XIII ReviewCain Dornan
I have never been much of a fan of cel-shaded graphics. I never expected to see cel-shaded graphics being used in a violent shooter, rather, it suited more kiddie styled games. Much to my surprise, Ubisoft has managed to create a unique, interesting and sometimes difficult shooter using stylish cel-shading. Based on a French comic book, XIII combines unique graphics, a compelling storyline and enjoyable gameplay to create a shooter that is refreshing compared to the all-so-similar abundance of realistic shooters on the market.
You play as a man who knows little of his past, other then the common flashbacks that occur. You soon find out that you are the prime suspect of the assassination of the president of the United States of America. Not only do you have the authorities after you, but you also need to deal with the large number of murderous killers you want nothing more than to have you dead. It is up to you to find out the truth about who you really are and why you are wanted.
The game spans over a large number of different areas, from a sunny beach to rooftops at night. Each area fits in seamlessly in the storyline and requires different skills to pass. The problem is, however, that these areas are extremely linear with little ability to explore your surroundings. You are forced to go only the one way in order to complete a mission, not allowing you to explore your surroundings, limiting the amount of enjoyment and the length of the game.
Finding ammunition throughout the levels is as simple as killing enemies. You can also gather more ammunition or items by smashing crates. You can also use various other items, such as chairs, books and bottles, as lethal weapons. This allows you to save ammunition when in short supply, or go about your mission stealthy. Grapple hooks, which are located throughout the game, are sometimes difficult to find. Another problem with the grapple hooks is how you actually grapple. Instead of simply pressing an action button over the grapple symble to grapple, you need to actually equip the grapple hook in order to grapple, instead of simply pressing an action button. This becomes annoying extremely quickly, taking several seconds just to select the grapple hook.
XIII features fourteen weapons in total, ranging from the basic survival knife to the assault rifle and bazooka. Each weapon has their own uses, wether it be for achieving silent kills or mowing down an army of enemies. There is, however, a limited variety between these weapons, with all weapons featured in a large number of other shooters. The weapons still perform perfectly well, but using the same weapons in several different games becomes rather boring.
Along with these weapons, you are also able to pick up and use a variety of armour and utilities, such as body armour and a helmet, a small or large med kit, keys, magnetic key cards and a lock pick. Depending on how far you are through the game will effect on wether you have access to these and the frequency of which they are available.
The AI intelligence in XIII certainly isnt the best seen in a shooter. Enemies rarely duck for cover, rather, they prefer to stand in the middle of a corridor and spray everything near them, often without having to reload. One would think that two shots to the head would surely kill someone. In XIII, however, this is evident. On several occasions I have put a full clip into an enemys head, and yet, they are still perfectly healthy. How this is possible is beyond me, and becomes increasingly annoying if you take heavy damage as a result of the enemy being basically invincible.
The friendly AI also have several annoying problems. One example is on a mission where you are running across rooftops at night, being aided by a comrade. In order to advance further through the mission, you need to do set things, which your comrade informs you. The only problem is, you often need to walk right up to your comrade to respond, such as giving you a weapon or informing you of how you can continue through the level. Another example is when you are rescuing a high-ranking officer in the army. He will simply run in front of enemy fire, whilst you struggle to keep him alive. These are just some examples of the ordinary AI which, at times, ruins the experience.
If you manage to achieve a head-shot, you will get a three-panel comic book style close-up of the shot, complete with blood splatter and, if you used the crossbow, see the arrow still sticking out of the victims head. This is a unique little feature which makes XIII just that little bit more enjoyable.
XIII also features the ability to be able to take a hostage. Quietly walking up behind a character allows you the option to grab that person around the neck and then use a weapon in the other hand. You can then force enemies to hold their fire whilst you get through an area, however the enemies will often take any chance available to kill you. Although nothing unique, this is a welcome addition to the game, offering players a different option of proceeding through the missions.
The basic multiplayer mode features several common modes which are found in most shooters today; deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. XIII also introduces two somewhat unique modes, titled power up and the hut. Power up is essentially the deathmatch mode, however the pickups available for that player change depending upon their ranking. The better the player is, the weaker the bonuses that player will have access to. There are also extra pickups that can be found, such as the one shot one kill or invisibility.
The hut requires players to kill a running creature as many times as possible before the time limit is up. The more you kill this creature, the smaller it gets. If it touches you, however, you die instantly.
The controls in XIII, although similar to many shooters on the market, will take some time getting accustomed to. Getting used to the button configuration quickly is one problem the other is getting used to how the game controls on screen. The whole feel of the game is different lagging a bit in response compared to the latest shooters on the market. Its no big deal, but it is slightly annoying when you have only been playing the game for a short amount of time.
Loading time in XIII is rather slow, often having to wait for lengthy periods to load a level. When you need to regularly restart, this quickly becomes annoying. The load time is average for the Playstation 2, however there are still plenty of games available on the Playstation 2 that do load a lot quicker than XIII. A graphical TA TA TA floating around the screen uniquely shows loading times.
Obviously, XIII isnt your average looking first person shooter. The cel-shaded graphics have been used perfectly to create a refreshing shooter which relates perfectly to its origin: the comic book. Explosions, gunfire and footsteps are showed distinctly in a creative style looking just like a comic book. An enemy that is patrolling a nearby corridor will have their footsteps shown by the distinctive TAP TAP TAP as they walk along. The same is done with explosions, a large worded BAOOOMM will appear on the screen.
The character models are well detailed, looking like they have been ripped straight out of a comic book. The characters facial expressions are well detailed and change appropriately. The enemies react well once shot, performing a small number of death falls.
Your surrounding areas, in general, are decent. You wont be shocked by the amount of detailed used, but you wont be appalled either. However, more attention could have been spent on your surrounding environment.
Instead of the usual rock or techno music that we hear in most shooters, Capcom decided to use jazz. Surprisingly, it works well with the game, changing appropriately from slow, quiet music when there is no action to fast, loud music when there is a gunfight.
Voice acting is almost perfect; every voice suits the character perfectly. There are no over-acting, high-pitched or just boring voice-overs evident. Characters will whisper if you need to be sneaky, or yell when there is plenty of action. Often, the character you control, Number 13 himself, will talk to out-loud about what he thinks. This happens often just before or after a flashback.
XIII does feature unique graphics, a compelling storyline and refreshing gameplay, but some minor problems with the AI, linear levels and a boring selection of weapons let the game down. If only the AI were a little more intelligent and we had access to more interesting weapons, than XIII would have made an excellent game.
Overall, XIII is no wonderful shooter, however it is worth your money. I hated cel-shading before playing this game, but I quickly became accustomed to it and now appreciate the style and uniqueness of it. The cel-shadings make the game refreshing to other realistic shooters on the market. The single player mode is long enough to keep you playing for some time, and there is also the decent multiplayer mode to play. If you are looking for a different, refreshing shooter, give XIII a try.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.