Belgian author Jeanne Van Hamme's graphic novel XIII comes to life on next-generation platforms as a first-person shooter featuring cel-shaded graphics and an engine based on Epic Games' award-winning Unreal technology. Playing the role of an ex-secret agent who has lost his memory, players must piece together the clues to his dark past before it's too late. The game follows a similar format to the graphic novel from which it is based, as much of the story is told through a series of flashbacks. Both the Xbox and PC versions include online multiplayer options.
What do you get when you take a first-person shooter, add a French comic, mix in some cell-shaded graphics and a comic book-style presentation? That game, XIII ("thirteen"), is the latest first-person shooter from Ubisoft, and while it's not as interesting as you might expect and doesn't offer much beyond generic FPS fare, it's still a decent enough shooter in the end.
Based on a French comic of the same name, XIII has a storyline similar to that of The Bourne Identity and other conspiracy-themed thrillers. You play a man who may or may not be named Steve Rowland, codenamed "XIII," who may or may not have killed the President of the United States. Why the confusion? You see, the problem is that "Steve" has lost his memory, and isn't quite sure who he is or what he's done.
After regaining consciousness on a beach, our hero quickly finds himself hunted by agents desperate to shut him up. From there, it's a long and winding road as you try to figure out who you are and what exactly you've been a part of. Although the gameplay drags at times, the story is pretty good and most likely, the main reason you'll want to see the game through to completion. For a videogame, XIII's introductory scenes are presented in a fairly original style, and there are several cutscenes that help push things along both between and during missions.
It's impossible to talk abut XIII without mentioning its cell-shaded graphics (powered by Unreal engine tech) and unique visual style. I've heard numerous opinions on the graphics around, but I thought the PC version of the game looked great. The graphics have a clean, distinctive look with solid colors and heavy black lines outlining each character, and there are other comic-book flourishes -- you'll see a large "BAM" or something similar onscreen when shooting enemies, and headshots while sniping are punctuated with a series of close-up panels showing the enemy taking a fall. Some of the cutscenes are a little on the low-res side, but that's about the worst complaint I had with the graphics.
To its credit, the developers of XIII do their part to take the game's unique presentation and extend it to the gameplay. Stealth is a frequent part of XIII, and you can track enemies through walls because they produce a small "TAP TAP TAP" as they make their rounds. There's a mission early on where you take a woman hostage in order to escape from a bank, and you're forced to walk backwards most of the way to keep from getting shot. There's some good stuff, to be sure.
The problem with XIII is that there's just not enough of this good stuff. Too often, the game devolves into generic first-person shooter material that we've seen retreaded time and time again, and XIII won't be winning any awards for its combat anytime soon. There are sections where enemies appear aware of their surroundings and won't attack until they spot you, but more often, you feel like you're just going through the motions, shooting enemies that jump out at some prescripted moment and run straight into your gunfire. After too many of these sections, XIII starts to feel like a chore after a while, and there's a good chance you'll find yourself wanting to load up some cheat codes just so you can see how the story turns out as soon as possible.
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