E3 2002XIII hands-on

We play Ubi Soft's cel-shaded first-person shooter based upon the popular European comic book series.

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Cel shading is currently the biggest trend in video game graphics, and strolling around the E3 2002 convention center makes this fact blatantly obvious. There have been plenty of adventure, action, and even driving games that make use of the technique, but Ubi Soft's XIII is the only first-person shooter to employ the cartoonish look. And after playing the game on the show floor it's obvious that the game has more going for it than its unique visuals.

There are many first-person shooters clogging the release calendars these days, but few of them ever manage to do something different that sets them apart from the rest. But Ubi Soft has managed to incorporate several gameplay aspects found in other genres into XIII while adding a few original touches to make the game its own. The weapons featured in the game are from the real world, but seeing them in their cel-shaded guise certainly gives the player a new perspective. The list of weapons includes an Uzi, a Beretta, a rocket launcher, a knife, a crossbow, an M16, an M60, a bazooka, and many more. Each weapon will also include alternate firing options. There are also several unique ways to make weapons out of objects in the levels. You can smash a bottle and use its jagged neck as a melee weapon, or you can pick up broken shards of glass and hurl them like ninja stars.

While there's plenty of shooting to be done both up close and from afar, there are other techniques to employ as well. You can hide dead bodies to keep them from alerting other enemies, and you can creep up behind unsuspecting enemies and put them in a chokehold. You can then hold them hostage and drag them out into the open. When you have a hostage, other enemies will no longer shoot at you, and when the hostage has served its purpose, you can break its neck and be done with it. The game also makes use of what is being called the "sixth sense." The sixth sense is the ability to sense danger or enemies nearby. However, if you're running or firing a weapon, the sixth sense will not work because your concentration is on other things. If you walk slowly or stand still, you'll be able to hear enemies walking on the other side of the wall, which can aid in planning ambushes. The game also supports other nice features, such as the ability to hang from a rope and fire weapons at the same time. You can also use a lock pick to unlock doors. The finished game will have 13 chapters and 54 total missions. There will also be a cooperative mode that will allow two players to play though the game together, though this feature was not shown at E3.

The game will also include an extensive multiplayer mode for the purpose of longevity. The exact modes aren't completely decided upon just yet, but aside from the usual deathmatch options, Ubi Soft is currently talking about including a mode called "cover me," where you'll be required to protect a friend from enemy fire. Another mode called "scarecrow," where you must seek and rescue allies, was mentioned as well. Ubi Soft did state that there would be certain deathmatch maps exclusive to the GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC versions of the game. Ubi Soft also hopes to include online deathmatch in the Xbox version.

As previously mentioned, XIII uses the cel-shading graphics technique to make it look like a cartoon. Ubi Soft stated that this technique was used to show violence in a new way. But most importantly, the game is based upon a comic book, and therefore the developers feel the graphics should reflect that. The comic book motif is played to the hilt, complete with text that will appear onscreen when any noise is made in the game. For instance, when you shoot enemies, "ouch!!" will appear on the screen, and when you're using the sixth sense, you can follow the movements of enemies behind walls by watching the word "tap" move across the screen as if you can see their footsteps. It's all very cool and helps to remind the player of the game's heritage.

The cel shading itself looks amazing. Much like Zelda for the GameCube, the mixture of the cartoon graphics with realistic lighting works to startling effect. Ubi Soft is trying its hardest to make the blood look unrealistic so it can secure a teen rating for the game, but there will have to be some changes for that to happen. Blood splatters on walls and will form puddles underneath enemies. It's done in a cartoonish way, but it only makes the effect all the more unsettling. Though we saw only one outdoor environment, the draw distance was quite good with no hit on the frame rate. Real-time cinemas are triggered occasionally, and your character will have flashbacks that will remind him of his life before he contracted a wicked case of amnesia. Voice acting accompanies each cinema, though we did not see facial animation to match the dialogue.

Ubi Soft's XIII is one of the most refreshing first-person shooters at E3 this year. The graphics are impressive from both an artistic and technical perspective, there are plenty of weapons with dual firing modes, there are plenty of unique twists to the gameplay, and the story is more than enough to pull players into its world. Currently scheduled for release on all three consoles and the PC in early 2003, XIII is a game that all fans of first-person shooters should keep an eye on. We'll have more on XIII when it becomes available.

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