XIII (PlayStation 2) review
"XIII is a game based off the famous Belgian comic book of the same name. It is an adaptation of the first five volumes of the comic series (a series with 18 volumes and a lot of plot). In line with this, the game combines cell shaded graphics and comic style effects in order to make the player feel that they are inside a comic book. While this isn't the first time such a media cross has been attempted, XIII is notable for being one of the few to attempt it in a first person shooter genre. Unfort..."
XIII is a game based off the famous Belgian comic book of the same name. It is an adaptation of the first five volumes of the comic series (a series with 18 volumes and a lot of plot). In line with this, the game combines cell shaded graphics and comic style effects in order to make the player feel that they are inside a comic book. While this isn't the first time such a media cross has been attempted, XIII is notable for being one of the few to attempt it in a first person shooter genre. Unfortunately, XIII doesn't provide much of a reason for ever doing it again.
The game begins with the character you play as washed up on a beach, knowing nothing, not even his name. And you don't have time to figure it out. As usually happens to bad ass amnesiacs in comic books, lots of guys with guns show up and start trying to kill you. And, as always happens in first person shooters, you fight back with considerable force. The story goes on from there, taking you on an action packed journey to discover who you are, and maybe uncover a few secret organizations in the process.
The story, while maybe not life changing, is fairly complex. But does that mean it is good? Not at all. Complex in this case means confusing and poorly delivered. The characters that know what's going on neglect to tell you, and yet they expect you to complete all these story based goals for them. This isn't to say the main character doesn't figure it out, from what I could gather by the poor script, he knew what was going on by the end. But I still didn't. I was left all alone, deserted in my state of non-knowledge. In the end the confusion caused me, at least, to go through the game without any investment in it, meeting each objective not because I understood why I was doing it, but simply because it pushed the game forward. By the end, I was assassinating complete strangers because some guy in a suit calling himself my ally told me to. Sounds like Hitman, right? Except here there's supposed to be a reason for it all. Maybe part of it was the script, which is uninspiring, even for the action genre. Most of the script consists of characters pointing out the obvious, such as “Watch out! They're shooting at us!” or talking enigmatically about things you don't understand.
One other note here, XIII does not have a full storyline. While many of the mysteries are cleared up during the game, and the story arc concluded, the game ends on a cliffhanger. That would be okay, except that currently the chances of a sequel are a bit dubious, making such an ending a tad frustrating.
As mentioned before, the graphics are cell shaded. This works quite well with the comic book format, and doesn't look at all bad. In fact, there's one spot in the game where it's surprisingly beautiful, as you look over a windswept cliff into the sun setting on the ocean. I spent a while on that cliff, bullets ricocheting around me. They couldn't touch me, man. The view was empowering me. But I digress.
XIII also adds a comic book flair to the game by having text captions appear over things like explosions, gun fire, and walking (such as BOOOM, Ta-ta-ta-ta, or Tap Tap Tap), by having little mini comic panels pop up showing action occurring elsewhere, and by having a trio of comic panels appear when you successfully snipe someone, showing, in three parts, the arrow entering their head. But what the game makes up for with these little additions, it lacks in character models. The characters move stiffly and the animations are repetitive. If this is supposed to be a comic book, then it's gonna take more than some panels and text bubbles to convince me. Characters should be striking cool poses and be getting blown backwards into walls by my shotgun blasts. While the developers obviously took time to make it look like a comic book, they failed to make it act like a comic book. And therein lies XIII's major problem.
The game performs like a decent first person shooter. It uses the Unreal Engine, so players of Unreal Tournament and Halo will feel somewhat at home, though your character's abilities (like aiming precision, speed, and jumping height) are reduced from these games. The controls are also quick and easy to learn, with item and weapon switching being unusually easy to do on a console controller.
One of the most important things in a shooter is, of course, the weapons. A good shooter will have a variety of weapons, but will also try to not have any redundant weapons (like twelve pistols, or five shotguns, with different skins). XIII does a good job in this respect, sticking to a basic line up and yet covering all the different types. XIII also incorporates the ability to pick up objects like picture frames and chairs and break them over the heads of your opponents for devastating attacks (usually one hit knock outs). This is easily the most entertaining way to take out an enemy.
The AI in XIII is intelligent enough to use cover and to work together to force you out of your hiding spots, meaning the combat will keep you on your toes and moving. The enemies also have pretty good aim, meaning you'll be using those med kits a lot (which probably contain copious amounts of morphine, adding the chance of addiction to the risks of getting shot at).
