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XIII
Review By: Jared Black
 
Developer:  Ubisoft France
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# Of Players:  1-2 (6 online)
Genre:  FPS
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Memory Card, Network Adaptor
Date Posted:  1-1-04

To stand out in today’s crowded FPS market, every game needs a special something that differentiates it from the competition.  In XIII, the player assumes the role of a man that’s forgotten his identity and sets out to get some answers.  That storyline’s been done a lot in recent years though, so really this game’s “hook” is its unique comic book visual style.  It should surprise no one then that it actually is based on a French comic book.

Even if the storyline has been done a lot recently in other mediums, it’s still pretty unique in the video game world despite somewhat similar games like Max Payne.  Told in true comic book style, XIII has one of the deepest storylines you’ll find in a FPS.  Throughout the game the main character will have flashbacks that fill in details of his former life, and in-between most levels cutscenes nicely illustrate events in the present.  A variety of top secret documents and files are scattered throughout the game, and they contain things like pictures, bank transfers, and other secretive stuff that help round out the conspiracy.  It’s a story that rivals the best stuff found on TV.

Too bad the gameplay can’t quite keep up, although it’s pretty good in its own right.  Although the game features 15 different weapons, the player will end up using only a few most of the time.  The crossbow is best for sniping quietly, the knife best for close quarters killing, etc.  The crossbow is slower to shoot and reload, making it one of the few weapons really requiring skill to use properly.  Only a few weapons are really interesting (like the harpoon), but unfortunately these are only used in a couple of instances throughout the game.  To compliment these weapons the player will “remember” a variety of skills they used to know throughout the course of the game, making it easier to track enemies, shoot straight, etc.

Unfortunately enemy A.I. is predictable, with any semblance of taking cover represented by enemy soldiers running from Point A to B and back again.  In many instances when sniping I was able to predict exactly where an enemy would move to based on where they were before.  As a result I could just place the crossbow curser in that location and wait for them to move back to that spot.  Enemies are always in the same location every time an area is played, making it a memory challenge after a few playthroughs.  After a while this makes combat boring and repetitive.

Levels are broken up primarily into sneaking and blasting areas.  Sneaking around office buildings doesn’t work quite the same as in something like Splinter Cell, as this game is much more forgiving.  The player is provided many visual clues using pop-up comic book windows, showing enemies going into other rooms, on patrol, etc.  If spotted, the player only has to kill whoever spotted him before they can sound off the alarm.  Doesn’t matter how loud the player chooses to be when doing it, even if there are several enemies in the next room.  While a bit unrealistic, it’s for the better here since it keeps the action fast-paced.

The game also supports online play, but quite frankly it doesn’t really stand out as anything unique (despite what the box says).  In addition to standard deathmatch modes, it features the Sabotage mode that requires one team to defend a series of checkpoints while another tries to blow them up.  Decent enough, but nothing special when compared to what Ubisoft and others have already done on Xbox (Rainbow Six 3, Ghost Recon: Island Thunder, etc.).  It also requires registration at ubi.com.

Using a comic book style, Ubisoft was able to create one of the most unique looking games yet.  XIII oozes style, with hazy black and white flashbacks, close ups of gruesome weapon hits, and plenty of cel-shaded goodness.  Characters really do look like they’re straight out of a comic book, with plenty of facial detail and unique looks.  A soldier’s distant footsteps are represented with positional “TAP”s, while huge explosions bring a big “BLAM” onscreen.  The environments are less interesting, as some are cel-shaded while others are not.  Many areas have few objects in them, and many look the same with repetitive textures and the same repeating objects.

The music is a nice mix of jazz tunes, which do a much better job of complimenting XIII’s world than a standard rock score would’ve.  The music intensifies whenever there’s danger, and then reverts back to a more subdued volume & pacing during times of calm.  The voice acting is also excellent, featuring the work of David Duchovny (as XIII), Adam West (as the General), and Eve (as Jones).  Less heralded but just as important is a ton of conversation heard from enemies throughout the adventure, with discussion ranging from the mission at hand to the idle chatter bored soldiers tend to talk about.  Sound effects are a little weak though, as weapons lack the oomph found in most other games and environmental sounds are fairly limited.

HIGHS:

  • The comic book style is done really well.
  • The storyline is interesting.
  • The voice acting is excellent, as is the music score.

LOWS:

  • The A.I. is predictable and obviously scripted.
  • Sound effects are a little bland.
  • The ending is great…for a free TV show.  Cliffhangers that point and laugh at you because they know you’ll have to buy the sequel to get the full story aren’t good for $50 games.

FINAL VERDICT:

XIII’s unique style and interesting storyline more than make up for the lacking A.I., pedestrian weapons, and sometimes-bland environments.  I’m a sucker for a good conspiracy story, and XIII kept me interested until the very end.

A word of warning though: this game is most definitely not for children.  All the parental lock feature does is tone down the already tame gore, as if that’s somehow worse for your child than the constant swearing throughout the game.  I realize that the game’s rated Mature, but parents (who don’t pay attention to those anyway) might be fooled into think this feature somehow makes it child safe.

Overall Score: 8.5

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