XIII Preview

We get an exclusive look at Ubisoft's upcoming first-person shooter.

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XIII is the upcoming multiplatform first-person shooter from Ubisoft. The game offers quite a departure from the genres for which the French publisher and developer is well known. Developed by Ubisoft's Paris studio, XIII is based on the phenomenally popular French-language comic series created by Belgian-born Jean Van Hamme. (The comic was first published in 1984 and continues to this day.) When Ubisoft announced the development of its latest version of XIII last year, its early claim to fame became its use of stylish, cel-shaded graphics. However, as Ubisoft has shown more of the game, it's become apparent that XIII offers substantial playability as well. We got an exclusive look at the game so we could see how it's shaping up across the various platforms, and, so far, we are pleased by what we've seen.

XIII is a stylish and fun shooter.
XIII is a stylish and fun shooter.

If you're not familiar with the XIII phenomenon, you're probably not alone. The acclaimed series has actually never made it to the States with any kind of consistency. While some early entries were translated and brought to the States, the bulk of the series has never seen the light of the day in the US. XIII's story is pretty forward-thinking for a comic. The conspiracy and paranoia, rampant in XIII, predated the same trend in mainstream US comics. As a result of Van Hamme's forward-thinking plot, the nearly two-decade-old franchise feels surprisingly current.

The game's complex story focuses on the adventures of a mysterious amnesiac--who's clearly led an eventful life judging by the vast number of people trying to kill him. Shortly after he wakes up on a beach, it becomes clear that something is amiss, as all manner of killers start to come out of the woodwork, eager to plug our mysterious amnesiac full of holes. The quest to discover who he is and why so many people want to kill him is at the core of XIII's story. The story is lent an off-kilter charm by the interesting backstory of the world it's set in--an alternate timeline where the world has unfolded in a very different way following the assassination of the US president. The aforementioned paranoia and conspiracy-laden tale features a dizzying collection of twists and turns, involving everything from government cover-ups to shadowy military organizations. There are even some murders thrown in for good measure.

The game's graphics are very cool.
The game's graphics are very cool.

XIII features two main modes of play: single-player and multiplayer. The single-player game puts you in control of the aforementioned amnesiac as he is sent on a danger-filled quest of self-discovery that is broken up into 13 chapters, each set in a different world location. Each chapter also features a unique set of objectives that must be accomplished. These objectives include such time-honored classics as assassination, infiltration, and theft. In addition, you'll be able to discover items that will improve your abilities by restoring your memory. For example, reading a dossier on yourself will awaken skills you forgot you possessed. The multiplayer mode will offer a variety of game types. At present, the plan is to give each platform its own set of unique multiplayer games, in addition to a common offering of deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture-the-flag modes.

In terms of gameplay, XIII has a good feel to it, and its control offers quite a few unique elements. In some ways, the game is reminiscent of Metroid Prime because of the variety of actions you'll perform in addition to all the running around and shooting. At its heart, the control in XIII features a very solid, atypical first-person shooter setup. You can walk, look, run, and shoot with ease, thanks to the intuitive control layout. However, XIII departs from convention in quite a few notable ways. One of the coolest twists to the game is its definition of what a weapon is. In addition to a solid arsenal of 15 weapons, including guns, knives, and grenades, you can also use around 18 everyday objects to meet your killing and/or disarming needs. A context-sensitive cursor lets you know when you can use an object as a weapon. You can use anything from shards of broken glass to ashtrays to chairs. Both sets of weapons will feature their own unique secondary fire options as well. However, in those cases when a weapon isn't enough, you'll have to resort to a less-chivalrous means of defense--like taking a hostage or sneaking up behind someone and bashing him or her on the head. Another change of pace from the average shooter is that in XIII you have the ability to use a grappling hook and cables to zip up and around levels. Finally, you'll find that in some cases you may need to take a stealthier approach to achieving your goals. The aforementioned "sneaky tactics" come in especially handy when you want to make sure no one hears you taking out a foe. As in most stealth games, you can move pesky bodies by picking them up and moving them to out-of-sight-locations. This ensures that your dirty deeds aren't discovered.

Anything can be a weapon in XIII.
Anything can be a weapon in XIII.

The graphics in the game are looking quite good. Ubisoft makes use of some very cool techniques to create the game's seamless cel-shaded look. An interesting thing to note about XIII's look is that, much like the people you meet in the game, nothing is quite as it seems. Although the game features a cel-shaded look, everything in the game is not actually cel-shaded. The characters you encounter, and your weapons, obviously use the technique, but the backgrounds and environments are actually carefully textured and made to appear as if they were cel-shaded. In spite of this bit of smoke and mirrors, the game looks great. The character models look stylish and move well, while the environments are gorgeous and feature cool details. One touch that's especially notable is the game's use of color. The various environments of the game sport very distinct color schemes that add a nice flair to their appearances. Another cool touch you'll notice are the dramatic flourishes in the game--like phrases that appear during combat à la the old Batman TV series and pop-up windows that illustrate threats or especially cool kills. The game's artistic direction aside, XIII's technical merits are equally impressive. Ubisoft has gotten an amazing amount of mileage out of the Unreal engine. The game runs smoothly across every platform and offers comparable graphical quality. Some optimizations have been performed to take advantage of each platform's strengths, so you'll notice the expected bells and whistles--like cleaner detail on the GameCube, PC, and Xbox games (although the PS2 is hardly slouching in this department).

XIII features some slick art direction.
XIII features some slick art direction.

Audio in the game is an immersive mix of ambient sound, strong soundtrack, and voice acting. The game's voice cast has obviously garnered quite a bit of attention, thanks to the presence of David Duchovny and Eve. The pair do a solid job of bringing their respective characters to life--as do the rest of the game's cast. The game's soundtrack also includes a good mix of cool tunes that give the game an odd and funky, yet retro, feel.

Based on what we've seen so far, XIII is shaping up very nicely. The game looks good, features interesting gameplay, and presents a cool story that will hook you. First-person shooter fans looking for a cool change of pace will want to look for XIII when it ships this fall for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, PC, and Xbox. Stay tuned for more on XIII soon.

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