Thirteen. The Baker's Dozen. Unlucky for some, but still a regular fixture at bingo. It's certainly unlucky for Steve Rowland, because he's been washed up on a beach with a distinct lack of memory, a plethora of bodies piling up around him and people wearing spectacles pointing at him and claiming that he’s assassinated the President. Worst of all, he's suffering from a rare skin condition that makes him look like he’s fresh from the pages of a slinky, ultra-violent Belgian comic book. Still, worse things happen at sea, eh?
As you can see. XIII looks the business. The cel-shading looks fantastic and there are pointers everywhere to remind you that you're in a comic-book; a lot like Ang Lee's ho-hum Hulk blockbuster. When you fire a dart into someone’s neck you get three comic book frames of the poor fella getting pierced at the top of your screen along with a dramatic written scream of "Arghhhhhh!" When you shoot someone off a cliff they tumble to the firmament with a streaming exclamation of "Nooooooo!" behind them. When a grunt fires a rocket at you, the actual frame of the scene you're in jangles all over your monitor.
So is it a simple gimmick or an evolutionary innovation? Well, it's a gimmick obviously, and it's one already perfected in the '80s Grange Hill title sequence, but it’s still entirely worthwhile. The comic book stylings get intrusive on occasion, but everything else works so well that after a while you simply don't notice the clever animation or the words plastered over the screen during someone's death throes. You get so used to it that if you were to actually leave the house to buy a packet of tic tacs from the newsagents, you'd be wondering why the word 'Ching!' failed to appear over the till in giant orange letters. So the gimmick doesn't last, or rather it just becomes the norm.
The visual style and flair of XIII may be its selling point, but what the screenshots fail to show is the sheer ingenuity of the way in which it tells its conspiracy-laden story. The tale itself isn’t an original one, it’s the plot of The Bourne Identity with cel-shaded knobs on: amnesia, trained killer, mysterious tattoo, key to a secret bank vault. But XIII doesn’t simply use the plot as a device to bookend otherwise unrelated missions, in the way that a game like Soldier of Fortune might, but instead uses the game engine to tell an extremely good story. Cutscenes are kept to a minimum and you are made to think about what's going on without it being chalked up in giant letters and underlined in red: this is the Half-Life mode of story-telling.
Take the opening scenes, for example; you wake up on the beach with a lifeguard standing over you (a female lifeguard in a red swimsuit with big hooters obviously). Your health is at 50, the graphics are blurred and hazy. You stagger to your feet and the lifeguard points in the direction of her car and you sway towards it, making painfully slow progress across the sand. Then, out of nowhere, you have a flashback in which you remain in complete FPS control yet everything is grey, clouded and tinged with an unreal haze of brightness. You're on a ship and men are chasing you. You get shot and plunge into the water. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the flashback is gone and you're back on the beach. You see the bright blue sky, and then the red of the lifeguard's lovely bum as your viewpoint tumbles to the ground on the sandy beach.
Throughout the game, this type of narrative tomfoolery actively engages you, making you slump back in your chair regularly and think stuff like, "Hang on a minute. I can trust him, but he thinks I’m someone else. Maybe he's hiding something because he knows the truth. Or maybe not..." You’re drip-fed nuggets of information wherever you go, from the conversation of NPC passers-by to the occasional document you pick up and peruse. The game never tells you exactly what is going on or who you can trust until it really has to. Most of the thinking is up to you.
The joy of XIII is that it continually surprises you with neat touches, and these little gimmicks are what keep you hooked. You can take someone hostage, for example, and the police will back off and hold their fire while you wave a pistol menacingly at the poor soul you’ve just nabbed. Meanwhile, you can knock out civilians and security guards with chairs, trays, bottles and a variety of other household items should you need a non-lethal approach to problem solving.
These little teases of gameplay genius aren't flogged to death, they only appear once in a while, and it means that variety is always top of the agenda. Even smaller stuff, like the faint shell-shock effect and deafness you get when a rocket explodes nearby, urges you deeper and deeper into the game.
