting enemies, and solving a few puzzles. What keeps you doing it though is the unique look of the game, and the way it establishes it's gameplay around its style. A head-shot delivered to an unsuspecting foe will reveal a quick three clips on the top of the screen of the bullet hitting. If you should hit one of the many of foes and they fall off a ledge, another three clips flash on the top of the screen of the same person falling. It's all pretty exciting to watch a few times, but after a while you stop moving your head up to see essentially the same thing over and over again.
However, the game does add some variety in the form of unique missions and gadgets. Some missions have you sneaking into enemy strongholds, which quite honestly I normally dread in most games. But, the environments in XIII are so expansive and full of opportunity for exploration that I actually enjoyed it. Sometimes you won't be able to kill any innocent bystanders -- only problem is, they're ordered to kill you, so they'll be shooting at you (they haven't done anything wrong and thus don't deserve to die). You can sneak around to avoid them, or you have a few other options to stop them. Should you chose, you can take some people hostage and no one will take the risk to shoot you. Other times, you may find a handy object like a chair or a bottle around. Pick it up and you can run up to someone and smash it over their face, which doesn't kill them but knocks them out. In some missions, you'll be on the run from your enemies, and you'll have to make daring escapes. Fortunately, you're given several devices to aide in your flight, some seemingly right out of a James Bond movie or a Batman comic. For the most part though, these are underutilized and can only be used in specific places. An example of this would be the grappling hook -- in a game like this, it would certainly be awesome to take the grappling hook and hook someone with it. But, the game doesn't let you do that, and instead, you're only allowed to use it on clearly marked out environmental objects.
This linearity is much of the games major flaw. While the environments are great to explore in, you simply find more ammo or new weapons when wandering around, and hardly ever anything of real value. You also pretty much follow a set path, meandering through ventilation shafts and corridors that ultimately provide no other options except the vent or door straight ahead. And then we come to the second major flaw of the game, which is namely the enemies aiming ability. Somehow or another, every enemy in the game can hit you from a mile away with a semi-automatic assault rifle while when you aim dead at their skull with a pistol you completely miss them. This gets really annoying, particularly when you're going up against more than one enemy. They very rarely miss a shot, which quickly wears down your armor and your health, and you'll find yourself quick saving at every room.
Besides Duchovny, Adam West of Batman fame and the rapper Eve star in XIII. Since much of the game is told through narrated cutscenes, the voice-actors had to be perfect for their roles, and I really think all of them did a tremendous job. Much like actors who work to make themselves like who they're playing in a movie (such as Daniel Day Lewis learning how to be a butcher for his role in Gangs of New York) all of the voice talent seem to have worked hard to capture their characters. The music is an eclectic combination of many types of music, including solo-piano scores and jazz that really fit the ambiance of the games levels.
XIII's graphical style is a big reason to play the game though. The whole cel-shaded world really does look great, especially at high-resolution. Even better though are the character models which are all superbly animated and very nicely detailed. However, the best thing to me quite honestly was the distance drawing. There really seems to be none, even on the most vast levels of the game. There's no random pop-up, which is very nice.
Overall, XIII is a fun game to play through, and it's worth a purchase if you're up for a change from your more traditional looking first-person shooters. It even comes packed with an online component and a level editor that allows for some longevity. But, if you're considering purchasing XIII for it's single player, be advised that it's pretty much a one-time ordeal, and you may want to wait until the price drops on it a little. In the end though, lacking it may be in some regards, the game was a delightful romp that you won't regret purchasing.
Community review by asherdeus (December 04, 2003)
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