XIII Review

XIII has a unique and potentially interesting premise, but the game doesn't really differentiate itself from the wide array of other first-person shooters on the market.

XIII is a cel-shaded first-person shooter based on a long-running French comic book of the same name. The game definitely plays up its comic book roots, complete with readable sound effects and comic-book-like panels that pop up while you're playing. While it definitely has a certain sense of style to it, the game itself misses its mark, and the total package isn't one that will hold the interest of most first-person shooter players.

It's natural for the amnesiac lead character to sound a little confused, but David Duchovny's voice work just doesn't capture XIII in a compelling way.
It's natural for the amnesiac lead character to sound a little confused, but David Duchovny's voice work just doesn't capture XIII in a compelling way.

XIII, or "Thirteen," is both the name of the game and the name of the character you'll play as, though there's definitely some question about your character's identity. The game opens with you waking up with a gunshot wound after washing up on a beach, unable to remember anything at all. As you proceed through the game, you'll begin to piece together your past, which is an interesting one, to say the least. As it happens, you have the face of a man accused of assassinating the president with a sniper rifle. But are you, in fact, that man? Or are you an agent given a new face in an attempt to get to the bottom of the assassination conspiracy? The game attempts to answer these questions with prerendered and in-engine cutscenes, as well as slightly interactive flashbacks that occasionally burst out in the middle of a level. While none of these devices are particularly effective storytellers, the story has enough to it that you'll at least be interested in seeing it through, even in the face of XIII's rather rudimentary gameplay.

XIII may have a unique look for a first-person shooter, but the game behind the cel shading really doesn't go out of its way to distinguish itself. The objectives are basic, the weapons don't pack much of an audiovisual punch, and the AI is pretty bad. For example, guards will run into a room and bump their way past you to bend down and look at a dead soldier instead of just firing at you immediately. Or soldiers will somehow manage to hit you with gunfire even though they aren't facing you. The game does have some idea of location-specific damage, but this is really only noticeable with headshots, which slap three comic-book-style panels on the screen each time you land one. Some enemies will be wearing helmets, giving them some protection against players with good aim. But the game is largely about getting from point A to point B. In some sections you'll have to escort an AI character along the way, and you'll have to use a grappling hook from time to time to move forward. The level design isn't especially complex or interesting, but the game does effectively transition between indoor and outdoor environments.

You can save anywhere, and as in most shooters, there's also a quick-save feature. But strangely, neither type of save method can actually be used to restore your exact position. They'll send you back to your last checkpoint. The levels do contain a good number of checkpoints, but the fact that you can't even use a quick save to restore your exact position is a little frustrating, especially when attempting to navigate some of the stealthier sections.

The game starts you off empty-handed. You'll quickly find a throwing knife, which you can use to get a pistol, which you can use to get an assault rifle. You'll also encounter a sniper rifle, a different assault rifle with a grenade launcher attached, a submachine gun, two types of pistols, grenades, flashbangs, and so on. The game rewards short bursts over wildly inaccurate fully automatic fire, but even short bursts from the rifles aren't terribly accurate. The pistols and, of course, sniper weapons are far more accurate and far more useful for simply landing headshots and eliminating enemies without much fuss. Aside from gunplay and maneuvering, you can also pick up items, such as shovels or ashtrays, and bonk people over the head with them. Since some of the levels put you up against innocent bank guards and other people who have you confused with the enemy, you'll have to use this sort of nonlethal force from time to time. You can also take people hostage, which will prevent these guards from taking shots at you. All told, the single-player campaign's 13 chapters will take the average first-person shooter player somewhere between eight and 12 hours to complete on its default difficulty setting.

The PC version of XIII ships on four CDs and gives you two install options. The minimum install is smaller and leaves some of the game content on the CDs. The full option installs 2.5GB to your hard drive. You would think that something labeled "full installation" would actually, you know, put the entire game on your hard drive. But no, even when selecting this option, you'll still have to actually swap CDs in between some levels, possibly because the game's shoddy, poorly encoded prerendered cutscenes still reside on the discs, or possibly because it's a sadistic, new form of copy protection. This is a relatively minor annoyance, but it's certainly worth mentioning. The game should have used the "install discs/play disc" mentality used by other games, or maybe the full install should actually work as advertised.

XIII contains online multiplayer as well as the ability to play against bots, though the bots don't really put up much of a fight. The game uses a built-in server browser to find online games, and it contains deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and sabotage, which is a class-based team game that has one team defending a series of checkpoints while the other is charged with blowing them up. The multiplayer certainly works, provided you can find a server running, but the maps, most of which come from the single-player campaign, aren't very exciting. Also, an abundance of health and armor on many maps, combined with a general lack of punch from the weapons and the fact that the game only allows six players per game, dulls the excitement.

XIII is a cel-shaded game, which effectively plays off of its comic book roots, but it certainly looks less than impressive. The models and environments are really quite basic, and the animation, particularly the facial animations for the speaking characters, is bad. The game's style covers up some of its shortcomings, but the problems stick out enough to mar the experience.

The game has all the elements that you'd expect a first-person shooter to have. It just doesn't combine them in an exciting way.
The game has all the elements that you'd expect a first-person shooter to have. It just doesn't combine them in an exciting way.

David Duchovny, Adam West, and Eve all lend their voices to the game. Adam West and Eve do reasonably well, but Duchovny, who plays XIII himself, doesn't come off sounding terribly natural. Beyond that, the sound effects and music are par for the course. The gunfire and explosions are satisfying without excelling, and the music fits the action pretty well.

XIII has a unique and potentially interesting premise, and some will certainly want to drag their way through the single-player campaign just to watch the story unfold, but the game doesn't really differentiate itself from the wide array of other first-person shooters on the market. The cel-shaded graphical style works in the context of trying to re-create a comic book, but the models and other graphical elements fall short. Given the extreme amount of competition in this genre, fans of first-person shooting are advised to spend their time elsewhere.

The Good

  • N/A

The Bad

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.