XIII is a magpie of games 9 and films, and it isn't ashamed of it. It steals the good bits from everything else and makes one gigantic mother of a 'good bit’. It has the grappling hook from Zelda, the wire-sliding from Splinter Cell, the body-hiding of Thief and the combined plots of JFK, Face/Off and The Bourne Identity. If the bit where you’re in the ducts of an icebound military base, sitting above the cell of your kidnapped commander and listening to the conversations beneath you doesn’t scream 'This is Metal Gear Solid'. This is just like that bit from Metal Gear Solid'.' at you then... well... you've obviously never played Metal Gear Solid.
So it steals, it steals in abundance, but it’s good enough to get away with it; any game that essentially recreates Sarah Connor’s escape from the Asylum in T2 is fine by me. There are problems though, and they’re fairly big ones, with the word "Arghhhh!’’ hovering above them in big orange letters. The Al is 'someone just shot my best friend in the head but I'll pretend not to notice’ bad. Some of the baddies are so inept that a gunshot 20 metres away won’t even make them flinch, and for a game that relies on a lot of stealth this is not a good thing.
Baddies do pick up the ammo from dead bodies when they run out, but they never feel half as real as they should. The stealth works most of the time, but it errs more on the side of frustration than excitement. In a wide open space the hazy Al means that it’s all too easy to just run around and shoot everyone before they hit an alarm, but in an enclosed space (like the submarine in which you find yourself trapped) your enemies are liable to slam an alert buzzer if you nudge a desk 50 metres behind them. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating, but I suppose it’s also why God created the quicksave button.
You’re Nice & Pretty
XIII is stylish, clever and beautifully put together. Some will say that behind the gloss and the plot-twists the game itself is relatively shallow, but the gloss is so good that it doesn’t really matter its like having sex with Cameron Diaz and then complaining that she didn’t have anything intelligent to say about the works of Plato.
If you like realism, seriousness and existential thinking then you might be better served elsewhere; if you want a game that makes you smile and a good story well-told then XIII is your lucky number.
Battle Of Skills
XIII has an abortive stab at character development with skills that you unlock as the game progresses, but only ever tells you you've got them on the menu screens. It's really quite bizarre. The best of them allows you to see the 'tap tap tap' of nearby enemy footsteps, but the rest are anodyne things like breathing underwater for longer. You can't help but feel as if they gave up on this idea halfway through development but never bothered to get rid of it If they had tightened it up it would have undoubtedly been a better game.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a more visually stunning game than XIII, a gorgeous first-person shooter in which you play an amnesiac...who may or may not have assassinated the President. This stylish action title mixes an animated film aesthetic with presentation reminiscent of smart, '60s movie thrillers. And its comic-book look is functional, too. For instance, when patrolling guards approach around a corner, you'll see the "tap-tap-tap" of their footsteps on screen. And if a soldier finds the body of a fallen guard, a cartoon cell of the scene will appear, alerting you of the discovery. If only the developers had spent half as much time fine-tuning the enemy A.I. as they did finessing the graphics, XIII would be incredible. It's been said that it's easy to develop foes whose bullets always hit you and hard to create those that realistically miss. You'll definitely have that in mind while playing XIII, because it's populated with soldiers who are complete dead-eye dicks. You get your ass shot off so often in XIII, you'll nearly spend more time reloading your last save than playing. It's ridiculous. Numerous frustrations pile up to make XIII more chore than thrill. You begin most levels with the same amount of health you had from the last, it lacks a save function or working auto-aim feature, and the missions feel like watered-down versions of those in GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64). Even co-op and online (for PS2 and Xbox) play can't save a shooter that has such unappealing fire-fights. Take me in. I give up.
Arriving with more style than the majority of today's games, XIII has a fresh presentation that drops you smack-dab into a living, breathing comic book. But style can only take you so far, and it can't stop superhuman A.I. from tainting this first-person shooter. Its baddies are ridiculous crack-shots, and no amount of skill can prevent you from suffering countless cheap deaths. Design hiccups also complicate matters--many levels have poorly placed checkpoints (or none at all), and the insufficient supply of health packs consistently puts you at a distinct disadvantage. What starts as a hiplooking shooter with a gripping story and varied missions ends in furious, fitful frustration. Keep this unlucky number in mind only when renting.
