XIII

XIII
XIII Cover
Platforms PlayStation 2, Xbox, Gamecube, Windows, Mac
Genre Comic shoot 'em up
MtAMinutes to Action 7
Keep Playing? Yes
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Bargain bins. Sometimes they hold treasures, other times just stuff better left at the bottom where no one can see. Still, I'm poor and always hoping for the best so I can't help but look around. Surprisingly, I found XIII in one of these dumpster dive sessions, and for $1.99 at that. All I really knew of the game was that it was cel-shaded, likened constantly to an action-fused comic book, and a FPS.

A few weeks ago, Games for Lunch's Kyle Orland reviewed XIII's first hour. He died numerous times and was ultimately frustrated with the game's gameplay. Hopefully I'll have a better sixty minutes.

 

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)

00 – The game quickly opens to a start menu, and I create a new profile as jazz music plays unpredictably in the background. Decided to call myself KillerP. Wanna make something of it?

 01 – Now we're at the main menu options. Guess that other screen was just a teaser. It's set up like a full-blown comic book page, with each panel devoted to a specific option. There's Continue, Multiplayer, Load Game, Options, and New Game. I know what I'm picking, but I can also hear a seagull somewhere and it's freaking me out. 

 02 – To begin, we're treated to a cinematic cutscene. A ticker tape parade, a president speaking, and then an assassination. It's shown with style, a sheet of grain, and comic-like pacing, and then we're watching someone—I suspect it's myself, KillerP—getting a tattoo of XIII on his chest. After the police clear the crime scene, there was an old man smiling like a big pervy creep. And then another old man investigating a room with a sniper rifle in it. Hmm. As well as the president's brother taking office, not at all like Kennedy or anything, and then some cryptic dialogue between a lot of characters we know nothing about. Yeah, there was a lot going on. I didn't get most of it.

 06 – At the beach now. A lifeguard named Janet in a typical red Babewatch Baywatch swimsuit has found me unconscious in the sand. She says something to me about a bullet wound. I tell her as cliché as possible that, “I don't remember a thing.” Who remembers getting shot, anyways?

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07 – I'm finally in control of KillerP. Disoriented, but moving. However, I pause the game to fiddle with some settings, like inverting the controls. Even pause menu is comic booky. That's not a bad thing. A helicopter in the distance triggers an interactive flashback scene; it's a narrative/gameplay hybrid tactic that actually works pretty well.

 08 – But as quickly as I got control of the main character, I lost it. He fainted. Janet took us back to her...beach hospice? I don't know. First aid post, that's it. Looks more like a log cabin from the inside though. I wake up, she hands me a key to a safe deposit box at the Winslow Bank, and is then shot dead by some jerk outside. Pew pew thud. Dang, I wanted to ask her some Qs. Well, since people are shooting at me, it's time to escape! I pick up some items (throwing knives, bottle, ashtray, medical kit) and kill a guy slinking around the back of the cabin. Love all the live action 1960s Batman-like sound effects.

11 – Still exploring the map and killing guys as I come across them. Headshots are where it's at considering my terrible aim, lack of bullets, and low health. I stick to a crouch, which takes longer, but allows me to be more prepared for any incoming enemies.

12 – Somehow, my skills kicked in and I shot a goon off a clifftop, and he fell to the pier below, his heartfelt scream of AAAARRR following him all the way down. Excellently done.

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14 – Stealth fully blown, I take out some more enemies and use a key to open Janet's truck. As I get in, a message pops up to say: level completed. W00t! A cutscene shows KillerP driving to New York to the Winslow Bank, determined for answers. Janet getting shot flashes in his mind, too. Guess that's all he can remember after all. These cinematic scenes are ingenious and a lot of fun to watch. It's exactly what one would expect if you could “play” a comic book.

15 – Two mission objectives: access the strongroom, and do not kill the bank staff. Aw, phooey. Don't they know I have a fetish for whacking bank-tellers with my shoe? I head over to the nearest counter and the teller immediately recognizes me as Mr. Rowland. He asks me to follow him to gain access to the strongroom. I do so, and I don't hit him once with my shoe. Aren't you proud, Ubisoft?

17 – Inside the vault, and seeing that the safety deposit box is loaded with dynamite triggers a flashback. Some woman is speaking to me as she plants the dynamite, even asking me to set the charge. I guess I did this...to myself? Back to reality, the bomb goes off and I hop through the new crater in the wall to find a corridor. “I've fallen into my own trap,” I say to myself. Yup, you sure have!

19 – A guard is looking at a switchboard. His back is to me. The game tells me how to effectively knock him out, and I do it better than a kung-fu master. Karate chop!

23 – Still in the bank, security alarm blaring. Trying to take out more guards non-violently, but my first successful karate chop did not lead to more. Ended up getting shot a whole bunch and used some of my medical kits. Boo to that. Wanted to save them for more drastic scenarios.

27 – Welcome to Winslow Bank, XIII's personal Purgatory. There's only so many rooms, but I can't figure out where to go next. Oh, wait. That grate above that table in that dark corner of the library? That's what I'm to punch and go through to continue forward? Yeah, I found it by sheer luck. Some more guidance would've been appreciated. Just a line of text like, "Find a way out of the library."

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29 – Okay, a woman at the end of a corridor is complaining about the alarm. She says that the criminal should just take a hostage so that the alarm will go off. Does that make even the slightest bit of sense? No? Well guess what, random woman? It's your lucky day. I take her hostage. This means I'm using her as a shield from bullets and can only wield one-handed weapons and cards.

