These days it seems like everybody has an opinion about cel-shaded graphics. Some see it as a way of playing a game that looks exactly like a cartoon, yet others protest that it’s simplistic look lacks detail and is overused. XIII probably won’t change anybody’s opinion, but it does offer anybody willing to look past a few imperfections an intriguing mystery.
We start the adventure knowing about as much as the hero of the piece, who, thanks to a tattoo he woke up with, is referred to as XIII (or “thirteen” for the roman numeral challenged). The game starts with XIII coming to after washing up on a beach suffering a gunshot wound and not remembering how he got there. In fact, the game’s entire mystery revolves around the fact that this character just doesn’t know who he is, and worse yet, may have been the gunman in the assassination of the President.
We’re also introduced to Major Jones, a mysterious woman played by rapper Eve. It’s through her dialog (and the strategic use of flashback sequences) that we learn the most about XIII’s missing time, but then, like everything else in the game, she may not be who she claims to be. Together you retrace your steps and investigate the various clues that have been left, all while killing an entire army of people before they get you.
As you’d expect XIII comes with a rather large arsenal of weapons, ranging from throwing knives to bazookas. There are a few choice items in the war chest, including a crossbow and harpoon launcher, but for the most part the weapon selection is your generic first person shooter fare. Each of the guns are nicely drawn, but fail to have that certain punch you expect from a game like this.
XIII is split into a collection of 13 chapters, each with their own mission and locale. Some of the objectives require a certain amount of stealth, involving you to only use throwing knives, chairs, and other quiet weapons. Other levels are more along the lines of kill or be killed, allowing you to be less frugal with your assortment of firearms. Yet other levels require to you investigate for clues to your missing time and even take the occasional hostage to help you escape.
The locations themselves are all fairly interesting, ranging from the boat docks at dusk to a number of military bases. Your investigation will take you to the majestic beauty that is the Grand Canyon valley, to claustrophobic closeness of a submarine, to a whole lot of indoor corridors. Each of these environments offer different things to see and challenges, but towards the end it starts to feel like you’re just retracing your steps.
Although XIII features a fully realized story, it doesn’t seem to get in the way of the games action. Most of the plot points are introduced during intermissions, rather than tying it into the game play. There are moments where you hear guards talking just out of range of your visual, but most of the important information is given out as a reward for completing your tasks. It would have been nice to see this mix be a little more seamless, perhaps more along the lines of how the original Half-Life or Halo implemented the story.
Another problem with these levels is that the enemy’s artificial intelligence rode in on the short bus. It’s clear that the programmers tried to make these computer-controlled characters do things, but it usually means they are oblivious to their surroundings. If you kill a patrolling guard, his buddy will investigate his fallen comrade even if you’re standing right there shooting at him, which, thankfully, you can use to your advantage more than you’d think. It’s little things like this that poke holes in the games over all enjoyment.
The game isn’t extremely long, either. Your average first person shooter fan should be able to jet through the game in just over ten hours. Outside of the multiplayer modes, there isn’t much to do once you’re done with XIII. You can ponder the story, which leaves a few things up to interpretation, or perhaps attempt to play it on a higher difficulty, but not much else.
As mentioned, XIII does offer a couple of multiplayer modes that are definitely worth looking into. The best of them being a good, if not bare bones, online component that allows you to play up to six people at the same time. There are nine online levels, some of them can only be played with four, while others can be played with up to six. Each level is based on a location in the one-player game, but has been redesigned to make a workable arena for online battles … for the most part.
It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that the online function was something they worked on only when they had the time. It doesn’t have a friend’s list, features a no frills interface, and has absolutely no voice support. In fact, it’s impossible to communicate at all in this mode, which may be a problem if you intend to play with your buddies. If you just hop online to play a Deathmatch against a bunch of people you’ve never seen before, then this lack of communication won’t bother you too much, but it is something that should have been worked out before the game shipped. Likewise, once you pick a game, you’re stuck repeating the same level over and over until you either master it or exit to a new level.