I was certainly looking forward to this game, if only to see something different being done with a first-person shooter. And XIII definitely has that going for it; its comic-book-themed storytelling integrates nicely into the game. But while the style, cut-scenes, and story are all great, the actual gameplay is pretty mundane. The action is old hat for any shooter veteran, as are most of the missions objectives, including the requisite escort and key-gathering excursions. And once the graphical luster wears off, the whole thing actually looks pretty simplistic. But if all you need is a solid shooter fix, XIII will do just fine. It has no fatal flaws, and the conspiracy-laced story should keep you going.
You wake up with no memory. You have "XIII" tattooed on you. You might have assassinated the president. Armed men are trying to kill you. Welcome to the worst hangover of all time.
HOW WAS IT?
This first-person shooter has style. Comics-inspired effects highlight important objects, showcase head-shots, and reveal hidden enemies. And its groovy funk soundtrack had me tappin' my toes while I was cappin' foes. Get down!
Need a little help defeating Xlll's tougher antagonists? We have some snazzy, surefire strategies that ought to do the trick. Check out these tips for taking down this stylish shooter's last three bosses.
This boss is almost invulnerable. The only weapon that can damage it is the bazooka, so don't waste your time and ammo shooting it with anything else. The Chopper has two weapons, a highly efficient heavy machine gun and a deadly rocket launcher. Best to stay out of its line of fire, hmm? Yes. To win this fight, you have to alternate between hiding and firing. The easiest way to proceed is to set up shop behind a crate or container, preferably with some ammo and/or medkits within easy reach. Stay in your hiding place until the Chopper fires one of its rockets. Just after the danger is past, jump out and shoot that whirlybird with your bazooka, then immediately get back behind cover and reload (the bazooka holds only one round). Take a quick detour to grab health or ammunition if you need it. Stick to this pattern, and the Chopper shouldn't give you much trouble.
The Doctor is very fast. He basically has two types of attacks. At range, he throws knives and poison potions at you. If he gets close enough, he will try to stab you with a needle. If you get touched, his nefarious hallucinogenic drug will take effect, which will make your vision more...green. This drug also makes you drop your weapon. If that happens, just run and try to avoid being hurt until the drug effect stops. Then quickly retrieve your lost weapon and ammo.
To defeat the Doc, shoot at him from long range, and when he tries to get closer, just run backward, continuing to feed him bullets. Make sure you aren't blocked by something behind you as you run. To prevent this, try to stay on the same path, where you know what to expect (for example, the area around the table with the patient on it is relatively clear of obstructions). If you can keep Doctor J from getting too close while you attack him pretty much constantly, he won't hold out for long. Sweet victory.
The final boss! Let's be clear: He's very tough. You'll need a combination of preparation and smart tactics to compete with him.
Before confronting him, be sure to collect all the weapons you can at the beginning of the level. In particular, get as many medkits as possible. Mongoose has two miniguns, so he's pretty destructive at close range. Try to stay far from him and use your long-range weapons, like the assault rifle or the submachine gun. Each time you tag the Goose, he'll duck behind a missile for cover. If necessary, use this time to reload your weapon and heal yourself. The simplest way to deal with this boss is to shoot at the missiles near him, unleashing a toxic vapor. When this vapor touches him, Mongoose is paralyzed for a while--hit him with your best shot! Make sure you don't touch the toxic gasses yourself, or you'll be the one to suffer.
To help you in this fight, Major Jones will kill some henchmen upstairs, who will fall from the upper floor. You can search these bodies for additional ammo and medkits. Try to score a hit on Mongoose, then use the time when he's hiding to collect items.
He's definitely challenging, but if you employ these strategies, eventually you'll succeed. Hang in there, you crazy amnesiac gunslinger, you.
Snapshots and Media
Playstation 2 Screenshots
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