30 – I open the door and use my hostage to avoid gunfire. But only when directly facing the bank guards. Evidently if I turn a fraction sideways, they'll fire with no concern for the poor woman at my grasp. Anyways, I get in the elevator with her and ride up to the next floor.

31 – Uh-oh! There's a new challenger! That's right. The same kind of goons that attacked me at the beach are now inside Winslow Bank, taking on both me and the guards. I've found it extremely hard to hold a hostage and fight off baddies, and I accidentally knocked out the random woman. She dropped to the ground like a bag of laundry. I can now carry her over my shoulder caveman-like, but it's not the same.

34 – Kill more baddies and found a way outside the bank via the fire escape ladders. Except I dropped down a hole and failed the mission. Cause I died. Or the random woman died. One of those. Was kind of hoping she'd cushion my fall...

35 – So, let's retry. This time, instead of swiping the card for the elevator, I choked the hostage. Way to make the action button for choking a person and calling the elevator THE SAME BUTTON, Ubisoft. Seriously, this sort of button brouhaha is just uncalled for.

37 – This time, after using her to get safely past the guards on the second flood, I knocked the hostage out and continued on without her. The game didn't seem to mind. I thought they meant for me to take her along all the way. Again, some guidance would've been nice there. I drop down the escape ladder safely and right into the open arms of the government.

38 – Steve Rowland is placed under arrest and taken to...Brooklyn! Oh no!

40 – That old guy from the intro sequence—not the pervy one—is trying to pin the President's assassination on me. But then he gets a call from something doing research on me. Turns out I was killed on a mission two years ago in Mexico. The plot thickens. Also, without warning, there's an explosion! That girl from the bank scene flashback is here to rescue me, and now I have to escape to the building's roof One of my mission objectives says to not kill any FBI agents. Gotta be stealthy.

42 – Can't kill FBI agents, but I sure can hit them with chairs. A lot of rooms have computers with an Ubisoft screensaver. Also, this one agent begged not to hit him, but I did it anyway. Rebel without a cause.

43 – I use the action button on one of the computers with the Ubisoft screensaver and it switches to a screen that says GAME OVER. Not yet, silly.

47 – Still sneaking out of the FBI building, eventually finding my way into what looks like a rundown building straight out of the Fallout universe.

50 – After running around some rooms and shooting more goons, the level is completed. I learned during this section that I learned how vital taking cover is. There's no cover action button, but rather just hiding behind boxes and popping out from around walls. Makes the difference immensely.

51 – I've now met up with Jones, and she kinda sounds like the rapper Eve. (Update: it IS Eve! Wow, my ears are powerful!) Anyways. She says we have to find Carrington, that he'll know what to do. I also receive the grappling hook gun.

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52 – I hookshot over the tall wall in front of us. Takes a bit to get the hang of (pun intended), reeling myself up and then swinging and jumping at once, but it's sorta fun. Hopefully the device will have more uses in the future.

54 – Some enemies in the distance. Jones gives me a sniper rifle to take them out. Sweet! Love how it has two zoom percentages. I pop all three in the head and watch them dramatically fall off the opposite building's roof.

57 – Now a sniper is shooting at us! Duck and cover, as they say.

59 – I assume we're getting closer to our destination. I'm just blindly following Jones. She throws a grenade at an enemy hideout, and several guys coming running, some on fire. Their screams trail behind in blocky comic text. Cruel, but cool.

60 – Following her, as I quickly learn, can be extremely dangerous! We jump a gap and then right through a glass window. She says, “Damn, I knew I shouldn't have left you on that boat alone!” I'd ask her what she meant by that, but we're out of time.

 

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 7

What I loved: It's not a very typical first-person shooter. The fact that I used chairs and ashtrays more often to take out enemies should hammer this point home. And, of course, the graphical presentation. I've always been a sucker for cel-shading (it's the artist in me), and while some of the character models are iffy, I just love how the environments look.

What let me down: The controls. They could be simplified immensely. One shouldn't have to press the action button to select a door, press it again to take out a door card, and then press it a third time to swipe. That's three presses for one action. Also, if holding a hostage, at any of these stages, you could've strangled him/her if you were not standing precisely where the game needed you to stand. And some of the enemy AI is clumsy. They love to stand an arm's length away from you and open fire.

Gameplay: The first two missions were eerily similar. One had XIII escaping somewhere and finding a truck. The other had him escaping somewhere and finding Jones. Along the way, you shoot enemies and pick up ammo and items strewn about. That's the gist of things. It might not sound exciting, but it's story-driven and doesn't waste time getting down to business.

Fun Factor: The game's style alone is where the fun is. Pausing the game to break up the screen into comic book panels, watching game elements unfold in real time via storyboard-like art, and seeing all the cheeky sound effects really drive home what kind of game you're playing. One that tells a serious story, but has fun with its looks.

Graphics and Sound: XIII's strong point, hands down. Everything is cel-shaded, which does not always equal amazing graphics (yes, Musashi: Samurai Legend, I'm talking about you), but it fits perfectly here. All the characters are voice-acted and by some big names like David Duchovny and Adam West. The music works fine enough, but other than the intro screen jazzfest, I can't remember much of it. I do, however, know it likes to do that thing where it changes and intensifies when enemies spot you.

Story: One-third pulpy mystery, one-third summer blockbuster movie plot, and one-third tales of government paranoia. It's confusing, but the cutscenes between levels are superbly done, telling us a lot without saying much. In-game characters could use more delving, but sets itself up well enough and leaves plenty of questions dangling in the air like hooks.

Would I keep playing? Yup. The first two levels were distinct enough to keep things looking fresh, and I'm both curious about learning new skills and seeing how the plot unfolds. It seems like a complex spider web just waiting to be walked through.

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