Another feature of XIII is a set of combat skills you'll learn as the game progresses. These are things like the ability to get more heal out of your med kits, to aim more precisely, to sense the positions of people on the other side of walls, and to wield dual hand guns. Yes, they're helpful and cool, but they're also pre-programmed to be acquired at certain stages. So, sadly, it's fairly uninteresting. I'm surprised they didn't copy the Deus Ex system, which incorporated a lot of customization of your character into learning skills. That would have been more fun. As is, I generally didn't even notice I'd gotten a new skill for several levels. And then it rarely changed the way I played.
XIII uses a quick save system which saves your game automatically at certain points in the stages. You can also save the game manually, but the effect is no different. You'll start at the last checkpoint either way, so you might as well let the game take care of the saving. The only reason to manually save is if you really like a level. There's no stage selection in XIII. Once you complete a mission, there's no way to go back unless you kept a save on that level. There's very little load time, by the way, which is a plus. However, the checkpoints could've been better placed. Often times, there is a check point right before an unskippable cut scene or lengthy segments involving walking down empty hallways. This is frustrating, because it means that when you die you have to go through several minutes of non-action before getting back to where you were.
The boss fights are a little disappointing. The bosses in XIII are basically faster versions of the main enemies (with different skins) who wield better guns, have better aim, and boast a hell of a lot more health. Beating them requires healing a lot and hitting them with crates worth of ammo. There's very little strategy involved beyond basic circle strafing and staying out of range.
Perhaps it is this very lack of strategy that plagues the gaming experience. In the end, the controls are fine, and the AI is good, but the gameplay lacks excitement. It's very frustrating, because you can tell that the developers put a lot of work into the game, but they weren't thinking outside of the box. And a project like XIII requires that. XIII's battles may be good, but you'll keep having that same battle over and over. The enemies may be smart, but they're all copies of each other, and they don't even have the decency to die in interesting manners. That may be more of a graphical error, as mentioned above, but the problem does leak into the gameplay, because that's where blowing people back several feet into walls comes in. Or, in XIII's case, doesn't come in.
The music is very unmemorable. You've got your basic action music, except slightly modified to sound like it's also out of a spy movie. So you end up with a jumpy piece with sort of a laid back stealth beat to it. But entirely unmemorable all the same.
You may initially be impressed by the list of actors that head up XIII's voice work, from David Duchovny to Adam West. But you're in for a disappointment, especially from David Duchovny. The other actors manage to do nothing good with the boring script. But Duchovny uses his super genius to do the impossible and actually make it worse. Now, don't get me wrong. I love David Duchovny. I've loved him ever since the X Files. I even wrote him a couple of fan letters telling him how cool he was. So what's happened to him in recent years? Well, if we go by his performance in XIII, it's a good bet he donated the creative side of his brain to science. I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though. I would probably sound bored and half asleep too if I was handed a script like that.
The level design is very linear, leading you from one enemy filled room to the next. Nothing new for a shooter. As far as that goes, the design is good, with lots of cover and obstacles. My biggest gripe was that the levels are not set up for sneaking around, despite what would've made (and is actually advertised as) a good sneaking shooter. XIII is an assassin, but the level design and enemy placement forces him to be more of a Rambo than a James Bond.
In a word, the multiplayer aspect of XIII is unexciting. Does that mean it's not fun? No, there's just better stuff out there for your multiplayer needs. I do want to give the developers credit for coming up with some interesting modes of play (such as one where you have to chase a moving target that gets smaller every time you shoot it) and also for putting in bots. What is it with games these days and not having bots? I blame Microsoft and their insistence on everyone signing up for Xbox Live. It's okay Microsoft, I'll still sign up. It would just be nice to be able to play the multiplayer when I'm not in the mood to be punked by thirteen year olds who live halfway across the country.
In any case, the multiplayer has the same problems that the regular mode does. It's decent shooter gameplay, but there's little that's exciting about it. Again I blame the lack of exciting graphical elements. At least in the story mode you had the occasional comic book effect. Here you just have stiff character models rendered in cell shading.
The first thing you have to ask yourself before you buy XIII is what you're looking for out of the game. If you're just looking for another shooter to tide you over until the next Halo or Half Life, then XIII is an acceptable rent. And if you're looking for a unique first person shooter experience... well, XIII is still an acceptable rent
Plain and simple, XIII is definitely worth the 2.50 you'll pay to rent it, but probably not the 15.00 you'd pay to buy it. It's got enough going for it that it's worth a playthrough, but it fails to deliver something that feels any different from the other shooters on the market, and it doesn't have as many flashy effects as those shooters.
Final Word: Playing XIII is a bit like skydiving. Most people will just lie and say they've done it. Are they any worse off for not actually skydiving? Probably not.
Community review by zippdementia (July 09, 2008)
Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.
If you enjoyed this XIII review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!