by jkdmedia, December 09, 2003
If there’s one type of game that we don’t have a shortage of, it’s FPS titles. Starting way back in the days of Wolfenstien 3-D and heading all the way up to now with top releases like Halo and Timsplitters 2, it’s easy to say that the FPS market is a popular one with no shortage of titles available and no signs of slowing down. Due to that fact, it can be hard to come up with some new creative ideas for the industry to really generate attention and turn a few heads, but Ubi Soft seems to have done just that with its most recent FPS PS2 release called simply XIII.
In a somewhat cliché (but still really entertaining) story, the hero wakes up shortly after the assassination of President Sheridan. He’s got a bad case of amnesia, he’s wounded, and the only clues to who he is or how he got where he is happen to be a tattoo which is simply the number 13 (XIII) on his collarbone and a key to a safe deposit box. Even in an injured state, he watches in confusion as the innocent lifeguard who saves him gets mowed down in a bloody hail of gunfire, then begins his quest to find out who he is, why (and if) he is truly the President’s assassin, and why so many people are trying to kill him.
While that kind of story has been done before, the first truly neat thing about XIII is the fact that it is presented and played out wonderfully. The story is played out in animated comic book panels (which I’ll get to here in a minute), which really get you into the main character as the story progresses. In addition, it starts getting to a point where people that you think you can trust you may not be able to and vice versa, which adds a really nifty little conspiracy addition into the whole chaotic mix and really pushes you to keep playing in order to figure out the end of the story.
Secondly, the gameplay element of XIII is also pretty cool, and mixes in some “kick the door open and blast away” action gameplay with a more stealth based style in which it makes more sense (and sometimes is imperative in order to complete missions) to move and kill silently and without warning. To help out in both aspects, the creators put in some nifty silent weapons like a sniper crossbow and throwing knives and of course your more noisy (but oh so effective) enemy ventilating specials like shotguns, sniper rifles, and bazookas.
In some missions, XIII may have to avoid killing a multitude of innocent people like guards or FBI agents in order to get to the next stage. While you could run up and just punch someone until they are unconscious, this is not the most effective method by any means and also will lead to a lot of personal injuries. Instead, random environment objects can be used as incapacitating weapons, and you will often find yourself sneaking up and smashing objects like a bottle, chair, or ashtray over someone’s head in order to keep them alive, yet eliminate the threat of being captured or killed. There is also a light element of hostage taking to avoid some really bad confrontations, since a big group of armed officers can easily be moved back by taking someone in a choke hold and moving to where you need to go to avoid taking large amounts of gunfire.
While the overall game is pretty spectacular in my opinion, and definitely breathes some life into a pretty crowded game style, there are a couple of elements that I thought really could have been done a little better. For starters, the AI seems to have two settings … stupid or godlike … which really hits on the inconsistency button. While you can easily sneak up on some people until you could get a piggyback ride from them, others seem to be able to spot you a mile away or even sometimes when you’re not even visible. There are also a couple of areas where shooting one bad guy next to another won’t cause the other one to even flinch, while in other areas (and sometimes ones that can potentially end the game for you) killing a bad guy results in another one running from out of nowhere, spotting the body, and sounding an alarm. Add in the fact that missions cannot be saved in the middle … only at the beginning … and it can get a tad frustrating at times.
Secondly, the controls could have been just a bit better overall as well. Aiming seems extremely sluggish and cumbersome, which really can be bad in a heavy gunfight against a virtual army of baddies. Even setting the sensitivity up didn’t help too much in this case during the initial moving of the crosshairs, but then went too fast as you started to move. Fortunately XIII has the standard, user friendly “if he’s anywhere in the crosshairs then you hit him” aiming assistance, but the timing issue is still noticeable and still there.
Graphically, XIII is really cool in my opinion. Even small glitches in collision detection like a guard’s feet sticking through a wall or a guard getting wedged in between a door and a chair are quickly overshadowed by some top quality cell shading work. One of the best graphic features of the game was in the comic book style that they present it in, and events like people entering a building, enemies heading your way, and even sniper kills are played out on the screen panel by panel which just adds to the fun and creative aspect of the game … not to mention some comic book wording popping up like NOOOOO!!! or Ba-DOOOOOM!!! as well.
The sound in XIII was also done well, and the music has a pretty unique little “old school” spy track to it filled with some dramatic drumming and horn playing which sets the mood. The voiceovers were also done well in XIII, and just help with the overall feel of making the game enjoyable to play.
Despite a few flaws, XIII is definitely a good game to play and is a lot of fun. The comic book presentation ran smooth and added a cool little element to the game overall, and the developers did a good job in bringing an enjoyable story out of a plot that has been done before in the past. FPS fans who are tired of the same old thing should check this one out, and anyone who enjoys comics or espionage stories may have some fun with it as well. XIII proves that the number 13 may not be so unlucky after all.
Good story with a good presentation, even if it’s been done before. The controls were a little sluggish on aiming even with the sensitivity turned up, and the AI ranged from too easy to too difficult, but overall it still remains enjoyable enough and entertaining enough to keep playing through the missions.
Honestly, while cell shading is nothing new to gaming over the past couple of years … it worked out really well with XIII and just added to the coolness of the game. The sniper shots and events playing out in comic book fashion were really neat, and talking characters will even get word bubbles for their speech. On of the best little graphic features in the game is one of XIII’s abilities to use his ultra tuned hearing while sneaking around, and characters that he is monitoring will get the words “tap” which will grow larger as they approach and smaller as they move away to help with sneak attacks.
Sometimes a good story can have some less than average voiceovers, but that’s not the case here. All of the voiceovers were done well and added to the story, and the music was a pretty neat little mix of jazzy and swing tune kind of P.I. style tracks that did a good job overall.
Some missions players will be able to go through pretty quickly, but others require a little more stealth and finesse to finish off instead of going straight out commando style. Since you can’t save in the middle of a mission, this can make it a little more difficult, but I really didn’t mind playing over due to the fact that I was enjoying the game.
A comic book meets an FPS game … who woulda thought it? Great idea from Ubi Soft … and despite a few flaws there’s no denying that it isn’t a fun and unique entry into the FPS world.
You can play either in split screen, over the internet, or single player vs. bots. While it was neat to have it included, the levels didn’t feel as creative as the rest of the game did, and many of the environments felt way too small for a multiplayer game.
FPS fans should definitely look into checking out XIII. While it’s not the finest tuned game on the market, the comic book presentation is smoother than silk and even despite some areas of improvement it remains an entertaining story that will keep you playing on. Definitely a fun twist to a console genre that tends to be overdone at times.