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ESRB Rating
Written by  :  Terrence Bosky (5463)
Written on  :  Feb 04, 2005
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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High on Graphic, Low on Novel

The Good

You wash ashore like so much drift wood carrying only a key to a safety deposit box and the number XIII tattooed on your collarbone. Faint memories… a boat… a helicopter… are all you have. Somewhat dazed, you are led to a lifeguard shack by the woman on duty. Then the sounds of a helicopter and gunfire bring you around. Gunmen are moving in on the shack and all you can find to defend yourself is a knife. It's a good thing your muscle memory is combat-ready.

In XIII, the player takes on the role of ----- --- (David Duchovny), a man believed to be Steve Rowland, or XIII,—the assassin who gunned down President Sherridan. Since the only clue points to Winslow Bank, XIII begins his quest, both for his identity and the truth about the assassination, there. Instead of clearing the matter up, XIII finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy with government agents trying to capture him and rogue elements working to kill him. Caught between these two forces, XIII finds himself rescued by Major Jones (Eve) and is soon rescuing General Carrington (Adam West) from a renegade military force.

XIII is a fast-paced cel-shaded first-person shooter, based on a series of French graphic novels. Its resemblance to a playable comic book is its strongest feature. The cel-shading looks like a cartoon image, but offers more detail than other cel-shaded games have managed. Dialogue takes place in word balloons over the characters' heads, sound effects are presented in comic book fashion—machine guns fire out ammo with a visual "RAT-A-TAT-TAT"; footsteps are shown with "TAP TAP" (which is also an aid on stealth missions); explosions show a "BOOM." More impressive are in-game effects, like sniper shots that are shown with a pull-out panel effect and conversations that XIII can hear but cannot see, are shown via comic strips.

As XIII uncovers more of the conspiracy, he finds himself working through the twenty (I to XX) members of a clandestine group whose ultimate goal is the overthrow of the United States government. The variety of levels range from the aforementioned bank to a military base he must infiltrate, frozen tundra that conceals a cabin where Steve Rowland's wife is hiding, a submarine base, and more. In general, the outdoor levels look better than the indoor levels. Moving through levels typically involves finding magnetic security cards to open locked doors, but there's also a good deal of duct-crawling or plain old running and gunning. Mission objectives also strike a nice balance between all-out action or silent infiltration.

XIII is a trained killing machine—whoever he really is. If he sneaks up behind enemies he can quickly take them out or take a noncombatant hostage. He's quick with his fists, but he can also pick up chairs, ashtrays, brooms, and other objects to score a quick KO. As he progresses through the game, XIII finds shotguns, machineguns, pistols, crossbows, throwing knives, grenades, and a good old bazooka. He also can dual-wield pistols and miniguns (UZIs) for those special times when filling the air with lead is more important than accuracy.

The more XIII does in the game, the more he remembers about his past. Key areas or phrases trigger flashbacks to the events leading up to his amnesia. He regains his memory and recalls special skills: lock picking, diving, moving stealthily and more. He also remembers how to use gadgets, especially a very useful grappling hook. XIII can hook hotspots and then use the grapple's control to hoist himself up or lower himself down to an area. He can also swing back and forth on the cable to build enough momentum for a longer jump.

With few exceptions, all of XIII's enemies are gunmen: basic fodder, sharpshooters, or bosses who aren't afraid to pull out the heavy weaponry. While there are some AI issues, the player can change the difficulty setting on a sliding scale from Arcade (easy) to Realistic (one shot, one kill). XIII can find armor to reduce the damage he takes and while the game really doesn't use locational damage, headshots are usually the most effective.

The Bad

The shortest possible version of my hour-long installation saga is to say that XIII and my anti-virus software didn't get along. Since this is the first time I've encountered this conflict, I blame XIII. Anyway, disabling my anti-virus software let me fully install XIII—the first full installation I've seen that still requires disk swapping. Another interesting programming feature is the quick save. Quick saves don't bookmark your position in-game, they act as a quick version of the regular save function that takes you back to the start of a level or the closest checkpoint. Also the game lacks any autosave function, so if you want to leave the game, make sure you've saved first.

XIII also relies too heavily on event triggers. At several points, XIII needs to escort people to an area. Just getting them to the area isn't enough, though. He also has to stand in the correct spot (usually right in front of them) for the next event to occur. At one point, I was defending my location against waves of enemies and eventually I killed them all. Then I waited… and backtracked… and tried jumping on everything… and shot some stuff… and checked a walkthrough to learn that I killed a bazooka man before he had the chance to blow a hole in a wall.

If you've seen The Bourne Identity or read the book, then the whole amnesia thing-go to a bank-find a conspiracy thing might sound familiar. I believe the French source material for the game acknowledges Robert Ludlum as an inspiration, but with the Jason Bourne movies being so big right now, XIII feels like a retread. It doesn't help that Duchovny has very few lines and his talents and the role's requirements don't match up. XIII does have a great story, but the game play is focused on the action not the plot. At times, I wasn't sure how I got to an area or how I knew to go there, except for a brief blurb.

The Bottom Line

In this age of graphical realism, I was impressed by the visual flair found in XIII. Call it style over substance, but I found the dynamic visuals in XIII refreshing. I've played other games with cartoon-like graphics or presented as an interactive graphic novel, but XIII pulls it off the best. While I have problems with the core gaming experience, I think XIII is a winner in terms of presentation. As a game though, XIII doesn't bring anything new to the table (except for gorgeous fireworks).