Hands-onXIII

We check out the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC versions of Ubi Soft's upcoming cel-shaded first-person shooter.

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Ubi Soft showed off the latest PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC versions of XIII at a press event last night. The game is based on the popular French comic book series of the same name created by Jean Van Hamme. The comic focuses on a conspiracy inspired by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but rather than adhere strictly to historical names and faces, the comic changes the names of those involved and sets the story in the 1980s instead of the 1960s. The game's story focuses on the first five albums of the comic series and was created in conjunction with some of the comic's creative team. You assume the role of a man with amnesia who calls himself "XIII" after waking up on a deserted New England beach with a bullet wound to the head and "XIII" tattooed on his chest. The only meaningful object in your possession is a key to a New York City safe-deposit box. Your goal in the game is to discover just who you are and find out if you were involved in Kennedy's murder.

At first look, XIII seems like an average first-person shooter that happens to make use of cel shading to set itself apart from the pack. However, once you start playing, you'll find that there's quite a bit more to it. The game makes use of the Halo-style controls for its core mechanics and tosses in some additional features in terms of your access to specific items or weapons. In addition to making us of an arsenal that includes such classic implements of death as an Uzi, a Beretta handgun, a rocket launcher, a knife, a crossbow, an AK-47, an M16, an M60, and a bazooka, you'll be able to do some improvising with a variety of ordinary items such as broken bottles, shards of glass, or bricks that appear as a result of damage to the surrounding environment. You'll also be able to make use of a grappling hook that will help you reach new areas that are ordinarily inaccessible. Besides the expected run-and-gun elements you'd expect to find in a first-person shooter, XIII will also feature a robust stealth component. You'll be able to sneak about and kill enemies quietly to avoid being overrun by gun-toting foes. You'll also be able to hide the bodies of your victims to ensure they're not found by their comrades, who will sound the alarm in such a situation. If that should happen, you'll need every weapon in your arsenal to stay alive. If you run out of ammo or firearms, you'll be able to loot the corpses of your foes to stock up on whatever's handy, which certainly helps in a pinch. Your death-dealing ways are aided considerably by the unique secondary fire options on most of the weapons and the game's flexible attack system.

The game's graphics are pretty impressive and take cel shading in a very different direction than games such as Jet Set Radio Future and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. XIII's look is very true to the comic's art style, and it uses exaggerated exclamations to punctuate character deaths, similar to the old-school 2D game Comix Zone, which was released on the Genesis and PC in the late '90s. The game's comic-book look is well implemented, both in the in-game graphics and in the cinemas that move the story along. The game's animation, while still early, is looking good. Your foes will roll out of your sight to avoid being shot and die with some nice flourishes depending on how you take them out--in some cases, a small comic-book-style panel will depict a sniper-style shot if the shot successfully hits an enemy in the head. As far as the different versions on display go, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions are comparable at this point. The Xbox obviously has a slight edge in terms of image clarity and frame rate at the moment, but both games are pretty close to each other. The PC version takes advantage of higher display resolutions, but isn't otherwise more detailed, because all three versions use the same content.

The game is story-driven affair that is likely to be pretty linear on the whole. However, the individual missions you'll undertake will unfold dynamically, with mission objectives changing as you trigger events in the game. As far as content goes, all versions of XIII will feature the same single-player experience but offer platform-specific elements in the game's multiplayer component. Most notably on the console side, the Xbox version will feature Xbox Live support. The PC game will feature a variety of standard multiplayer game modes, such as deathmatch and capture the flags, and will support up to 32 players.

XIII's unique art style and interesting gameplay elements should keep the game fresh in the increasingly crowded first-person shooter genre. XIII is currently slated to ship on all platforms this fall. Be sure to check out new screens from the PC versions of the game.

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