Based on a Belgian comic book series, XIII (Thirteen) is a cel-shaded first person shooter that’s reasonably entertaining for the 8 or so hours it lasts, but is mostly an exercise in style over substance.
Since the style is the main attraction of the game, I’ll address that first. The whole game is cel-shaded in order to make it look like a comic book. Every object has a black outline, and although everything is in full 3D, it really gives it the feel of playing through a graphic novel. The environments are all well designed, although not especially original. Sound effects are accompanied by comic book word effects, and various events, like getting a head shot with a sniper rifle, are accompanied with a small comic strip showing the result. Stylistically, everything is done just about as well as it could be for this style of game.
Story-wise, it’s a little more mixed. It begins with your lead character having no recollection of his past. His memories are recovered during the course of the game by some very well done atmospheric flashbacks. Overall though, there’s nothing particularly interesting happens in the storyline, and the game ends with a fairly obvious plot twist, followed by an incredibly irritating “To be continued.” And there doesn’t seem to be a sequel anywhere in sight.
Of course, the most stylish game in the world couldn’t get away with bad gameplay, and unfortunately, XIII doesn’t quite make it in this area. While the gameplay is by no means bad, it doesn’t stand out in any way whatsoever. It’s just the standard old-school FPS gameplay, without any of the modern innovations of the genre included. For the majority of the game you’ll just be running around shooting everyone you see. But as seems to be obligatory these days, there’s the occasional annoying stealth level, made even more galling by the awful checkpoint save system described below. The checkpoints aren’t always particularly well placed either. For example, the checkpoint before the final boss saves at the top of a huge ladder which takes ages to climb down, followed by a short cutscene, before the boss fight begins. You will get thoroughly sick of the climb before you’ve finished the game.
It’s not a complete failure though. While the gameplay might not be advanced, it’s certainly not badly done. Everything works as it should do, and the comic style actually makes the game more fun. Getting a headshot or throwing a grenade seems particularly satisfying when you’re rewarded with cartoonish effects to match the action. And thankfully, if you hate the frustration of having to repeat whole sections of the game, the easy difficulty setting actually fits its title, and should ensure you don’t die too often. There are still the occasional sticking points though which increase the frustration level and decrease the game’s score.
Other than the save system and the lack of originality in the gameplay, there’s very little wrong with the game. The voice acting is only average, nothing too awful, but not all that good either. The cutscenes are unskippable, which is an unforgivable flaw in any game, especially one where there’s a good chance you’ll be repeating the whole scene again. The cutscenes in XIII are all fairly short though, so it doesn’t cause too many problems, although that doesn’t excuse it.
Ultimately, XIII is an enjoyable enough game, with plenty of style, but slightly disappointing gameplay. But if you’re a fan of FPS games and can pick it up for cheap, it’s definitely worth giving it a try.
Save System Review: The game uses checkpoints, although for some strange reason it doesn’t save automatically at them. You have to quicksave yourself when you reach them. Fortunately the checkpoints aren’t too far apart, since the levels are fairly short anyway, but it can still lead to a few annoying sections where you have to repeat a stealth sequence, or a cutscene. And there’s still absolutely no excuse for the lack of any quicksave feature in a game.
Arbitrary Final Score:
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