Thirteen is Your Lucky Number
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When I first saw commercials for UbiSoft's shooter entitled XIII, I was intrigued. About the only thing I knew about the game was that it used cartoon-like graphics and featured the voice acting of David Duchovny, who plays the main character.
It turns out the game is based on a long running French comic book of the same name. The comic book gave the developers a rich history of characters and events to work with, and they did a fantastic job bringing that world to life. The cel-shaded graphics are impressive, but never let you forget that you are essentially playing a character from a comic book, and you are inside a comic book - or I guess the term graphic novel is en vogue today - world.
You wake up wounded on a secluded beach with a lifeguard trying to help you out. You are able to stand, and she asks if you can make it to the aid station. When you get there, all heck breaks loose. In graphic novel style, you see a "Rat-tat-tat-tat" on the screen as the pretty lifeguard is gunned down. In the background, her supervisor on the radio is screaming at her to get out of there.
Suddenly things are not so sunny on your beach. Before long gunmen storm the aid station and you have to fight a running battle with them as you try to escape their dragnet.
It turns out that you are wanted for assassinating the president of the United States. So it's difficult to tell whether the good guys or the bad are after you, though they all want the same thing, which is your dead body. However, you may not be an assassin after all. You get a lot of flashbacks where bits and pieces of the main story are revealed to you. You just might be an undercover agent that has gotten plastic surgery to take over the identity of the assassin, in an effort to root out the conspirators. Unfortunately a recent accident has given you amnesia, so you don't know the actual truth.
What you do learn is that there is a conspiracy of 20 people trying to take over the United States. You, which is obvious by your tattoo, are number 13. Eventually you meet other characters voiced by famous people like the general who gives you missions voiced by Adam West - who does an amazing job bringing his character to life - and your operative partner voiced by Eve who also turns in a believable performance, especially late in the game when they let her true character (and I suspect a bit of Eve's) come out.
For a game with cartoon-like graphics, the weapons are surprisingly accurate, and quite fun to use. Some even trigger various comic-book like effects that really add to the flavor of the game. When you throw a grenade, a separate panel opens up in the corner of your screen like a comic book square where you can watch the grenade even if you have thrown it out of your sight or over a wall. When it explodes, you will see "BOOM" on the screen and see the effects of the bomb in both the main screen and your zoomed in panel.
The sniper gun is a crossbow, and when you hit someone you get a the same extra panel effect, except this time it goes across three panels showing the target, the arrow hitting the target and finally a bloody splotch with the person in question screaming "Noooo!" It's a bit graphic, but very much like you would see in any number of modern comic books.
The environments for the game are nicely varied, so you won't get bored in the comic book environment. One mission might find you infiltrating a snow-encrusted base while the next you are down by the ocean, or inside an office building. In a couple missions you are near the ocean at sunset, and it looks like real water, which is odd when everything else has a bit of a cartoon feel, but it's worth it nonetheless to see.
The enemy AI is very good. They will chase you around sometimes. Other times they will yell for help or take off running, trying to get to an alarm button which will either summon more guards or just end your mission all together. In some missions the enemies are technically friendly, like when you are invading a US military base. The guys in charge might be evil, but the GIs walking around the parameter don't even know what is going on. So you have to sneak up and knock them out with chairs or your fists. That gets them out of the way without harming any innocents.
I was also impressed with the soundtrack. In an era where every shooter has to have accompanying techno music, the developers of XIII used Jazz. This, as much as the graphical presentation, helps to set the game apart from the crowded shooter genre. When you play XIII, you will remember it.
The game comes on four CDs for the PC. You have to switch the disks as you progress in the game, which is a little unusual since one of the install options is "full install." This only happens rarely though, and it a way lets you know how much of the game is left. When you move to CD number three, you know it's half over. There is a good amount of gameplay in the game. I solved it after about 20 to 25 hours of play. And of course, the ending of the game leaves plenty of room for a sequel.
The multiplayer aspects of XIII are pretty good, though I found the maps to be a bit too small. Some of the levels in the game are huge and might have been better choices for gamers like me who like to hide a bit, or at least play a little run and gun with opponents. I felt a bit too confined in multiplayer for anything but a series of head-on attacks.
For shooters looking for a bit of a change of pace, XIII is a good title to have. It will certainly make an impression on you, and the plot will keep you coming back each night as you unravel the conspiracy. It earns 4 and + GiN Gems.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.