XIII is a concoction of compelling ideas that are poorly executed.
Over the years, creating a first-person shooter that stands out from the crow has become increasingly difficult. After all, the genre is teeming with lackluster titles that get lost in a sea of similar games. XIII is a very unique FPS that has some truly amazing visual tricks, but underneath the colorful surface there’s an obtuse and uninspired shooter.
The concept of XIII is a promising one: in the game, you assume the role of an amnesic man who wakes up on Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York City. The only clue he has about his past life is the Roman numeral XIII tattooed on his right shoulder. Little does he know that everyone’s looking for him, because he’s the primary suspect in the assassination of the president of the United States.
But apart from the captivating premise, XIII has some nifty visual tricks as well. The game uses cel-shading which makes it look like an animated comic book. Unlike most of the titles that make use of this visually appealing technique, XIII truly looks like a moving comic book. The story is told via panels and sound effects are shown in the form of balloons. In addition, some of the most gruesome deaths are displayed in panels, combining the traditional look of comic book with violent imagery.
But while XIII is a really attractive game from a visual standpoint, its gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. Characters move unnaturally, animations aren’t fluid and jumping has a “floaty” quality to it. It also doesn’t help that the different environments feel empty and lack detail.
Although the game is a first-person shooter, XIII also uses elements proper of the stealth and action genres. Missions are pretty straightforward: get certain item, infiltrate or escape a given facility, get to the chopper in the allotted time, defeat a boss and so on and so forth. At times, missions also involve hiding, moving slowly or using hostages as human shields.
Interestingly, you can interact with the environments. Picking up items such as ashtrays or chairs and using them as weapons is necessary to complete certain missions. Overall, there’s a variety of weapons, from a knife to a bazooka, but the ability to pick up objects from the environment and use them as weapons helps tremendously during the stealth missions.
Apart from knocking out enemies with random objects and using people as human shields you can pick locks. Picking locks isn’t an automatic process and depends on the type of door that you’re trying to open. This is a nice touch, since the time it takes you to pick a lock can be more than enough to give away your position.
But soon enough, quirks start putting a barrier on your enjoyment. First, some of the stealth missions are really frustrating, because if an enemy sees you, you have to restart the mission from the beginning. This situation is aggravated by the poor save system which doesn’t save your progress that often, so if you die and the game hasn’t saved in a while, get ready to replay entire sections. Checkpoints are infrequent and too far between which adds to the frustration.
The action-oriented missions also have their issues. Some levels are extremely linear and make missions a matter of running and shooting mindlessly, just so that you can make it to the end of the section. When you finally move on to the next level, nothing prevents you from repeating the process. It also doesn’t help that regular enemies behave as idiots and that some of them insist on getting stuck in the geometry.
Apart from the single-player campaign, XIII also has a multiplayer portion. Modes include the traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, hunt, sabotage and power up. It’s worth pointing out that the online mode is no longer available, so if you want to play with others, you need to set up a LAN or play against bots. Overall, the multiplayer portion of the game is lackluster (especially by today’s standards) and fails to capitalize on the game’s strength.
XIII fails to deliver due to a laughably bad artificial intelligence, ho-hum campaign and erratic level design, among other problems. In the end, XIII is a concoction of compelling ideas that are poorly executed.