Everybody loves a good conspiracy, or at least that’s what UbiSoft must have thought while it was dreaming up XIII. The latest addition to the first-person shooter genre foregoes the usual stuff of either aliens or Nazis thinking of new and ingenious ways of taking over the world. Instead, XIII is a classical political thriller, complete down to an amnesiac hero and a murdered president.
The game’s main hero (voiced by former UFO-hunter David Duchovny) wakes up on a beach one morning without any recollection of his past, and with only the Roman numeral XIII tattooed on his skin giving any clue as to his identity. He soon realises that he is the centrepiece of a political thriller, and is being targeted by the FBI as the prime suspect for the recent murder of the US president.
The plot unravels as the hero, while on the run from both the authorities and a mysterious group of pseudo-terrorists, tries to piece together his true identity and find the real killer. At his side are Major Jones (voiced by hip-hop-clique Ruff Ryder’s first lady Eve), and General Carrington (the original Batman, Adam West). While the voice acting is nothing to get excited about – Duchovny’s slow snarl might as well have been computer generated – the storyline is actually quite gripping, and adds a fun dimension to the game.
But it isn’t the script that’s XIII’s standout feature: it’s the game’s many visual innovations that really make it unique. Originally based on a French comic book, XIII tries hard to create a comic-book feel, primarily by using cel-gen graphics. Gamers and programmers alike have earlier largely shunned cel-gen, mostly because they’ve labelled it as too childish, but XIII really proves us wrong.
XIII also uses little visual tricks, such as comic strip squares that pop up when you’ve made a perfect head shot, or in-game flash backs when forgotten pieces of memory come back. All of these make XIII graphically very different from other games in the often generic FPS-genre. However, take the game’s minimum specs with a pinch of salt: the graphics make XIII very demanding, and anything less than a very fast computer makes it virtually unplayable.
The comic-book theme stretches over into XIII’s game play as well. The player is equipped with a number of different skills, which are upgraded throughout the game. One of these is the Sixth Sense function that allows the player to see premonitions of certain upcoming events (in inserted comic strip squares, of course). But for all its virtues, it’s actually in terms of game play that XIII falls short. XIII is, once you are over being awed by the visuals, just a standard FPS.
The weapons arsenal is a fairly average collection of handguns and the token sniper rifle. Most levels simply consist of large, rectangular buildings, and lots of dark-haired baddies. The levels are also always linear, with no route except the pre-chosen one to follow. All this combines to make XIII repetitive and tedious after a while.
Perhaps the game’s most annoying feature is its lack of a proper save function. It relies on checkpoints – and since it’s a challenging game even on lower difficulties, you’ll have to do the same bits (and watch the same cut-scenes) over and over again.
For someone looking for addictive, in-depth and non-linear game play – and a multiplayer mode that keeps you up all night – XIII is not the title to buy. But if you’re looking for a few hours of fun in front of a visually stunning but otherwise pretty standard FPS, then XIII will suit you fine. If you’re also a lover of stories about the darker side of politics, then rush to the store immediately! Beware though, the game ends on a cliffhanger...