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By Endzville31-08-2013
BloodyFanGirl (editor)

The Defence

Release Date:
US 18-11-2003
EU 28-11-2003

The Prosecution

Intel Pentium III 1.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce FX 5800
AMD equivalent
256 MB
1.2 GB

Never go into a game that you haven’t played for a long time with nostalgia goggles on; it shall leave you heartbroken and disappointed with your past self. When I first played XIII in 2003, I was eleven years old, and my younger self led my present self to believe that this game was amazing, and worth another go. I’ve trusted my younger selves before when it’s come to older games. My seven year old variant, for example, turned out to be a trustworthy fellow when he urged me to play Dungeon Keeper 2, after insisting that it was an ageless classic. Apparently though, something changed over the course of four years because eleven year old me is a lying little shit.

Let me set the scene for you; the game is based on a Belgian comic series of the same name, specifically the first eight volumes or so with some changes in chronology and actual events and the story is centred around an amnesiac man with the titular Roman numeral tattooed on his shoulder. After an opening cinematic in which he seemingly assassinates the President of the United States, our hero is washed up on a beach after being shot off a boat and before you can say, “I know where this is going!”, he’s being shot at some more and is on the run, with no idea why people want him dead. I have to admit, XIII’s confusion is synced really well with the player’s because, as with any good mystery, information is fed to you very carefully. Here you experience a bunch of flashbacks that raise even more questions and discover some revelations that, for a while at least, keep you wondering how everything will fall into place.



Unfortunately, after rescuing a former buddy of yours, pretty much everything is explained to you. Well, okay, okay, I’m being unkind - it’s not that bad at first. Since XIII remains amnesiac throughout the game, the identities of the conspirators behind the assassination are still unknown. Still, the game does send you, after a few of these well-paced levels, to a villa where, without wanting to give away too much, everything seems to come together in a rushed up way. Unsurprisingly, because of that, it all ends abruptly with a cliffhanger that isn’t at all surprising if you’d been paying attention until that point. By sudden, though, I mean there are cliffhangers and then there are the mother of cliffhangers, and XIII is the latter. It’s one of those cliffhangers - I even hate saying the word - that ends with “To be continued...”, only this never did. Well, there’s an iOS point ‘n’ click game released a year or two ago, but that would appear to be re-imagining of this, so who knows what actually happens next.

Anyway, it’s not a bad adaption of the comics, which Ubisoft certainly deserves some credit for, even if it’s not the greatest of spy mysteries. The greatest triumph about their attempt to adapt the comic into a videogame, however, has to be the art. Do I even need to point out how cool this game looks? Believe it or not, underneath all that cell shading is Unreal Engine 2 and, whilst there are some minor lighting inconsistencies you could moan about, it honestly still looks great. You might argue that many of the game’s areas, especially the outdoor ones, appear very bland, but the important thing to keep in mind is that they’re trying to capture this comic book look, so that means simple backdrops and contrasting, thick-lined enemy silhouettes to create this amazing visual look.

The fond memories of in-game memories.

The fond memories of in-game memories.

Here’s what’s really cool, though - at a glance you might think that it’s just a cel shaded game, and that’s as far as its relation to a series of comics goes, but you’d be wrong! Kill your first enemy at the beach, and panels of close ups on your victim will appear, complete with the “AAARGH!” as he dies. Shoot an enemy off a tall building and the storyboard panels will similarly focus on his descent but this time his death cry will fade with him as he disappears to the street below. Start sneaking around and you can keep track on enemy patrols through the “TAP TAP TAP” of their feet, which will increase with size the closer they are in proximity to you. Shoot a rocket and it will not only be accompanied by a lovely explosion that rattles the frame of the comic panel, but a massive “BOOOOM” too. You can’t even disable the subtitled dialogue because that's actually part of the aesthetic, with the dialogue being presented in the form of speech bubbles - that’s how far the game goes to reinforce the notion that you’re “playing” a comic book, which is really cool and unique.

It’s the gameplay that’s disappointing. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it pretty boring, and I feel absurdly terrible for saying so because it has some pretty neat ideas in place. It’s a first person shooter at heart but, as a secret agent, you have some tools of the trade at your disposal, most frequently a grappling hook. It’s never implemented in a way that lets you go off the beaten path through which is the same with the other tools in your repertoire as well, most of which are only used for specific missions. Although they mix up the otherwise boring gameplay, wouldn’t it have been nice if levels were a little more open for you to, say, grapple up to a higher vantage point where you could use your nifty crossbow before entering the objective area?

Licence to kill gentlemen.

Licence to kill gentlemen.

This is, incidentally, one of my biggest grievances against the game - it’s very linear. That isn’t usually something I’d complain about but it really felt that there was an opportunity here for some really interesting level design, especially since they’re so varied in appearance. You start off on a beach yet by the end of the game you’ll have made your way across rooftops, through a snowy forest, sneaked onto a submarine and infiltrated a jungle military base. There’s so much variety here and so many opportunities missed.

About halfway through there’s a desert, of all places, and I thought that sounded great when it started. But as I made my way through this level I got the strangest sense of deja vu from the snowy forest level and realised how similar both were as, well, corridors. Pretty to look at corridors, sure, but neither were fun at all. What I at least expect from a forest is a more open environment yet all it really is, is a valley with enemy spawn points one after the other.


Comments (5)
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Posts: 166

I remember playing this game when it first came out, and I thought at the time that the cel shaded graphics were just amazing. A very good game and seeing this brings back some memories of playing the game

Posts: 1317

I played the demo back in the day, and really enjoyed it. Never got around to actually playing the full game though, for whatever reason...

Posts: 351

I never played this game but always thought it was neat.

Posts: 3290


Meh, cel shaded. Is still awesome

Posts: 1548

Damn it Enz, I still have fond memories of this game!