There is a complete lack of online first person shooters on the PlayStation 2, so it’s easy to cut XIII a little slack for at least trying. If you can look past some of the games limitations, you should be able to have some fun online, especially if you don’t play a lot of PC games online. On the other hand, the PlayStation 2’s offline multiplayer offering is extremely lame. Where both the GameCube and Xbox versions had a four-player split screen, the PlayStation 2 only manages to give us two players at once. I’d try to explain why a two person Deathmatch is dull and boring, but by now I’m sure everybody already knows why.
XIII’s presentation is dazzling from beginning to end. Though cel-shaded games are a dime a dozen these days, XIII manages to etch out a look all its own. The game is based on a French graphic novel and does what it can to introduce the various trappings common with comic books. Getting a head shot, for example, will pop up a frame-by-frame close up of the bullet making its way to its intended target.
You are also able to “see” sounds, so if an enemy guard is close you will not only be able to hear them pacing back and forth, but also see the “tap tap tap” emanating from the floor. This effect, while novel, does takes some of the challenge away from the product, since other games actually required you to listen to how soft or loud the footsteps are and make a skilled decision when to pounce. Unfortunately you’ll find that XIII has a bad tendency of opting for style over practicality.
Don’t make any mistake, XIII is far from the best-looking first person shooter on the planet (or even the PlayStation 2, for that matter), but it has its moments of greatness. There are the occasional graphic imperfections, and this PlayStation 2 version suffers from a few too many visible jaggies, but the game more than makes up for that when it comes to giving us a unique visual experience.
The voice acting is also top notch … for the most part. Adam West (the caped crusader in the hokey 1960s television show “Batman”) does his B-rate best in the roll of the nefarious General Carrington. It’s hard not to get excited whenever his character pops up in a cinema, because you know no matter what cheesy line he’s forced to read, Adam West is going to give it 110%. Few actors can overdo it like Mr. West; the only thing missing from this game is a cameo from William Shatner.
Thankfully Eve’s performance is a little more grounded. As XIII’s only “friend”, Eve takes her role as Major Jones very seriously. With her recent TV sitcom and her turn in 2002’s Barber Shop, Eve’s short acting career has consisted of mostly light comedies, so maybe that’s why she seems so excited to be playing a very serious and tough woman.
While I enjoyed every second of Adam West’s performance, and was certainly impressed with the energy Eve brought to the game, it’s David Duchovny I was the most excited for, and the most let down by. As a long-time fan of the X-Files I was certainly excited when I heard that Agent Mulder would be playing the lead in XIII. The problem ends up being that there isn’t much dialog for him to recite, and when he does talk it’s often in three word sentences. The deadpan humor he’s known for is replaced with some of the most monotone voice acting I’ve heard.
With only a couple of hiccups, XIII manages to control like just about every other PlayStation 2 first person shooter on the market. Beyond the normal jumping and ducking, our hero is able to pick locks, use a grappling hook, and work with other useful items. The only issue is that you occasionally switch to an item for no reason at all, which for me seemed to happen at the worst possible times, like when I’m in the middle of a firefight.
It’s also difficult to aim, but then, a lot of this problem isn’t the control so much as it is the game’s terrible sense of accuracy. With the shotgun and handguns I don’t expect perfection from my aim, but even the sniper rifle is far from precise. For most levels this is not a concern, but when one missed shot can get you caught, the game’s shortcomings have a way of giving the game unneeded frustration.
XIII is one a game I had been anticipating since I first saw it at the 2002 E3. Even before David Duchovny and Adam West signed on, I was intrigued by the conspiracy-laden story and the use of cel-shaded graphics (which didn’t seem as overused a year and a half ago). Now that I’ve actually experience XIII’s adventure, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. The game only hints at a greater potential, and could have been much better if a little attention had been given to just a few problems.
For me XIII feels like it’s simply going through the motions, almost as if it’s doing as little as possible and still be worthwhile. Beyond the sometimes-interesting story, this game just reuses the same clichés we’ve seen in every generic first person shooter for the last six years. The various locations are often interesting, but most of the excitement is bled dry by mundane level objectives and the terrible enemy A.I. If you can look past all that, though, you will find that XIII offers a mystery that is actually pretty compelling and worth playing the game to decipher.
XIII is far from the best first person shooter on the PlayStation 2, but it does offer a compelling story and a unique cast of characters. Throw in an online component and itâ€™s almost worth recommending.